Meet the Times’ new wine critic James Viner. Here he reveals what his top insider tips are to ensure your palate and pocket get the most out of all the best grape varieties out there. And, as it’s the start of the summer holidays, he’ll also recommend the best wines to ensure your holiday barbecues go with the right kind of bang
Top Tipple Tips
Spend a few pounds more and you’ll get a lot more for your money
Whether because of expanded market demand, greediness, aspiration, or the creation of so-called ‘iconic’ wines in the market place, many wines are overpriced. There’s also an increasingly capricious price/quality correlation with wines over £20/25.
As a rule of thumb, remember that the most attractive value for money tends to be found in the middle of the price spectrum, around the £8-£20 mark.
That’s because fixed costs like shipping, packaging, marketing and local taxes and duties account for by far the majority of the price of the cheapest wines, meaning you pay a tiny amount for the cost of the liquid itself. Over half the money spent on a £5 bottle goes straight to the government’s coffers; but this typically falls to less than a quarter for a £20 bottle of wine.
The power of provenance
It’s a good idea to look out for wines that are bottled as near as possible to where the grapes were cultivated. Check the label to discover if the producer and bottler are one and the same. The following are readily available online in the UK:
• Kaleidoscopic South African white blends (especially Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines and AA Badenhorst)
• Anything from Domaine Jones in Languedoc-Roussillon
• Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine whites from the Loire (Domaine de l’Ecu, which is organic)
• Chilean reds (De Martino ‘Legado,’ single-vineyard range)
• Côtes du Rhône-Villages reds (Escaravailles’ Rasteau)
• Wines from leading co-operatives, eg La Guardiense (Janare) in southern Italy; Plaimont Producteurs (Gascony) and La Chablisienne (Chablis) in France
Say a Spanish ‘sí’ to dry sherry
Delicate-salty-iodine Fino sherry, especially Manzanilla, has for some time been, and remains, the most low-cost fine wine you can purchase. It’s also fabulous at the dinner table. Green-appley Manzanilla – the palest, lightest, driest and most piquant of Finos – is magnificent with seafood.
Drink with tapas, fish and chips, sushi, smoked salmon or mackerel, that Italian classic fried seafood dish ‘fritto misto’, boquerones, (sardines) ceviche, oysters and charcuterie.
La Guita is a widely available benchmark (on deal now at Great Western Wine).
And don’t miss out on en rama (raw) releases, which are bottled without
refining or filtration.
A cool idea
For barbecues, make sure the reds are served lightly chilled, especially if it’s above 68°F/20°C outside. And for those cold and cosy winter months, remember that red wine is best served
at room temperature, which is between 55-65°F/13-18°C.
Check it out
Be wary of marketing tools such as punts (indentations in the base) and heavy bottles, which add considerably to shipping costs and
the carbon footprint, and therefore lead to a higher price tag.
Simply serve with sunshine
What should you uncork this summer as the BBQ coals turn white hot? Having invested in a new barbecue in the spring, and tried out lots of dishes and sub-£15 wines at recent supermarket trade tastings, this week I present four flavour matches for summer BBQs which are considered perfect. The prices might be low but the quality is high. Remember, for inexpensive whites and rosé wines, choose the most recent vintage available. These vinous crackers will complement the array of grilled meat, vegetables and fish being served. For recipe inspiration turn over. Cheers!
Summery BBQ Fridge-Door White Choice…
2016 Waitrose Cuvée Pêcheur Vin de France (£5.49, Waitrose)
It’s getting difficult to find a really interesting wine for less than £6, but it can be done still. Medium-bodied with racy acidity and a refreshing wash of orchard and lemon fruit, plus a hint of white blossom, this summery Gascon blend of Ugni Blanc and Colombard is a crisp giveaway crying out for barbecued fish/Halloumi cheese, chicken dishes and salads. If you prefer your whites to be light, likeable and not loud and menacing, then this is the wine for you. It’s also a slimline 11.5%, which will appeal to many, I’m sure.
An out-and-out bargain.
Frothy, Food-Friendly Retro Dry Red Italian Choice…
2016 Lambrusco Rosso Reggiano DOC ‘Concerto’ Medici Ermete, Italy (£11.99-£14.80, Hennings Wine & Hedonism Wines)
This is one of my favourite dry, lightly sparkling, slightly sweet-sour red wines from Emilia–Romagna. It’s from a top producer and offers raspberry-like acidity and vibrant red fruit and violet flavours and aromas with herbal notes that envelop and delight your taste buds. Perfect for antipasti, pizza, spicy Indian and Thai cuisine, though you could drink this equally well with the main barbecue course of hot and spicy BBQ ribs, pork and fennel sausages, grilled chicken, lamb, pulled pork or even steak, burgers and oily/meaty/spicy barbecued fish such as grilled sardines or tuna, such is its poise and élan. Drink at 12-14°C, a little warmer than Champagne, with people you really like; only they deserve an authentic, dry barbecue-friendly Lambrusco this good. It’s a million miles away from the outmoded, cheap, sweet, industrial version you might have had at the dinner table in the 80s. Alc 11.5%
Vivid Spanish Rosado All-Rounder…
2016 Pizarras de Otero Rosado, Bierzo, Spain (£7.49, Mix 6 Price, Majestic)
I adore the Mencía (Jaen) grape and this is a dazzling deeper-coloured rosé version from north-west Spain which tastes like a mosaic of tangy raspberries, red cherries, wild fruit and herbs. The very delicate peppery finish makes it picture-perfect alongside a barbecue. It’s a great inexpensive all-rounder that will suit a multitude of foods. Drink on its own or with mezze-type dishes, spicy mains, shellfish, chargrilled tuna/salmon/sardines, grilled aubergines/red peppers and all kinds of Mediterranean-flavoured barbecued red meats (especially if there’s a chilli or smoky marinade), including pork chops, chicken dishes or salads. Welcome this delicious, crunchy rosado with open arms. Salud! Alc 13%
Full-Bodied South-African Red for the Braai…
2013 De Morgenzon DMZ Syrah, Stellenbosch, South Africa
(£8.50, The Wine Society)
An ideal candidate for summer BBQs (especially red meat barbecued over the coals), with a nice dunking in oak barrels and some bottle development, too, this is a seriously penetrating and satisfying Stellenbosch surprise. Rammed with black cherries, red plums, black pepper, spice and a savoury tarry-charry meatiness, it’s a very superior barbecue red with a lot of bravado on the finish. Drink with steak, sausages, meaty kebabs, hamburgers, spicy couscous salads or chops. At four years old it’s reaching its peak, so treat yourself to this terrific slice of South Africa. The price is baffling, though – it’s worth so much more (welcome to the wonderful world of
The Wine Society!)
For more information on wines, you can contact James via Twitter @QuixoticWine