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Continuing the Journey: The Next Instalment of ‘Drinking Less but Better’

Another 6 recommendations that continue the theme of “Helping your heart by drinking slightly less and your taste buds by making what’s left higher quality”.

In mid-February, I set out the case for drinking less but better.

That seemed to resonate with MidWeekers, so – two months on – now is a good time to revisit the thinking.

In essence, the approach was “Help your heart by drinking slightly less and your taste buds by making what’s left higher quality”.

The overall result should be broadly cost neutral.

Here are six wines, I think take things a rung or so up the quality ladder.

Prices start at £9.25 and average out around the £11 mark.

Most are from independent wine merchants and all should be available online (but a delivery charge may apply).

The images and hyperlinks provided should help you to find them in crowded displays.

Starting with premium Picpoul

2022 Florensac Picpoul de Pinet “Soleil” (from £11.25 at Wickham Wines and 12.5 % abv):

As Picpoul de Pinet becomes mainstream, so we are beginning to see (and appreciate) premium versions of the wine.

In this gold medal winner, for instance, we encounter not only delicacy and well-defined flavours but intricate maritime influences too.

Bright and alive with subtle aromas, the wine exhibits stylish apple, grapefruit and quince flavours.

Partnered by fresh lime acidity those elements are neatly rounded out with the saline suggestions I have already mentioned.

Moving from France to South Africa

2022 Amava Vines Coastal Blend (£11.99 at Virgin Wines and 14%):

This white wine contains a real cocktail of elements with four grape varieties and fruit from two different regions in South Africa.

Viognier is certainly one of those grapes judging by the wine’s depth and tropical fruit elements.

Opening with savoury aromas yet concluding with a sweet final flourish, it brings us textured peach, quince and orange flavours.

Those are accompanied by sharp grapefruit acidity within a mint and ginger viscosity.

Thence to Argentina

2022 Domaine Bousquet Organic Chardonnay (£12.95 at Vintage Roots and 13%):  

As this delightful example illustrates, chardonnay from Argentina’s Uco Valley is doing a great job earning a reputation for quality and desirability.

Good versions from there use the combination of the area’s altitude, cool nights, and sunny days to create elegant, rich yet crisp wine.

Unoaked but, nevertheless, with buttery aromas this is organic wine that delivers beautifully clean red apple, passion fruit and melon flavours.

Sharp grapefruit acidity and a long – slightly chalky – finish complete the picture in a very pleasing fashion.

Moving to reds

2021 Terra de Lobos Red (£9.25 at House of Townend and 13.5%):

This classy red hails from Tejo (a region northeast of Lisbon producing massive volumes of wine).

Here, though, the focus is on quality not quantity with a nicely crafted offering centred on the castelão grape but with a 20% cabernet contribution.

Smooth and medium bodied, it features soft damson and loganberry flavours supported by sharp acidity.

Overall, though, there is an attractive brightness to the wine that is joined by hints of chocolate, menthol and allspice.

Staying in Europe

2022 Cantine Paolini Frappato (£9.75 at WoodWinters and 12%):

Wine from Sicily’s Frappato grape is decidedly different – being lighter, fresher and lower in tannin than more predictable red wines.

Better still, that unfamiliarity does often make it a great value choice (as it is here).

It is alive with bright acidity and suggestions of menthol and vanilla with very little tannin to get in the way.

The base, however, is soft cherry, strawberry and pomegranate flavours built into a lightness of texture that contrasts sharply with the wine’s surprisingly dark colour.

Now to Australia

2020 Wakefield Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (£12.95 at Slurp and 14.5%):

It’s a while since I featured full throttle cabernet sauvignon from South Australia and this one combines (in almost equal parts) fruit from two distinctly different sub-regions.

Using the varied characteristics of those areas, winemakers have skilfully captured exactly the ripe, concentrated flavours that helped establish the state’s reputation with cabernet.

Dark and smooth, the result is centred on lingering, blackcurrant and cherry flavours.

