At the cheap end of the market Waitrose has miraculously delivered a red, white and rose which are from one Spanish producer and are all delectable. El Guia at £3-99 is the name. Sainsbury is also delivering real value with an own label range of grape types. The Pinot Noir for less than a fiver is sound. Marks and Spencer has recently won awards for the Froglet Rose, £6. The red is fine too.
Champagnes and “fizz”
Christmas demands good fizz. Much has been written about English sparkling wines but they are not cheap and there is no substitute for champagne. Sorry. If you are comfortable with a supermarket label then Tesco and Waitrose are in a league of their own for both vintage and non–vintage bottles. Deadly serious. If you need to buy a label then Piper–Heidsieck, Lanson, Bollinger and Taittinger are sublime but you will pay at least a tenner more. The 2002 Vintage Moet, still available in some shops, is stupendous and bears no relation to the pedestrian non–vintage. Pelorus is a New Zealand sparkler and the vintage is a ringer for Krug. Billecart Salmon makes a magnificent regular and rose champagne. If you go to Fortnums you can get both significantly cheaper by buying their own label; it is made for them by Billecart.
This year’s best reds and whites
Indeed, Fortnums’ own label range of wines is without equal. The shiraz is by Torbreck, and the Bordeaux range is supplied by deadly serious producers. The managers of the Manchester and London wine departments of Harvey Nichols are full of wisdom and they stock both the obvious and the eclectic. Those in London should consider a pilgrimage to Wholefoods, Kensington, which stocks many of the bottles rated here and a Sicilian red, Cos, for £16 which would be so much more were it French. Incidentally, if you want a serious Bordeaux that is consistently magnificent and not ludicrously expensive then seek out Lynch Bages. It is what wine merchants drink so it cannot be a dud and it isn’t.
You could pair turkey with serious burgundy which is not cheap but for a one off purchase it will deliver. 2009 Mersault and Puligny Montrachet will make your toes curl but you must expect to spend £30 for the experience.
Red will work too and is vital for beef. Great value is found in both Chateauneuf Du Pape and Spanish rioja. The Waitrose Chateauneuf at £19.99 is made by the Perrin boys who produce, at treble the cost, Beaucastel. Majestic has a parcel of 1994 Rioja, one of the greatest vintages of the last 50 years, for under £20. A steal.
Australian shiraz is big and warming. Clonakilla is stocked quite widely. For a sublime bottle seek out St Hallett Old Block at about £27 which is worth every penny, unlike Grange which costs ten times as much. Majestic now stock the Two Hands range of shiraz which are massive. If you like drinking upmarket rocket fuel you will not be disappointed.
A great red to accompany cold meats is Cote du Rhone and Les Dauphins is a widely stocked producer. For about £8 you get a zingy peppery flavour which can be drunk by itself but partners pasta dishes perfectly.
Chile is producing tremendous value reds and whites and we think you can trust the quality.
Cloudy Bay is famous for Sauvignon Blanc but the very best tasted in the last year has been a silky red, Pinot Noir. Sumptuous, and not at all sharp or aggressive. Bliss for £25.
Whom to ring and whom to read
If you want professional advice then the two merchants we like are Tanners and Aaron Rice at Avery (01275 812 237). The latter is superb at tracking down small parcels of wine that the big chains aren’t interested in. He has recently sourced a blinder of a French sparking wine for a tenner made by a lady who was constructing Bollinger vintages.
Two books are highly recommended. The 2013 Hugh Johnson Wine Companion, £7 online, fits in the pocket and is vital. Not only does he rate wines of the world but he gives good advice on pairing wine and food: Champagne goes with curry and fish and chips. Nick Lander, restaurant critic at the FT, has just produced a stunning insight into ‘The Art of the Restaurateur’ which is £17.99 on Amazon.
Dominic Regan, City Law School and Sean Jones, 11 KBW