Tasting widely throughout the year, I keep a note of the most impressive wines among the thousands I sip. I then hold a grand tasting of bottles from this list, along with wines that are new to me and have been recommended by friends and buyers, or ones that have simply caught my eye. The results are here.
Two quick points: first, until March 17 Waitrose is running a 25 per cent off deal when you buy six or more bottles over £5; second, for my full longlist of bottles good enough to make the grade, which had to be pared down to a final 50 – useful if you’re looking for more bottles at one particular retailer – do email me: [email protected]
Cotes de Gascogne Pujalet 2018 France
(10.5%, Waitrose, £5.89)
This vibrant and breezy Waitrose stalwart has been attractively repackaged and the wine is just as good – if not better – than ever. A blend of colombard and ugni blanc, it’s a bistro-style classic that tastes of pink grapefruit and sharp lemon with hard pear.
Cantine Rallo Grillo Isola della Fiamma 2019 Sicily, Italy STAR BUY
(12.5%, The Wine Society, £6.50)
The grillo grape has an uncanny ability to make vibrant wine even in a hot climate, which makes it perfectly suited to Sicily. This is slightly glossy and “mattressy”, says my fellow-taster, referring to the feel of it. Flavour-wise, think yellow plums, yellow peach and griddled pineapple.
Tesco finest* Saint Mont 2017 France STAR BUY
(13.5%, Tesco, £6.50)
A Gascon treasure, made from a blend of local white grapes – gros manseng, petit courbu and arrufiac. Refreshing, with tiny details of flavour – green mango and pink grapefruit with a kernel-like quality (think sunflower seeds or roasted almonds). Astonishingly sophisticated for the price.
Exquisite Collection Clare Valley 2018 Australia
(11.5%, Aldi, £6.99)
Exuberant and extrovert, this dry Australian riesling delivers a big whack of green lime zest, Rose’s lime marmalade and fresh ginger on the nose. For a quieter, more lime-juicy/herbal version try the Clare Valley Riesling 2018, Australia, at Lidl which is also £6.99 and very nicely packaged. Both deserve a place here.
Scheurebe Halbtrocken 2018 Germany
(11%, Lidl, £6.99)
Scheurebe is a crossing of riesling and silvaner grown in Germany. Halbtrocken means half-dry – medium-dry, in effect. This is a calm wine, with floral notes and vestigial flavours of blackcurrant leaf and citrus that would work well with mild Thai food.
Taste the Difference Pinot Grigio Trentino 2018 Italy
(12.5%, Sainsbury’s, £7)
It is derided by wine snobs, but sometimes a good, crisp pinot grigio really hits the spot. And this one performs. From the mountainous north of Italy, it’s as fresh as a breath of Alpine air.
Taste the Difference Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc 2018 France
(12.5%, Sainsbury’s, £7)
A very attractive, limpid, unaggressive sauvignon blanc from Bordeaux that is just the thing to open on a spring day. Think fresh lemons with a hint of nettle. Simple but filled with pleasure.
Tapada de Villar Vinho Verde 2019 Portugal
(10%, M&S, £7)
Rather than drinking prosecco, I beg you to try this vinho verde. It’s very light (with an abv of just 10%), it has a faint spritz and it has subtle citrus and seltzer flavours. A great aperitif wine, or one to pour into tumblers with tapas.
Domaine Mandeville Viognier Pays d’Oc 2019 France STAR BUY
(13%, M&S, £7.50)
An easeful and lyrical viognier from the south of France that dances along on a summer breeze of just-ripe white peach and white blossom. Some viogniers can taste oily or suffocatingly floral but there’s absolutely none of that heaviness here. Superb.
Waitrose No. 1 Cederberg Private Cellar Chenin Blanc 2019 South Africa
(13.5%, Waitrose, £9.99 down to £7.99 from March 18-April 14)
Up in the rocky, rugged mountains 150 miles north of Cape Town, Cederberg Private Cellar is the highest wine farm in the Western Cape. Its chenin blanc is edgy, slightly saline, with flavours of quince, yellow pear and citrus and a mineral underlay.
Diemersdal Cape Town sauvignon blanc semillon 2019 South Africa
(13.5%, Aldi, £7.99)
Here’s a South African take on a white Bordeaux blend. It’s broad and creamy, made using French oak, and has a tang of baked white grapefruit and the thick smell of beeswax. Try it with chicken roasted with chunks of lemon.