Suggestions of aniseed, menthol and cedar enthusiastically join the party, and these are combined with sharp acidity (but limited tannin).

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18 Responses

  1. Hi Brian
    I’m very much in the £8 category for wines. A little higher when the 25% deals are around. Can you explain why I should spend £11 to £12 for a bottle instead. Sometimes a better known label or brand seems to command a higher price but the quality of wine doesn’t necessarily match up.

    1. Hi David, there have been some great answers to your question. I’d like to add a few points of my own:
      Grape vines are naturally vigorous plants. Left to their own devices they will run rampant and produce many bunches of grapes. High yields produce watery, uninteresting fruit,
      To counter this, winegrowers take action to reduce the vigour of their vines. They plant them in less fertile ground – often on slopes – and they thin the number of bunches per plant. As a vine ages, its vigour also reduces.
      Reduced yields are more expensive for the wine grower, but produce more interesting fruit. The grapes will have a more concentrated and complex flavour (think of a flavourless tomato grown industrially and bought from the supermarket versus one grown yourself at home). The more difficult terrain also increases costs.
      Let’s take Richard’s example of Beaujolais. The region has three steps on its quality ladder. The first and cheapest is Beaujolais AOC. The grapes for these wines generally come from the large, flat, fertile plains of the River Saone. The geography is such that these grapes can be mechanically harvested. The result will be a simple, fruity wine, which should be drunk young.
      The next step up is Beaujolais-Villages AOC. Here the grapes come from a smaller area. The vineyards surround 36 villages in the region, are on slopes with altitudes between 200 and 500 metres, and are planted on less fertile ground. The vines’ vigour is naturally reduced by the “terroir” (a French word which has no direct translation but includes the geography and geology). The slopes mean the vines will mostly be harvested by hand. The wines will have more intense fruit flavours, and good examples will have subtle floral notes. These wines will keep for three to five years.
      The final step of the quality ladder brings us to ten cru villages. These wines will have the village name (rather than Beaujolais) on the label. You may be familiar with names such as Morgon or Fleurie. The cru villages are much smaller in area. The vines are often old, low, goblet trained vines planted on heroically steep slopes of granite. Altitudes can be over 600m. Harvesting is by hand, slow, and backbreaking. The wines will have intense flavours of cherries and kirsch, floral aromas of peonies and irises, and a full, silky, mouthfeel. The best examples will keep (and improve) for 10 years+
      Beaujolais is a very useful region to help understand how price and quality are related. The only grape permitted for red wine is Gamay, and so the number of variables is reduced in any comparison. It is also very reasonable priced when compared to Burgundy, its more renowned neighbour. In Beaujolais, you can be pretty sure that any extra you spend goes into the wine and not on marketing or increased margins!
      I may be biased, but we have a good selection of Beaujolais wines at Wickhams, which could be a good place to start.

  2. Pleased to see a new recommendation for Frappato Brian, just in time for the warmer weather (hopefully). For me it had been Sicily’s best kept secret until a couple of years ago when I discovered this charming, fragrant red from this Mediterranean hotspot. I understand this grape variety has traditionally been used for blending in Sicily but I would recommend anyone who appreciates lighter reds through the summer months to seek out a Frappato majority wine. In addition to the one highlighted today I have found the Santa Teresa Organic Frappato at Waitrose very much to my liking. Until 21 May it is discounted from £11.99 to £9.99 (https://www.waitrose.com/ecom/products/santa-teresa-organic-frappato/891959-804554-804555). Who said that the independents were more expensive than the supermarkets? The WoodWinters Frappato still beats Waitrose on price. I feel a tasteoff is in order!

    1. I sense that the trend towards lighter wines will accelerate further. Food matching (and typical summer dishes) will help propel that thrust onward – heavier wines can easily overpower many foods and the subtleties they bring to the table. Frappato is, potentially, one such beneficiary and full marks to producers across the world who have identified this trend and are developing wines – like that one – to meet it.

