Friday, 3 July 2009

Bargain wines for summer

Without wanting to tempt fate, it seems we might actually be having a summer this year. Ever community-minded, I have put together my list of wines to see you through the warmer weather.

What makes a wine good for the summer? There are a number of reasons, but they can probably be summed up in one word: refreshment. This might be conveyed by fresh, zesty flavours, lower alcohol, zippy acidity, or vibrant fruit. So I’ve searched out wines that will complement the lazy days of summer – fingers crossed.

We still don’t like to spend that much on a bottle of wine in this country, with the average amount paid stubbornly hovering just over £4 a bottle. This week I’m going for the bargain end of things, with wine recommendations under £5. My experience of wines at this level is, generally, dispiriting: it’s very hard to put anything characterful in a bottle at that price. I must have tasted hundreds of wines under £5 in order to arrive at this list: there’s a lot of dross out there.

I’ve tasted the dross, but you don’t have to: here are my top 10 wines for under a fiver this summer.

Oddbins Own White 2008 (Vin de pays d’Oc, France), £4.49, £3.59 as part of a mixed dozen
Dull name and a hideous label, but get past those hurdles and you’ll find a wine with all manner of crisp, appley and citrus fruit and nice weight. Made from a veritable cocktail of grape varieties, helping to give extra dimensions of flavour, it’s hard to ask for more at this price.

Virtue Sauvignon Blanc Chardonnay 2008 (Central Valley, Chile), £3.99 Waitrose
The virtue in the name refers to the fact that the wine is shipped in bulk to the UK and bottled here. Shipping wine without the weight of the glass makes it cheaper, as well as giving it a smaller carbon footprint. Why don’t we see more wines like this? The wine itself is full of fresh and juicy fruit, with the chardonnay giving some more weight and depth to the herbaceous sauvignon.

Foraci Tre Cupole Grillo 2008 (Sicily, Italy), £5.99, £4.79 when you buy any two Italian wines, Majestic
Grillo is one of Sicily’s native grape varieties (not all of which are worth discovering), giving this some distinct character amongst the sea of cheap but cheerless whites. Cut pear aromas, with floral and almond flavours, it makes for an interesting mouthful.

Carletti Malvasia 2008 (Abruzzo, Italy), £5.99, £4.79 as part of a mixed dozen, Oddbins
Another Italian white: Italy has always had plenty of grape varieties to work with and now their winemaking is able to do them justice. This is a financially painless way to discover the aromatic Malvasia grape, which has bags of character, a curious mixture of floral and spicy notes.

Undurraga Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut NV (Maipo Valley, Chile), £9.99, £4.99 if you buy two, Majestic
I probably wouldn’t bother with this sparkling wine at the full price, but at under a fiver it’s hard to resist. It’s not made in the same way as Champagne, but it’s clean and refreshing and, for me, preferable to Cava at the same price.

Oddbins Own Red 2008 (Vin de pays d’Oc, France), £4.49, £3.59 as part of a mixed dozen
The red partner to the white above, so same warning re: cheap and nasty-looking label. The grenache-based blend inside, however, is much more fun: chewy, dense and spicy with bags of peppery black fruit.

Beaux Galets Rouge 2008 (Vin de pays de l’Herault, France) £3.99, Majestic
There is also a white version of this wine, which I didn’t feel able to recommend, but this red, a mixture of merlot, carignan and grenache grapes, is good for the price. Don’t expect depth and complexity, but it has plenty of sweet black and red fruit.

Castillo de Montearagon Reserva 2003 (Cariñena, Spain) £4.49, Tesco
Spain does a pretty good job of delivering good value, if not always exciting, red wines. There is plenty of juicy blueberry fruit here, under a gloss of oak and with some definite tannins: one for food rather than drinking on its own.

Familia Zuccardi FuZion Shiraz/Malbec 2008 (Mendoza, Argentina), £4.49 Waitrose
This is decent stuff with juicy black fruit and shiraz’ hallmark spice balancing out the tannic structure.

Carletti Sangiovese Merlot 2008 (Abruzzo, Italy), £5.99, £4.79 as part of a mixed dozen, Oddbins
The red partner to the white Malvasia is well-balanced, with some tannin to give structure to the spangly fruit.

Interestingly, perhaps, I didn’t find a rosé under £5 that I felt I could recommend – heaven knows we drink enough of them in the UK, so my palate must be seriously out of whack with most British rosé drinkers!

The next instalment will feature wines from £5 to £10 - including some rosés, I promise. Competition is much fiercer at these price levels because winemakers have more to play with and can deliver hugely better quality - and independent wine merchants can get a look in too.

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