Whilst we have always tried to identify the best value available we have this year made even greater efforts to spot gems that are fairly priced.
Aldi Champagne at £12.99 has improved massively. It now asserts that it has four years bottle age and this is utterly credible. Marvellous, as are two offerings from the Co-op. The Pionniers non-vintage is £16.99 whilst, astonishingly, the 2004 vintage at £24.99 came outright top in a recent competition run by Tom Stevenson, author of the definitive Champagne guide. If you want bubbles but not Champagne then the Aldi Blanquette has been feted at £6.99. There was much publicity recently about Lidl selling classic wine. There are no screaming bargains although a half bottle of Champagne for £7 is noteworthy. Beleaguered Tesco’s own label non-vintage champagne is good value; whilst listed at £20 we fully expect it to be discounted.
Reds and whites
Aldi also sells an Australian Shiraz for £5.99 that would be a tenner elsewhere and the Italian Toscano red remains sound although it has risen by more than 10% since last year to about £4.50. Widely available at £7 is a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon made to accompany poultry and beef. Casillero Del Diablo made by Concha Y Toro is proof that Chile is capable of delivering true value. Their whites are sound too. Subtle. Tesco has a great Pinot Noir, Primarius, from Oregon for £8.99. This is a red for those who don’t like red or want something gentle and berry-like. It would work well with poultry and is as good value as their champagne.
Majestic stores employ staff who know their stuff. The company also has some remarkable buyers. Vanilla soft Rioja from 2004 is brilliant. Last year the company found stupendous 1994 and 1995 Rioja, coming in at under £20. Maturity and class. We have regularly shared fi ne Rioja. It is so underrated and just the bottle for Christmas lunch. Marks and Spencers stock a less extensive range. Waitrose and Majestic both supply the Ned Sauvignon Blanc. Buy if you can get it for about £7. The price fluctuates enormously.
Great Western Wines in Bath will deliver anywhere in the UK. As a small supplier it can secure interesting parcels. The “Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch” ensemble, red and white, are not cheap at about £20 but you get what you pay for. The company is big on Australian wines and has, if you like it, 15% proof Shiraz. Not for the delicate.
We have two suggestions for those who are deadly serious about what they drink. Hugues Lepin, ex-sommelier at the 3 star Ducasse within the Dorchester, is private client director at Wine Source in London. He can advise on putting a good cellar together and has fabulous connections. No forgeries here.
If you want to visit the (in our opinion) best wine shop in the country go to Hedonism in Davies St, Mayfair. Despite the location and the grand bottles, their prices are utterly sensible. A grotto for oenophiles spread over two floors with a staggering choice. If pushing the boat out, but not too far, it is hard to go wrong with Chateauneuf Du Pape red and a solid White Burgundy such as Mersault, St Aubin or Puligny Montrachet. Large Waitrose stores have fineexamples of both. Fanatics (us) will look to the Jancis Robinson MW recommendations which appear in the Financial Times Magazine in the month running up to Christmas.
Please remember that every year the big retailers run “Buy 6 get 25% off ” promotions. Earlier this year Waitrose ran a “like” campaign, which only required the purchase of two bottles. We think that this year will be a buyers’ one. Competition will be extreme so be prepared to pounce. By January the bargains will have gone so buy what you can whilst you can.
On Christmas Day Prof Regan will be drinking Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, which is £15.99 at Waitrose and is worth lots more.