  3. Hello Brian

    I do like the premise on which you base today’s MWW offering. I’m drinking less than I ever did in quantity but without breaking the bank have upped the ante on better bottles and am enjoying my drinking more than ever. And still room remains there for the cheaper and cheerful whenever.

    It seems to me that slightly better wine does hold-up better as well, held over for a day or so, even reds, so two people sharing a bottle over two separate meals that might cost £10 to £12, each taking only two small glasses a time, ie 8 glasses in all, provides massive economy and affordability.

    Some maybe won’t subscribe to such smaller quantities in the glass, though that’s only a choice thing and can easily be adjusted in practice. But I always thought that when a decent restaurant in Verona offered superior quality at 10cl a pop there was a lesson to be learned and brought back home for the meal table here too! In fact although I like smaller glasses not overfull, a smaller quantity in a large glass can offer something psychological maybe, that can easily feel luxurious and elegant too.

    So, to The Wine Society website to choose something special. A Cabernet Franc, from Chinon, I think. Half bottle Chinon Temps des Cerises, Domaine de la Noblaie 2022 (thewinesociety.com)

    Salud …..

  4. Hi Brian,

    Can I jump in and respond to David’s question above?

    Eddie has already made the case for less but better, as have you on more than one occasio . It is, of course, each to their own, and thank heavens we do not all like the same wine. My evaluation is pleasure per pound. If it were alcohol per pound there is no answer to David. He should drink what he likes from the lower shelves. I actually seek out somewhat lighter styles, often with lower alcohol, and find more pleasure there. My liver can only process so much alcohol and i find great pleasure in slowly sipping a better (more flavourful, complex with a longer finish) wine from an elegant glass. That’s why I enjoy wine and rarely touch spirits. Of course there are days when your bangers and mash cry out for a good swig of something cheap and cheerful as well.

    I recently opened a 28 year old bottle of Coteaux du Layon that was lurking in the back of my cellar. Village wine from Rablay, I think. It was to poach some hard pears as I didn’t think it would
    Be fit for much else. How wrong I was. Deep gold; quite oxidised, but such perfect balance of sweetness and acidity with amazing complexity and the finish went on for minutes after the glass was washed out. Just a small glassful each evening for a week David, gave me infinitely more pleasure than 7 bottles at eight pounds.

  5. Hi Brian,

    That is a really great question, from David. I hope you don’t mind me too giving a response – as I regularly query the value of buying more expensive wines!

    The simple answer is that I buy a wine at a higher price point because I am curious and it is possible I will enjoy it more. Perhaps finding more intriguing smells and tastes, and, by adding to my wine experiences, could also lead me to other exciting wines! For me, wine is mostly a hobby/passion rather than a beverage!

    I say “possible” because I often notice that if someone is not that keen on, say, red Bordeaux wines, they could pay £25 or more and quite possibly will like them no better than a cheaper example. Indeed could prefer a much cheaper wine of a different style, say, an £8 Australian Shiraz. Or if not a fan of, say, Fino Sherry, may not get any more (or no) pleasure from a fancy £20 half bottle than a £7 full bottle from Morrisons. In my case I don’t dislike Champagne or the Amarone / Passimento style wines, but I have learnt that going up their price points gives me no additional pleasure, so I don’t buy them.

    However I have a real passion for (amongst other wines) Gamay from Beaujolais Cru and Pinot Noir wines. I like “base” versions, and like more the higher I go up the price points. The top Cru Beaujolais are for me, “affordable”, so fun to explore. The top Red Burgundies are not! So one can start exploring PN from elsewhere to find enjoyment at more comfortable prices. But one does need to brutally honest – does this more expensive wine give more interest and pleasure? If not no shame in realising that and sticking at lower price point.

    I find going to Wine Tastings is a great way to find those wine styles you want to explore further, and those you don’t.

    This reply may actually be more about justifying my annual wine expenditure than helping David!

