A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS !
My wines for Christmas selection is taking a different format this year - looking back, the previous layout became a bit! long-winded, so I thought that by simply having the best, as in I have sampled or been given a very good tip, it would be easier to list what is available in all the supermarkets separately. Looking at it, it has become very long-winded, sorry about that!
This listing is restricted to these outlets as the majority of people buy their wine there anyway.
I have made one change to that though: last year I hinted that supermarkets generally have stopped being competitive to a large degree in this field now that they have sewn the market up, the days when they battled to get Masters of Wine on board to improve their offerings has largely disappeared and we see more and more own label and big brands than ever before.
What I have added is the Wine Society, an old-established mutual that you have to join to enjoy; it is £40 but you get £20 back on the first purchase. I include them because the range is very large and much is in the affordable bracket which is what with a few exceptions I try to promote on this annual listing.
Don’t be put off by visions of elitism and people talking winespeak, that of course exists but the society is for everyone and they do try hard to cater for the same.
Just one small note for this year's offerings: as with everyone else I have been restricted in movement and to add to that I have not been very mobile owing to a non-existent NHS and my private hip replacement is only now allowing me to get out and about again; so much of what I have purchased has been online.
Tesco as last year has become bogged down with the aforementioned own labels and big brands, a big change from the days it vied to be the best, but it still has a few wines worth looking at.
- Tesco’s own brand Finest Premier Cru brut, at £21 very decent.
- Tesco’s Finest St Chinian £9
- Vinalba Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile £10
- Finest Central Otago Pinot Noir NZ £13
- Vinalba Reserve Malbec £10 - available elsewhere, as are many of the Vinalba wines which are very reliable elsewhere, so shop around for price.
- Tesco’s Finest Vinas Del Rey Albarino Spain £8.50
- Tesco’s Finest North Row Sauvignon Blanc £13 there are many SBs, that are of equal or near equal status on the market
- for safe bets Villa Maria also from NZ takes some beating available widely at £10.
- Tesco’s Finest LBV port 2014 at £11 is a steal if you like port, who doesn’t at Christmas!
As you can see Tesco’s own label has many of the best on offer but otherwise it is mainly ig brands now.
Asda I am leaving out, because of lockdowns I have like everyone else been limited with travel plus I have had an operation which curtailed getting around so I am afraid Asda is off the list this year.
Sainsbury’s have a smaller range than Tesco but though not inspiring it does contain some worthwhile buys.
- One of the stars at the cheap end which are becoming ever more difficult to find as prices rise is the Taste the Difference Garnacha from Spain, fresh crunchy and very good quality for £9, worth looking out for when on offer.
- They also do the Porta Six vinho regional Lisboa, a red blend that seems to rightly satisfy many drinkers.
- The Cono Sur organic Pinot Noir was to my mind a terrific edition on release, sadly it is no longer imho quite the same none the less it is still a very good buy at £9 ( before offers for a top notch entry level PN.
- Another crunchy bright red is Sainsburys Taste the Difference Marzemino from northern Italy, makes a nice change from some of the ‘challenging’ reds on offer and is another of those rare grapes seldom seen.
- If you like Rioja then CUNE’S reserva at £10 or around is a reliable version of Tempranillo from an old established top line company.
- And if you want something a bit heavier Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Cotes du Ventoux is a fair bet.
- Around £10 gets you another good Grenache in Sainsbury’s TtD Old Vine Garnacha
- In whites Sainsbury’s have probably a better selection than the reds...
- Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Gruner Veltliner from Austria makes a good pairing with the turkey £9.
- Stellenrust Chenin Blanc from SA at £7.50 very reliable.
- Taste the Difference Viognier £8 is another different approach for turkey pairing.
- ARA select blocks Sauvignon blanc should keep aficionados of the grape reasonably happy at £12.
- Tempus Two Wilde Chardonnay is a good representation of southern hemisphere version of the grape at £13.
- Sainsbury’s Taste the difference Chablis Vielles Vignes £15 is cheap for a decent Chablis these days.
- And their TtD Discovery range includes a decent Verdicchio des Castelli di Jesi £10, most sold here are pretty average but this is a bit better for a distinctive grape.
The Co-op if you have a good one continues to confound. most are pretty dreadful but certain stores, and you will know them have a very different range on offer with many very good buys.
- In their Irresistible range the Fiano stands out at £7 as a bargain white from Italy
- The Les Jamelles red Mourvedre Reserve is a steal at £5.50, not many left worth buying in this price bracket now, this is an ideal bulk buy for parties.
- La Grange St Martin Cotes du Rhone red at £7.75 is good value for such a good version of this popular wine area.
- For Pinot Noir lover the Irresistible Casablanca Valley PN at £8 is one of many coming out of Chile that are such good value.
