It is with some trepidation that we bring you our summer recommendations. This column last year was picked up by The Daily Mail Online and went international. As ever, we look for quality coupled with value. In theory, it should not be possible to buy anything decent for a modest price. As Naked Wines explains, the contents of a £5 bottle should cost just 37p. Duty is fixed at £2.16 for any and every bottle of wine, so having a regressive impact on cheap wine. Read on!
The best value red we have found is at Aldi, labelled French Pinot Noir. Astonishing value at £4.49. Tesco has a modest Beaujolais for a fiver. This is the red which is fine when served chilled. Beaujolais is underrated and underpriced, particularly if you move upmarket and buy Villages made by Louis Jadot. It is widely available at around a tenner but both The Wine Society and Tesco deliver at nearer £7.
The revered Jancis Robinson MW has flagged up for value Marks & Spencer’s Australian 2017 Shiraz at £7. Waitrose sells for £5.99 Sous Le Soleil, a decent French Merlot that would be fine by itself. Indeed, many best value bottles there are found on the bottom shelf. Australian Stamp Shiraz Cabernet is everywhere and often at just over £5. It is smooth and consistent in quality. It must sell by the million but does not disappoint.
Turning to white wine, the ubiquitous Torres Viña Sol is fresh and light. It will not offend and is regularly on promotion. Expect to get it for about £6.50. Italy is the biggest wine producer in the world. Two fairly priced bottles excel at the moment. Asda has for under £8 Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a dry crisp zesty wine. Twenty years ago co-author Regan rented an astonishing house in a valley a mile from San Gim. He spoke to the producer and was offered supplies for 7,500 lire or £3. This offering is brilliant value. At £9 Tesco Finest Greco delivers an intense medley of exotic flavours. It tastes of Italy. Marvellous stuff. Remember Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc? It is still around but these days Graywacke, made by the brains behind CB, is the upmarket one to buy. The Ned is decent but do not pay £11; it is regularly on promotion at Waitrose and Majestic.
"At £9 Tesco Finest Greco delivers an intense medley of exotic flavours. It tastes of Italy. Marvellous stuff"
Rosé comes into its own at this time of year and sales are booming. Sadly, the old fashioned producers whose liquid was dark in pallor cannot give it away. A slight blush of pink is what sells. For value, go to the Co-op. The Pic Saint Loup at £7.50 and La Petite Laurette at £8 are a credit to their wine buyer. Hard to believe that Rosé is the top tipple of Jeremy Clarkson but there you have it. At the top end Whispering Angel and Miraval are rated by serious drinkers, about £19 a bottle. Harvey Nichols, London and Manchester, stock Tempier Rosé from Bandol as consumed by sybarites in the South of France. This is the serious stuff as you would expect at £25 and beyond.
What of sparkling wine? Marks & Spencer has lots of good bottles. Spanish Cava at £7 blows most Prosecco away. Buy Heretat El Padruell. More expensive is the elegant South African fizz by Graham Beck at £15 full price. It is difficult to pay full price though as buy three and/or buy six promotions are constant. If it must be Champagne then Tesco Delauney at £14 full price is fine. One eminent Silk swears by the Aldi House number at £10.99. They sell one in every 11 bottles of Champagne bought today in the UK.
If you must buy a brand then Piper-Heidsieck is trustworthy and much less than the heavily advertised mass market brands. Read Bursting Bubbles if you want to learn about how the Champagne market operates; a captivating work.
Finally, three restaurant recommendations for the oenophile. The long established Andrew Edmunds in Soho has an exquisite list with gentle mark-ups. If flush, discreetly ask for ‘the other wine list’. Some of the greatest bottles on earth at less than retail. Just opened on Piccadilly is Hide. The ground floor dining room is best and has an à la carte menu unlike upstairs where there is a dreaded tasting menu (no choice). It is backed by the proprietor of Hedonism, the Mayfair Wine Temple. Whilst the restaurant has a good wine list (and gorgeous small producer Champagne for £14 a glass), you can go mad on their iPad and get something special shipped down in 15 minutes from the shop. Even the water glasses are by Riedel.
Finally, Hawksmoor in London and Manchester where you can bring your own bottle, any size, for £5 corkage on Mondays. Much of our research is carried out at Air Street, Piccadilly, in London which is blessed with three sommeliers! The sentimental will find that the Manchester outpost is housed in the old court premises. The company list is intriguing and with modest mark-ups.
Contributors Seán Jones QC (@seanjonesqc) and Professor Dominic Regan (@Krug79)
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Bursting Bubbles: A Secret History of Champagne by Robert Walters