Two retailers have upped their game in the last year. Marks and Spencer has always had a reliable list but nothing edgy. Now, it is selling some remarkably exotic bottles such as Canadian red and fizz from Brazil. If you are pushing the boat out, then study the wide range of small producer champagnes. At £7.50, the warm winter red Syrah de L’ Ardèche is a steal.
Majestic is under new management and has just launched an own label range which is fairly priced across the board and of good quality. Better still, you can now pop in and buy a single bottle. Sense at last.
For a party, the Waitrose own label white and reds at £5 are utterly reliable. Their Cuvée Chasseur red at £4.95 is a cracking party wine. Light at 12% and so smooth too.
Likewise, Asda has hit the spot with elegant Spanish red Tempranillo Cigales for £5.97. Of all the supermarket chains, Asda is the one that regularly surprises. Old Rioja is sold alongside small parcels of luscious reds from Argentina and Chile.
Aldi is best at the bottom of the range. The French sparkler at £7.50 is brilliant for a party and the white Limoux at £7 would be great with fish or chicken. It is almost Burgundian (as is the Sainsbury Taste the Difference Limoux at £8). Aldi Italian red Toscano at £4.50 is solid.
The one reliable, ubiquitous red, priced at between £5 and £7.50, often on promotion, is the Australian red Stamp Shiraz mix. Some regard it as a little sweet but it is the one bottle that constantly impresses most takers.
You might want to spend a bit more, in which case look for Red Bordeaux. The 2009 and 2010 vintages are the big hitters. As ever, Chateauneuf du Pape represents astonishing value compared to Bordeaux. The same vintage years are the ones to buy.
Invariably, we are asked which champagne represents best value. Those who are comfortable brandishing a supermarket label ought to buy Tesco non-vintage or Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blanc, which are a third less at least in price than named brands. If it must be a name, then dig deep to buy Bollinger, Taittinger or Pol Roger (all widely available). The QC amongst us is smitten by the English Nyetimber fizz, sold at Waitrose – a classy bottle and a great rival to the French, albeit priced identically to branded champagne. Bollinger Rosé is absolutely astonishing. If you want bubbles on the cheap then Aldi Cava at less than a fiver is a winner.
As we correctly predicted last year, deals galore will appear and one should swoop to grab bottles reduced by 25% if purchasing six or more.
Those of you based in London and Manchester have the benefit of the Hawksmoor restaurant chain. On Mondays you can bring your own bottle, no matter how large, for £5 corkage. The emphasis is on steak although Air St, London does the greatest fish too. The joy of drinking a bottle that has not been marked up by 400% is immeasurable.
Contributors Sean Jones QC, 11 KBW & Professor Dominic Regan, City Law School