- Under the Les Jamelles banner a viognier of quality is offered at £7.35
- Chianti under the banner of Castello Vicchiomaggio , Villa Boscorotondo 2017 is a great example of this popular area at £16
- A 2012 Cru Bourgeois from Bordeaux in Ch Senejac is a good way to set off the Christmas table at £17.
- Plus a very good red Burgundy at £20 almost cheap these days, Domaine Jean Jacques Girard Savigny Les Beaune 2017.
- A very good Champagne in Les Pioneers 2012, a vintage Champagne at £27.
There are other good wines but the Co-op varies greatly store to store.
Lidl seems to have backed off from the progress it was making in the wines it offered two or three years ago and those specials seem to have mainly dried up.
- The winemakers selection includes a great value SB Awatere Valley at a very cheap £6.99, and their Gavi from the same range and price is worth a look.
- Plus the Soave Classico at £4.99 is ridiculously cheap for a good popular white, again perfect for a party buy
- Likewise and even cheaper £3.89 another party filler is the Cimarosa South African SB.
- The only more upmarket wine I can recommend is the St Emilion Grand Cru weighing in at £11.99, a fair price for an expensive area.
Aldi have a bigger range and again outside of the bargain wines for large gatherings not a lot to shout about apart from...
- Under their specially selected range a white Rioja , Rioja Blanco at £6.49 a bargain
- A Sancerre at £14.99 under the Classic Icons range is also very much a wine worth that bit extra
- A good well-priced Californian Zinfandel at £6.99 is another good buy.
- The pink Cremant de Limoux one of the cheapest fizzes worth buying.
- The Veuve Monsigny Rose Champagne is another bargain coming in at just under £17.
There is a whole plethora of decent cheap party/weekday drinking wines in Aldi but again I have struggled this year to get to them and they also have just released a raft of new wines for Christmas again too late for me to have sampled any.
Morrisons is a bit quirky and not all advertised is always in store, sometimes never? They still have a few stand out buys:
- The Morrisons Fino sherry is still the best buy out there for the money and it has recently gone up in price to a staggering £5.25, I genuinely for the quality don’t know how they do it.
- The Morrisons Ruby port £7.75 is again , if you like sweet fruity port a bargain.
- Ten year old tawny from the Douro in their Best range at 12 pounds is also not to be sneezed at.
- For something with a bit of fresh crunch to it The Best Barbera D’Asti currently at 6.00 on offer is worth grabbing.
- The Best Amorone Veneto 2017 is a very good example of this very popular style using dried grapes to add flavour to the blend and £16 is about average for any of these wines.
- Another good Chianti is stocked from Frescobaldi: Nippozano Rufina Reserva 2017 £17
- Morrisons still stock at least three from the range of wines from Vinalba in Argentina, around 8-10 pounds and a very reliable quality winery for all they produce, take your choice of grape.
- Still under The Best banner, a Pouilly Fume from the Loire 2020 £13
- A give away western Australian Chardonnay another Best of is £6.50
- A Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc Les Costieres de Pomerols is as good as any of this grape £8.50
- And the Best Muscadet Servre et Maine Sur Lie 2019 is as good as any I have drunk at the price and above.
- Rosé is all the rage and everyone has decent versions on sale, this from the Best range and the Touraine Loire area is up there with the better ones from the 2019 vintage at £7.75.
Some of the better wines from last year seem to have disappeared but you never know with Morrisons what a visit to store will surprise, or not.
MARKS & SPENCER
M&S have to me been through a strange period with wine as they cleared out many more expensive wines and went back to a more basic range, it was not exactly exciting; but this year they have launched a range under the Found banner. all are lesser known grapes and several are well worth exploring. M&S have also employed a new team for the wine department; one is from Waitrose so he should know what he is doing and perhaps with the Found range they can build something more appealing.
- Found Nerrelo Capuccio from Sicily is the bargain one in the range £7.00
- Continuing the range we have Found Xinomavro Mandilaria from Greece which is just about the star from this launch at £9.50
- Found Mazuelo from the Rioja region £8.50
- Elsewhere in store the Susana Balbo Tradicion Malbec 2020 a high altitude wine as many are now and at £12 punches above its weight.
- M&S Margaux Bordeaux made by Chateau Dauzac is a typical claret for just £22
- Xanadu Fusion CS from Western Australia a Bordeaux blend but not Bordeaux prices; cracking value at £12.
- The white Found Moschofilero /Roditis £8.50 from Greece is the last I have tried from this range. All are a very welcome addition to M&S shelves and all are genuinely difficult to source grape varieties.
- M&S 5 year old Madeira £10 and made for them by Henriques and Henriques, the top producer, is another of those Christmas wines that is a standout bargain.
