Christine Austin goes hunting for flavour for money on the bulging shelves at Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s.
There was a surprisingly high “hit” rate at the Marks & Spencer tasting last week. Of the 164 wines I managed to wrap around my taste buds, there were a considerable number that hit the spot or actually surprised me with their quality and that constant measure of success – flavour for money. Bearing in mind the constant need for belt-tightening, I have drawn the line at £10 for quality autumn drinking, except for a few gems that are so good they are worth pushing the boat out for.
£6 and under
Gers 2013, France, £5.25: This refreshing, clean-as-a-whistle white won top marks for its zesty, crunchy Granny Smith flavours and thirst-quenching style. This is one to keep in the fridge for end-of-working-day emergencies while deciding what to cook for dinner. Domaine de la Clairiège 2013, Hérault, France, £5.50: A Merlot-dominated blend with Cabernet and Shiraz in the mix, this has a good streak of cassis in the mid-palate with soft, juicy red berry fruit. Perfectly good with a Friday night supper.
£8 and under
Cuatro Rayas Verdejo Rueda 2013, Spain £8: Made from the white Verdejo grape that can sometimes echo the citrus and herbaceous notes of Sauvignon Blanc, but this has more green and floral notes. The result is a fresh-tasting wine with mid-palate weight and enough character to accompany creamy fish dishes and risotto.
Ulmen Carmenère 2013, Central Valley, Chile, £6.50: The long-lost red grape of Bordeaux has thrived in Chile and this simple bright, bold wine is full of dark forest fruit flavours with a kick of spice. Team this with sausages, a casserole or a red meat pasta dish.
Up to £10
White Burgundy 2013, France, £9.50: This shone at the tasting with rounded, nutty, honeyed peachy notes and a crisp citrus finish. Drink this with cold salmon, roast chicken or creamy pasta.
• Valdemadera Gran Reserva 2008, Cariñena, Spain, £9: From the Cariñena region south of Rioja, and made from a blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon with a splash of a grape variety that carries the same name as the region, Cariñena, actually Carignan. The region is hot and dry and the wine reflects this in chunky, dark fruit flavours. This is a wine to pour with red meat.
Push the boat out
• Riesling *S* Kallstadter Saumagen 2013, Pfalz, Germany, £15: Does anyone drink German Riesling anymore? If you haven’t tried one for a while then this is where you should start. Made by Gerd Stepp, a former Marks & Spencer winemaker who now works at his family’s vineyard and winery, this will give your taste buds a real treat. It has a knife-edge balance of acidity and is nerve-tingling and vibrant, with lime zest and a mid-palate of white peaches. Stir fry some prawns and baby veg with lemongrass and just a little chilli. Delicious now, but this will age well for at least five years, gathering depth and flavour.
Pure South Tasmanian Pinot Noir 2013, Australia, £14: Tasmania is the new cool spot for Pinot Noir and this one comes from Josef Chromy, one of the best wineries on the island. With pure, delicate, strawberry and red cherry fruit, this has a perfect balance of freshness and perfume. Enjoy this on its own or with slices of grilled-pink duck breast.
In the orange corner...
After the enjoyment of the Marks & Spencer tasting, I had a slightly less exciting time at Sainsbury’s. There were 131 wines to sample and while there were some very reliable and well-made wines there were not as many gaining my special mark for flavourful innovation. However, there were some wines that are well worth noting and here are some of the best.
£6 and under
Winemakers’ Selection Chenin Blanc 2014, South Africa, £4.75: With zesty, lemon and lime fruit, and a hint of honey, this is a refreshing, white, totally dry. Good with grilled fish and salads.
Winemakers’ Selection Rioja Reciente NV, Spain, £5.25: A perfectly fine Rioja with all the right strawberry and red berry fruit and a touch of complexity from oak aging. But was it exciting value for money? Not really.
£8 and under
Taste the Difference Limoux Chardonnay 2013, France, £8: From the hills of Limoux, in southern France, close to the historic town of Carcassonne, this is a white wine that reflects cool climate with a style that is more Chablis-like than Languedoc. Elegant, rounded melon fruit, with minerally crunch and a long, refined finish. Team this with baked white fish or lemon and thyme-infused chicken.
Tiger Horse Shiraz Mourvèdre 2014, South Africa, £7.25: Hearty, warm, blackberry and mulberry fruit, with savoury, chocolate and spice notes. This is a wine for autumn, when the fire is lit and there is hot meaty food on the table.
£10 and under
Taste the Difference Coolwater Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013, New Zealand, £9.50: Consistently good quality under this Sainsbury’s own-label. Bright herbaceous fruit with zippy, gooseberry freshness, this is one to watch out for, particularly when it goes on offer.
Taste the Difference Douro 2012, Quinta do Crasto, Portugal £8.25: This is a smooth, rich-flavoured wine, made from all the grapes that could go into port, but instead made into a table wine. Dark, damson flavours with a hint of chocolate on the finish.
Push the boat out
Dr Loosen Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany, £13: Another Riesling that is so worth trying – for its zippy, zesty, vibrant flavours. It tastes of green apple, with notes of white peach and just a shade of honey. Dry on the palate, but actually it has a serious amount of residual sugar. However, the searing acidity and crunchy minerals from the steep slately soils of the Mosel give it perfect balance. If hard work and quality determined prices instead of fashion and marketability, this would cost three times its price.
Taste the Difference Barolo 2010, Italy, £16.50: Sourced from the fabulous Serralunga d’Alba, La Morra and Verduna vineyards. This is top-quality Barolo country, and winemaker Matteo Ascheri has retained the elegant, fragrant, truffle-steeped fruit of the Nebbiolo grape. A Sunday lunch wine, with roast beef and good conversation.