What follows are some suggestions for decent bottles to drink at Christmas. Our recommendations span the bracket from cheap to dear but we always have in mind value and quality. As ever, try to buy when promotions are on, of which there are many at this time of year. Marks and Spencer haspromoted more wine deals this year than ever; typically, 25% off six bottles yet also 20% off three.
Sales of Prosecco go from strength to strength. Tesco Finest is made by a reputable company and at £8 is good value. Marks has an equally reliable version for £10. There is nothing like Champagne and Christmas is a fine justification to buy the real thing. The lowest prices are found with supermarket own-label bottles. A consumer magazine has just rated Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference non-vintage as a Best Buy at £18. It is indeed good, but we think its own 2007 Vintage (costing a princely £1 more) is far superior. It has the classic rich flavour associated with a vintage blend but it is not overwhelming. Tesco continues to win accolades for its Finest non-vintage at £10, as does the Co-op for Les Pionniers at £16.99. If you feel obliged to produce a big brand name, then both Bollinger and Pol Roger are at the top of their game. Anything by Ruinart is classy, with the Blanc de Blanc at a stiff £60 being delectable. An excellent compromise is the less expensive but delicious Piper-Heidsieck. Best of British bubbles is Nyetimber which no longer carries a year of production and is £35.
2015 was a splendid year for French Bordeaux, as was 2010. There are lots of good quality bottles at about the £8 level. Waitrose, Marks and Sainsbury’s all have good examples. From the South of France Tesco Finest Saint-Chinian 2016 at £7.50 is a big red perfect with any meaty stew. Sainsbury’s does a similar own label number at £9. Another big hitter from Tesco is McLaren Vale GSM at £8. It is made by Australian d’Arenberg which produces the ultimate Dead Arm Shiraz (£30). Spanish red remains underpriced at every level. Morrisons’ The Best Rioja Reserva is a gift at £6.50. It has that hint of vanilla which is the essence of Rioja. The Coop Muriel 2015 Rioja at £8.49 is fine, as is their Argentinian Malbec from the same year for £7. Both Waitrose and Sainsbury’s sell top-rate Chateauneuf Du Pape at about £20. The complex bouquet of tobacco, leather and rich red berries is a treat that works with both turkey and roast beef. The astonishing Beaucastel is £80; one for the plutocrats yet remember it is way cheaper than any equal heavyweight from Bordeaux. If you want something cheap but acceptable, the ubiquitous Stamp Red for £5 is the one. Majestic has improved dramatically. Not many outlets stock 1982 Rioja nor the colossal reds by Two Hands of Australia. Intelligent staff are on hand. No longer are you obliged to buy six bottles (but really you are for otherwise the price per bottle is higher).
One of the loveliest glasses this year was the French Chardonnay Limoux, £9, sold by Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference label. Pure and gentle, it was Burgundian in everything but price. Aldi has an attractively packaged bottle of Limoux but it was nothing like the quality of the former. Staying with Chardonnay, there is still excellent 2014 Chablis on the shelves. Marks, the most experimental of the big retailers, is strong here, with intriguing bottles from Brazil and Bolivia alongside conventional supplies. If hosting a dinner, note they have the best range of magnums, red and white, on the High Street. Sauvignon Blanc is the most popular white wine in the UK. The game changer 30 years ago was the arrival of Cloudy Bay from New Zealand. Still available at, for example, Sainsbury’s at a touch over £20, but the stand out today is their luscious red Pinot Noir around £30. The Ned Sauvignon is widely available and good value when on promotion but steep at its full price of a tenner. Chilean Cono Sur Reserva at £9 is what one expects from Chile; quality at a fair price.
For wine paraphernalia, best value by far is still to be found at TK Maxx. We cannot close without mentioning that, if you want to drink your own wine at a splendid restaurant, get to Hawksmoor in London and Manchester. On Monday you could bring your bottle, whatever the size, for £5 corkage. The Piccadilly Air Street branch majors on fish as well as steak.