  6. Hi Eddie,

    I have drunk the Chinon Temps des Cerises at a tasting, and subsequently ordered the half bottle of the 2022. I was impressed that, unusually, the price was almost exactly half the cost of the 2022 full bottle (now sold out). Topically, this wine is a good example of how paying a bit more can give extra pleasure. To me, inexpensive Cab Francs can be a touch “mean”, but this is a cost effective way to try a price point step up.

    As an indulgent treat I also bought a half bottle of the 150th Anniversary 2015 Margaux (Ch Angludet), again without the usual half bottle premium.

    Incidentally, I was at the London 150th Anniversary Tasting event, and as usual the TWS staff were very approachable. I chatted to Sarah Knowles (I know Jo Locke is buyer for the Loire, but she wasn’t there) and specifically mentioned the Chinon wine as a great example of encouraging members to try a step up in price point by providing half bottles without excessive premium. She accepted the point and said that it did depend on the individual growers. I suggested the power of the Wine Society could encourage the practice!

  7. Fair question, David, and – as ever – the fantastic MidWeekers tribe have added some excellent thoughts to the debate. I can agree with almost everything they say but have taken a slightly different tack in this (more prosaic) answer.
    While it is not an infallible rule, here are a handful (of many) reasons why a £12 wine will often outscore one at £8:
    • It can allow better quality grapes (which inevitably cost more) to be used in its production.
    • Equally, when the producer uses his or her own vineyards, more cost intensive vineyard practices can be used to boost grape quality.
    • Costlier winemaking processes will often also be employed (e.g. maturation in oak barrels rather than adding oak staves to wine).
    The results usually make for smoother, more balanced and complex wines with greater longevity and often with a greater depth of flavour. Do some straight comparisons and decide whether the extra pennies make a difference for you. It is a particularly topical decision at the moment as, in my experience, the quality of many entry point wines is sinking fast.

    1. Agree – better quality grapes,better cared for,small production,hand harvested,if oak used usually more expensive oak,small production etc.
      Cheap/ bulk wine is often packed with residual sugar to make affordable wine more palatable, and to mask short cuts and deficiencies in the wine production.
      This often tricks non enthusiasts into thinking more expensive wine is less tasty.
      However the real problem will arise when our government’s crippling alcohol duty and taxes are fully implemented and will lead to wine makers watering down their wine to get to lower tax levels.Cheap ,watered down ,insipid wines on the horizon?

  8. Good stuff Eddie., and I think glass sizes are interesting. Experiments with “pick and mix” sweeties found that the bigger the scoop used, the more people bought. Something to do with not looking mean perhaps. Anyhow, I have had success with (looking a bit gauche) and using the smaller style of champagne flutes for table wines. The eye thinks it is a lot and seems to pace itself accordingly.

  9. That is a worry, Paul and another argument for getting confident now about what (with careful selection) can be found a rung up the price ladder.

  10. Cheers Brian … Richard … all … continually great stuff and good conversation.

    Please understand that this that follows is a personal opinion from an enthusiastic amateur. I hope an old bloke will be allowed the indulgence here ….

    While a little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, the saying goes, I do believe more knowledge can be empowering in all respects in our lives. Of course there are polymaths of which I am not one, who know a lot about lots of different things.

    Then there are enthusiasts for their ”hobby” shall we call it, in this case for me wine stuff, and devoted hobbyists are generally quite well clued-up on, in this case what is available on the high street here that we can speak about confidently as we draw from all our personal experiences over decades and what we buy-to-try now especially on 25% off deals.

    Over 6 decades of wine preference an understanding of what-is-what develops and we can feel quite safe in the knowledge gleaned that what we choose to try out may be a good bet.

    Then there are the professionals here like Brian, and others, who know a lot or more than most do and will keep us informed. It’s their remit to offer opinion on what is hopefully likeable to the masses and we learn from that too.

    Along the way as we scan the shelves, if time allows, some of us draw on personal experience that informs us about a bottle here and there that peaks our interest.