Bleasdale The Wild Pear Verdelho Sauvignon Blanc Langhorne Creek Adelaide Hills 2019 Australia
(12%, The Wine Society, £8.50)
A smooth, clean drink-anytime white. The name is obviously suggestive but it does taste a bit like the crisp white flesh of an Asian pear. The verdelho comes from a block planted in 1930, while Adelaide Hills sauvignon blanc brings a lemony note.
Contesa Vigna Corvino Pecorino Colline Pescaresi 2019 Italy STAR BUY
(12.5%, Booths, £8.50)
Pecorino means “little sheep”, hence the name of the Italian cheese made from ewe’s milk and also of this grape, which it is said sheep like to munch. From Abruzzo in central Italy, it is a crisp, lively white, like gentle lemon juice, chalk, citrus sorbet and subtle jasmine.
Domaine de Pellehaut Harmonie de Gascogne 2018 France
(11.5%, Booths, £8.75)
Another stellar white from Gascony, this time a blend of ugni blanc, colombard, gros and petit manseng and chardonnay. It smells of crystallised lemon peel, crystallised lime, orange blossom, bergamot and waxy white flowers and has a glossy texture with a sherbetty edge.
Domaine de Valensac sauvignon blanc Pays d’Oc 2018 France
(13.5%, Lea & Sandeman, £8.95/9.95 mixed case/single bottle price)
Some sauvignon blanc is shrill or piercing, some reeks of freshly mown grass, but this one is gentle and elegant, soothing and surprisingly fresh considering it comes from the south of France in a warm year. Very classy indeed.
Reserve du Boulas Laudun Cotes du Rhone Villages 2018 France
(14%, M&S, £9)
White Rhône wines are hugely underappreciated – gentle, mildly floral whites with a texture that is reminiscent of a warm breeze in a summer garden. Think peach-skin, neroli and white flowers. Drink with chicken cooked with 40 cloves of garlic.
Zephyr 6 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019 New Zealand
(13%, The Wine Society, £9.50)
Winemaker Ben Glover made sauvignon blanc for Wither Hills, the huge brand, but Zephyr 6 is his own project. This is compact and taut, not at all showy or shouty, with great drive and focus. Think elderflower, citrus, blackcurrant leaf and lemongrass.
Cune Rioja Barrel-Fermented 2018 Spain
(13%, Co-op, £9.50)
Everyone always forgets about white rioja. This one’s made from viura that has been fermented and aged in American oak and the style is all about the wood – a flow of vanilla, the smell of distant stocks (as in the flower) and beeswax. Try it with a squid and chorizo casserole.
Basa Rueda 2018 Spain
(13.5%, Haynes, Hanson & Clark, £9.85/11.25 by the case/single bottle price)
Streamlined, elegant and very unshowy, this white wine made from verdejo and viura has all the crispness and limpidity you might want in an aperitif. With a mild air of meadow flowers and lithe citrus, it tastes deceptively simple, but there’s serious skill in here.
Comte Leloup du Ch de Chasseloir Muscadet SEvre et Maines sur Lie Cuvee des Ceps Centenaires 2014 France
(12%, The Wine Society, £9.95)
Amongst muscadet aficionados, aged muscadet is A Thing and this one is fantastic – nebulous, saline, reminiscent of cloud over grey sea and demanding razor clams or a bowl of mussels.
Semeli Feast 2018 Greece
(12%, Lea & Sandeman, £9.95/10.95 mixed case/single bottle price)
Moschofilero is the grape behind this unusual and aromatic white that sings of summer. The smell is all lemon oil and rose petal – a rich fragrance with a refreshing taste. It’s great with Greek lemon potatoes and herbs.
La Petite Ferme Baboon Rock Unwooded Chardonnay 2019 Franschhoek, South Africa
(14%, Tanners, £9.95)
With no oak, it’s the quality of the fruit that shines out on this wine – think apples and ripe pears with a touch of tropicality (mangos, perhaps) and a honeyed undertone.
Casa MarIn Lo Abarca Riesling 2018 Chile
(12%, Majestic, £9.99/12.99 mix six/single bottle price, sold out online but still available in store)
A lovely smooth glide of a riesling that tastes of candied lime peel, satsuma zest, lime sorbet and nectarines. Would be delicious with chicken strips marinated in ginger and soy, say, or a fruity salad.
E H Booth & Co White Burgundy 2017 France
(13%, Booths, £10)
It’s very hard now to find decent burgundy for a tenner. Shout-out also to M&S’s excellent 2018 Mâcon-Villages – but the cool Burgundian calm and poise of this one, made by Collovray & Terrier, edged it into the final cut.