Onto Waitrose. One thing about Waitrose above all others is that the range of Champagnes and sparkling wines is so good and priced so well there really is no need to go anywhere else for the part of Christmas drinking. I cannot say I have been through the range - that would be almost impossible - but for me the stand out part is the English sparkling wines, they seem to stock most and the quality has just gone up and up as they become more established, they can now take on the French and in many case better them in quality and price, unthinkable just a few years ago.
In no particular order from the ones I have purchased or sampled with others:
- A couple or so of party cheapies that wont break the bank to start from SA Graham Becks Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut NV at 10.99
- A cracking cheap Cava from Spain Pere Ventura Primer Reserve £12.99
- Mirabeau La Folie NV a pink sparkler from France £14.99
- Bird in Hand Sparkling pink from Australia £14.99
- L’Atzar Cava Reserva £11.99.
I have not drunk any Champagnes in the last year and most are known to the public anyway. You can make your own choice, look out for ‘grower’ Champagnes which are disappearing, they represent value over the established Champagne houses.
It is English sparkling wines that have hit the headlines recently and what I have had proves they are every bit as good as their French counterparts and in many cases equivalent wines are cheaper, just a few that have passed me by though I am sure others are equally good.
Three to start where anything from their ranges hit the spot.
- Nyetimber are all good, from £22 up.
- Gusborne ditto and probably the best of English sparklers again from around £22.
- Breaky Bottom do a large range of styles and are one of the oldest English vineyards; again anything is good and they use a variety of grapes for the styles, similar prices to above.
A couple of others …
- Smith & Evans Higher Plot Sparkling £28.99
- Bluebell Hindleap Blanc de Blancs £27.99
- Hambledon Classic cuvee NV £30
Amazingly at these prices many English sparklers are vintage wines which if they were Champagne would command far higher prices; there are many more.
Fortified wines - sherries:
Waitrose also carry a much bigger range of fortified wines -
- their own Manzanilla and Fino sherries at £7.65 are good value
-and they have several better buys including…
- A half bottle of Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado at £14.99 this is a fino that has developed or starting to develop into an Amontillado.
- Solear, the ever reliable Manzanilla from Barbadillo £10.99.
- For £16.99 a luscious Pedro Ximenez Murillo from Lustau one of the top sherry producers.
- From Lustau again an Oloroso Almacenista Pata de Galina lovely deep fruity sherry £17.99.
- Gonzalez Byass Delicado Fino £12.99.
... is a decent cross section.
Fortified wines - ports:
Among the stand out ports are:
- Grahams 20 year old Tawny £39.00 but worth every penny, look out for it at offer times.
- Vintage port is expensive nudging £100 a bottle these days but one relative bargain is there the Quinta do Noval on the QT bin 08 vintage port 2015; this is a limited edition and costs £50.
- Sandemans late bottled vintage port is just £13.79 at the moment and is a steal.
- Also currently on offer at £14.69 is Fonseca’s Terra Prima Organic Reserve Port, a big robust version at a bargain price.
- In white wines Sacred Hill Chardonnay from Hawkes Bay NZ is a good example of the grape £13.99.
- A really good Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux is from Château de Rochemorin 2016 at £16.90.
- Kaapzicht Bush Vine Chenin Blanc is one of the best from South Africa 2019 £13.99.
- Waitrose No1 Sauternes is made by Château Suduiraut 2011 one of the top tier Sauternes producers,
- 16.99 for a half bottle may seem expensive but this is top notch and you don’t drink large quantities of Sauternes it is for sipping and enjoying.
- I normally steer clear of the very popular Pinot Grigios, not Italian but from Australia with a dash of Riesling in with it, De Bortoli 17 Trees 9.99.
- Boschendal Chardonnay South Africa 10.99, another of SAs ever growing good wines.
- Donhoff’s Norheimer Kirschheck Spatlese is one of the few classy Rieslings available at supermarkets, not cheap at 29.99 but you are paying for one of the very best of Germany’s producers.
- Piccoza Pinot Bianco from Italy £11.99 cracking version of this ‘average‘ grape.
- Audrey Wilkinson Chardonnay from Australia, a lovely creamy version £11.99.
- Esprit des Trois Pierres Costierres de Nimes £8.99 is a wine I have purchased frequently always a good buy at £8.99.
- Pazzia Primitivo Manduria, Primitivo is the same grape as Zinfandel in the USA, if you like a big red but not over the top this hits the spot £8.99
- Quirciabella Organic Chianti 2018 not cheap at £19.99 but a very good example of Chianti from a famous winery.
- The Hedonist Shiraz fro Australia, nice big red spicy similar to Rhone wines £11.99.
- Cantina del Nebbiolo, Nebbiolo d'Alba 2018 from Piedmont in Italy wont break the bank as most Barolo’s with the same grape will so this is a good introduction to the area £12.99.
- Bodega Colome Malbec, Argentina a good example of this popular grape 2017 £17.49 but often on offer.