    I stumbled on the Église Saint-Jaques on the bottom shelf at Tesco, priced accordingly, and saw the name ”Bergerac”. There are one two white Bergerac’s around in supermarkets but a red is very rare. I can not ever recall seeing a bottle of Pécharmant ever in a British supermarket! Your average shopper for red wine would likely, naturally, pass by these bottles because the label is meaningless to them.

    That Église’ could be considered as anomalous where supermarkets in general are concerned. Having said that, both Aldi and Lidl are especially unafraid to offer quite esoteric stuff but their ethos lies in the fact they are European outfits after all. Wines of all kinds exist in every situation in life throughout the Continent and they try to enthuse us with that ethos too in what they offer in both food and drink from around Europe, Lidl most especially. Even the wooden crates is an attempt to be a bit more interesting with their presentation!

    I ordered a selection from TWS yesterday that did indeed include a half bottle of the Chinon Temps des Cerises, Domaine de la Noblaie 2022 at £6.50. (Full bottles £12.95 not available for a week or two).

    As with Bergerac and the Perigord Noir I’ve spent weeks hanging out in Chinon, and Saumur over the years. Shopping at E Leclerc in Chinon is an experience we never get in supermarkets in Britain where wine selection is concerned. The French get it every day they go in, just to shop normally.

    The temperature controlled area where all the vintages of many of the top Loire domains that produce Cabernet Franc are there across a wide price range. Few specialist wine merchants here provide the cerebral experience as this single, almost anonymous French supermarket does. Majestic try a bit, but …it’s not really in our culture at this French level of expression.

    I think when TWS will deliver free to my door what I believe will be a superior wine drinking moment with a suitable meal, and sharing a 37.5cl bottle at that AFFORDABLE money, perfumed, alcohol on the lower side, drunk with consideration, it’s only a return on the time given over to getting to know something, a desire to learn about what is this grape, and what wine from this location will usually deliver.

    And here’s another Loire red in TWS order … light … 12% abv and a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir … £9.75 … who knew!
    Saint-Pourçain Rouge La Réserve Spéciale, Vignerons de Saint-Pourçain 2021

  11. Hi Paul, I can confirm that it is already happening. At the ProWein trade fair, held in Dusseldorf each March, many of the larger cooperatives where showing wines which had been made for the UK market at 11.5% (or lower) to take advantage of the change in duty. Whilst the sales people assured me there was no difference in taste, I felt in many cases that both the taste and mouthfeel had been compromised.

  12. Lots of great stuff, agree with most, but in these days of prices increasing on everything, it’s getting harder and harder to get value for money.
    In the case of wine. I find (I stress only my opinion) less than say £10 more likely to be party wines, but there’s always the odd hidden gem. £10 – £20 (most of my enjoyable wines bought especially when on offer ) over £20 is mostly good but the difference between a £20 bottle and £50 gets harder to distinguish quality-wise. Further up the price ladder, in my opinion, still tastes like a £20 – £50 wine.
    Lots of reasons why prices vary, marketing, real estate prices for a particular region, and the countries laws and of course taxes.
    As for lighter style wines, it seems lighter is the trend for most things now, don’t get me wrong I do like some lighter wines, not a big fan of Beaujolais (bit of a Gamay sceptic) but saying that I have tasted a few recently that I’ve really enjoyed, the other good thing about lighter wines especially reds is that they lend themselves to being chilled which makes them even more enjoyable (says a man who chills most of my reds even heavier ones).
    Don’t get me started on 0% bottles
    I’ll finish rambling by endorsing what Brian said earlier ‘quality of entry point wines is sinking fast’ can’t argue with that!

  13. Dan is quite right – his Beaujolais collection is great. The Nouveau he was selling last year was one of the best I have tasted for years.

  14. Thanks, too, for all the contributions. There is obviously much more to explore here and so refreshing to have a mature debate about it, rather than the “Cheap wine is all crap” and “All expensive wine is a rip-off” polarisation.
    Expanding that debate, this Thursday’s post does single out a couple of reasonable “bottom shelf” wines – but it is important to set them in context.

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