Kumeu Village Hand-Harvested Chardonnay 2018 New Zealand STAR BUY
(13%, The Wine Society, £10.95)
Just as we went to press this came off a £2-off deal. It’s still brilliant at full price – just not under £10 (I hope you’ll forgive me; I’ve scattered a few extra recommendations throughout). Effectively the diffusion line from chardonnay star Kumeu River, it has pleasing weight and vibrancy with bright delineation. Superb.
Old Vine Garnacha Campo de Borja 2018 Spain
(14%, Co-op, £5.35)
Spain remains one of the very best sources of good cheap red and garnacha – in particular the garnacha from old vines on the hillsides of Campo de Borja – really delivers. I like this for the cheery vibrancy of its strawberry-like scent.
Ceprel Rioja Reserva 2015 Spain
(13.5%, Lidl, £5.49)
This bargain rioja is entirely styled around the wood. It has a powdery fragrance and taste, like dried petals with a hit of vanilla that comes from the oak, and an underlying woody spice that’s woven with the flavour of raspberries and strawberries.
Haut Vignoble 2018 Bordeaux, France
(13.5%, M&S, £6)
Who says you can’t buy drinkable cheap wines from Bordeaux? This is a bright, modern fruit-forward style of red. For something more classically claretty with more of a sense of place try Château Vieux Manoir 2018 (Co-op, £7).
Pleno Tempranillo 2018 Spain STAR BUY
Tempranillo is the rioja grape but this wine is made in the adjoining region of Navarra, just to the north-east. It’s a bargain buy, bright but with a hint of spice and fresh leather, showcasing tempranillo’s more garnet flavours.
Domaine de la Condamine l’Eveque Syrah-Mourvedre 2017 Côtes de Thongue, France
(12.5%, The Wine Society, £6.95)
An anytime red that despite the price still tastes like “proper wine” so would work well at a wedding or as your own house red. From the south of France, made mostly from syrah but mourvèdre brings just a hint of plain chocolate and leather.
Norton Coleccion Malbec Mendoza 2019 Argentina
(13.5%, Waitrose, £10.49 down to £6.99 from March 18 -April 14)
Seriously good value while it’s on offer, here’s a malbec with a tantalising smell of blueberries and black fruit. Sturdy enough to satisfy, but not so big that it bludgeons you over the palate. Very well done.
Trapiche Pure Malbec Unoaked 2019 Argentina
(13.5%, Co-op, £8 down to £7 until March 31)
The trend in Argentina is to use oak more and more judiciously and to use less and less of it. Here’s a malbec with no oak at all, allowing the grape to shine out. It’s quite a serious wine, with a touch of earthiness and savoury austerity.
Montidori Sangiovese Romagna 2018 Italy
(13.5%, Waitrose, £9.99 down to £7.49 from March 18-April 14)
Sangiovese is the main Chianti grape but it’s also grown in neighbouring Romagna where it makes a more savoury and austere type of wine. I’m not sure I’d buy this at full price but on offer it’s very convincing – a great food wine.
The Best Primitivo 2018 Italy
(13.5%, Morrisons, £7.50)
Made for Morrisons by Cantine San Marzano, this plush red comes from Puglia, in the heel of Italy’s boot. It is primitivo for those who like their wine plush and rich and sweet – think huge, saturating brambly black fruit flavours, and a sweetly rounded, pillowy feel.
Taste the Difference Western Australia Shiraz 2018 Australia STAR BUY
(14.5%, Sainsbury’s, £7.50)
Made by David Hohnen, one of the originals behind Cloudy Bay, this is a superb red that showcases the comparative elegance of shiraz from Western Australia. Controlled and yet ample, it’s a very classy wine.
Domaine Jaume Cotes du Rhone 2018 France STAR BUY
(14%, The Wine Society, £8.25)
Made on a family-run vineyard, this is textbook côtes du rhône – proper wine that tastes almost like vacqueyras. The blend is 70 per cent grenache, 20pc syrah and 10pc mourvèdre. It’s drinking beautifully now but will probably age well for a few years too. One to drink all spring and summer and winter too.
Chateau Sainte-Eulalie Plaisir d’Eulalie 2018 Minervois, France
(14.5%, The Wine Society, £8.50)
This wine opens up before you like a vast cavern and is redolent of the warm south, breathing dried sage and thyme and lavender with a hint of chocolate powder. An unoaked mixture of grenache, syrah and carignan, made to the east of the medieval town of Carcassonne.