- Another from Argentina , De Martino single vineyard Alto de Piedras Carmenere Argentinas signature grape £21.99.
- La Petite Agnes Priorat Spain, Grenache and Carignan another bigger wine but with a fresh edge £14.99.
- A cracking Portugese wine Bacalhoa Dom Martino aq red blend £11.99.
Majestic seem to have supply problems or they are doing very very well, a lot of stock seems permanently sold out so a visit in store is recommended, the reason is Majestic are going through a revamp and many wines are being cleared for new ones, from what I have seen it looks a good move but there is currently this disruption in their lists.
- La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva at £19.99 is a top class Rioja from one of the best Bodegas, a great Christmas table bottle.
- Domini Veneti ‘La Cassata’ Valpoicella Ripasso an unexpensive version of the Rippaso style and a very good one, very luscious £14.99
- Domaine Cottebrune Les Moulins Faugeres in the Languedoc France, very good value example of the region, a red blend that will please.
- Barberesco Reserva Curra 2015 from Roberto Sarotto £25.99 - Barberesco uses Nebbiolo grape as Barolo but it is aged for a shorter period, these again normally fetch higher prices so this is another top wine for the Christmas table.
- Nero Oro reserva from Sicily at £9.99 is a deep brambly red from that area making a lot of good wines now.
- Coney Pizzicato Pinot Noir from Martinborough NZ is not expensive for this grape if it has any quality, many NZ PNs cost a lot more for no difference, good buy at £15.99
- Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage a South African speciality, from a top notch producer this is a very good introduction to the grape £12.99.
- Vacqueyras ‘Grand Garrigues Organic’ from the excellent producer Alain Jaume in the Rhone Valley France £14.99.
- A USA Pinot Noir from Talbott ‘Kali Hart’from Monterey, a good value example of what the USA can do with this grape - £24.99 but £5 discount if part of a half-case of 6 bottles.
('Anonymous' comments below: 'Under Majestic, you might have mentioned the "Belleruche" Cotes du Rhone which is well priced at around £9 (varies between branches I think, and possibly also between England and Scotland), and is a cracking example of this very popular AC.')
- An unusual white wine in that it has the appassimento treatment, using sun dried grapes it is Nero Oro Grillo Appassimento from Sicily, cheap for this style of winemaking and something a bit different, only £7.99.
- Another bargain! For a white Burgundy is Cave de Vignerons de Buxy ‘Les Millieres’ Montagny 1st Cru £14.99.
- Domaine de Saint Ferreol Viognier 2019 from the Languedoc in France is cheaper than its Rhone counterparts and loses nothing in quality £12.99.
- Also worth a try for something different from Greece a local grape Lyrarakis Assyrtiko 2020 £9.99 dry and Chablis like but not Chablis pricing.
- Inama Soave Classic DOC a very good version of this popular wine Soave, at £13.99.
- For the patriotic, Three Choirs Stonebrook is a soft aromatic off dry English wine £9.99.
- Mt Difficulty Roaring Meg Pinot Gris 2020 from Central Otago in NZ, one would normally go for this grape to the Alsace but this version of a slightly soft oily peachy wine is a very good version £13.99.
- NZ is awash with nondescript Sauvignon Blancs but there are some very good ones, Dog Point from Marlborough is for me as good as any £17.99.
- A rosé that is fighting to be best value in its class is Floracao Rose 2019 from Portuga lat the bargain price of £6.99
- Hidalgo’s Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana a top manzanilla at £11.99.
- And a ‘sweetie’ from Hungary, Royal Tokaji Gold Label 6 Puttonyos 2016 £35.00 for pure nectar. If that is a bit too expensive the same company have a couple of cheaper versions that are still very delightful - have a look.
TWO ITEMS TO FINISH...
1. First, a red of amazing value that I fear has gone but might still be in some Morrisons stores:
- Estancia Malbec from Argentina; the version to look for has a Decanter Gold Medal sticker on it and it has an alcohol rating of 13% unusual for a Malbec. It was at one time on offer at under £6; if you see it and not a heavier alcohol version without the sticker it is not the vintage I am citing.
2. Secondly I mentioned the Wine Society and repeat what I said in the opener above: as a source of wine for wine buying, this is a mutual and you pay £40 to join, get back £20 on your first order and this gives you access to a huge range of wines world wide from £5.99 ever upwards. Their strengths are in the south of France, Portugal, South Africa, Greece and Italy though the enormous range covers almost everywhere and everything.
They have a helpline and are very customer conscious offering to replace free any wines that you do not like and deliveries are free for orders over £75.
Don’t be put off with thinking this is an elitist company dealing only with wine speak ‘experts’, it isn’t and is becoming an ever more popular destination for wine drinkers to purchase from, so have a look.
They also do some very good mixed cases at this time of the year for those unsure of what to buy.