Sibiliana Sensale Nero d’Avola 2018 Italy
Nero d’avola is Sicily’s signature red grape. This is a lovely easy-drinker that smells of mulberries and maraschino cherries.
Old Hands Organic Monastrell Joven Yecla 2018 Spain
(14%, Lea & Sandeman, £8.75/9.75 mixed case/single bottle price)
Monastrell is known as mourvèdre in France, where it contributes the feral/savoury quality to bandol. Grown in eastern Spain, it has a more accessible quality, but there’s still a pleasing earthy quality. A well-cut wine that’s refined for a monastrell at the price.
Cantine de Falco Primitivo Salento 2018 Italy
(13%, Lea & Sandeman, £8.75/9.50 mixed case/single bottle price)
Forged in the heat of Italy’s heel, what’s special about this primitivo is the balance it strikes between a vibrant and warm gush of fruit (think red plums, cherries and stewed damsons) and the firm, clean edges that give it a refreshingly tart snap.
Chemin de la Pinede Merlot Pays d’Oc 2018 France
(14%, Lea & Sandeman, £8.75/9.50 mixed case/single bottle price)
Merlot? Yes a merlot but there is not one hint of jam or chocolate, no slipperiness or listlessness about this one – instead it’s a beautifully structured red that smells of redcurrant leaves and has a freshness to it. Delicious.
Marcillac Le Cros lo Sang del Pais 2018 France
(13%, The Wine Society, £8.95)
Marcillac is a tangy, light-bodied red grape grown in the south-west corner of France. Its wines taste slightly bloody – of iron – and in a warm year like 2018 they are extra-juicy too. I love this with steak-frites or aligot and duck or cassoulet or roast pork – it really cuts across the fat.
Matsu El Picaro Tinta de Toro Tempranillo 2019 Spain
(14.5%, Majestic, £8.99/9.99 mix six/single bottle price)
There’s a lot of bang for your buck in this thickly fruity, purplish wine made from the grapes of 90-year-old vines. A lavish, smooth rush of stewed blackberries, mulberries and damsons with just a touch of mace and wood-spice.
Tesco finest* Peumo Carmenere 2017 Chile
(13.5%, Tesco, £9)
Made by the giant Concha y Toro, this excellent carménère is all about the savoury fragrance of black tea (think pointy Darjeeling not malty Assam) and grilled green capsicum. For a more fruity version head for the raspberry-scented carménère Concha makes under its Casillero del Diablo label (around £9, Nisa, Booths and Ocado).
Chateau Les Reuilles Bordeaux 2016 Bordeaux, France
(13.5%, Haynes, Hanson & Clark, £9.15/10.35 by the case/single bottle)
An absolutely lovely classic claret: fresh, gentle and so fragrant, as if there’s a waft of flowering currant leaves – 15 per cent of the blend is cabernet franc. 2016 was a belter of a Bordeaux vintage and it brings beautiful structure to this red. Good now, but no rush to drink.
El Duque de Miralta Rioja Crianza 2015 Spain
(13.5%, M&S, £9.50)
A modern-styled rioja, made entirely from tempranillo and aged in American oak, the flavours here are bold and clear and fresh more than mellow and soft. It only gets better when left open for a day or two.
Crasto Douro 2018 Portugal STAR BUY
(14.5%, The Wine Society, £9.95)
Rising prices mean that The Wine Society is now the only place you can find this perennial star for less than £10. A polished but juicy red, made in the port-growing Douro Valley from a mixture of local grapes, it has the structure of a claret but (for the price) more intensity of fruit.
Tim Adams Clare Valley Shiraz 2016 Australia
(14.5%, Tesco, £10)
Tim Adams’ wines can usually be relied on to provide quality for the price – his bright, clear, limy dry riesling, also sold in Tesco, is another winner. This is a satisfying Aussie shiraz with just the beginnings of a bit of maturity on it.
AltoLandon Bobal Extreme 2018 Spain
Bobal is a so-called “workhorse” (for which read cheap plonk) Spanish variety that has been enjoying a resurgence in recent years. This one is new to the shelves of the Co-op and it’s smooth with a hint of pink peppercorns and drinking chocolate powder.
Ring-bolt Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 Australia STAR BUY
(14%, Tesco, £10)
This cabernet sauvignon from the relatively cool and very remote south-west corner of Australia is a serious find. It smells like a warm forest, there are intense notes of velvety crème de cassis and, layered through all that, wafts of violet-like fragrance. Beautiful.