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November’s Sunday Best

Sunday Best selections take the MidWeek Wines philosophy a rung up the price ladder to give you wines above the £10 barrier (only just sometimes) you can buy with confidence.

Here at MidWeek Wines, our “core business” is to help folk find a few decent (often “entry point”) bottles that represent great value yet fit painlessly into their budget.

However, autumn usually sees entertaining move back indoors and that is often the cue for a small step up in the wine being served.  

The downside though is that such wines often involve paying a little more – but this is where our regular “Sunday Best” selections gallop to the rescue.

Despite a possible price difference, all the usual MidWeek Wines criteria apply to selections – ie is the wine (a) typical of its style, (b) good value and (c) easy on the taste buds!

So, read on, remembering that, as usual, hyperlinks and pictures are provided to narrow down your search where possible.

Starting with White Burgundy

While never rivalling the luxurious richness of Cȏte de Beaune whites, the Mȃconnais is currently attracting top winemakers from those illustrious neighbourhoods who then help fuel its undisputed ascent of the quality (but, not yet, price) ladder.

Bright and fresh with a contrasting savoury backdrop, 2020 Florent Rouve Viré-Cléssé (£14 at M&S and 13% abv) brings us apple, peach and melon flavours coupled with tropical fruit aromas, good lemon acidity, gentle oaky smoothness and a faint nuttiness. 

Moving to Italy next

Yes, I know you can get pinot grigio cheaper than this but here we are discussing a  (fully justified) gold medallist in the Drink Business’s Global Pinot Grigio Masters 2021.

It firmly underlines the judges’ argument that “pinot grigio can be used to craft truly fine wine” …. [that is] … underrated for its quality potential, as well as for its versatility.”

Bright and stylish, Trentino’s 2019 Rulendis Pinot Grigio (£14.50 at Aitken Wines and 13%) exhibits velvety pear, melon and peach flavours neatly complemented by sharp lime acidity, hints of ginger and a quinine-like savoury background.

And to another part of Italy

On the eastern edge of prime Barolo country, Serralunga can also produce tasty and delightfully fresh yet complex white wines like this blend of chardonnay, sauvignon, riesling and a local grape (nascetta).

Aromatic with bold lime acidity, 2020 Dragon Langhe Bianco Luigi Baudana (£11.95 at The Wine Society and 13%) provides us with soft tangerine, pear and grapefruit flavours imbued with menthol, herb and clover elements but really impressive balance. 

Nipping back to Alsace

Creamier than pinot gris and closer to light chardonnay, pinot blanc seldom gets the accolades its distinctiveness merits but Alsace does know how to get the best from it – as well as using it, of course, as a key ingredient of the region’s cremant. 

Stylish with a long finish, 2017 Domaine Schlumberger Pinot Blanc (£11 at the Co-op and 12.5%) offers us rich red apple and ripe melon flavours that appear here with modest acidity but with a long savoury edged (and slightly minty) finish too.

Staying in France but heading south

From its elevated sections to the limestone soils around the village that provides its name, Saint Chinian’s red wines have a special place even among other rising stars of Languedoc, but never overlook its quality whites like this.

Fresh, textured and mineral influenced, 2018 Mille Etoiles Blanc Domaine Saint Cels (£15 at Gwin Dylanwad Wine and 14%) delivers quince, pear and almond flavours supplemented by firm lemon acidity and suggestions of salted butter, peppermint and vanilla.

And for my top white today

One sniff of this brilliant Western Cape white tells you that this is something very different to the chardonnay that opened today’s white wine section.

Flowers and a wide flavour range strike you almost immediately and its only a little later that the fruit analogies, lively acidity and cocktail of other flavours reach your consciousness to join the party.   

Smooth and very aromatic, 2020 Honey Drop Chardonnay (from £9.99 at Majestic for the next couple of weeks at least and 13.5%) puts delightful camomile flavours centre stage, supports them with good lemon acidity alongside nectarine peach and apple traces and wraps the whole package in vanilla, honey and minty depth.

An unusual rosé

Recent years has seen the dark pink, slightly sweet rosé of a decade ago largely replaced by versions that are drier, paler and offer softer fruit components, but this rosé is delightfully different with unambiguously savoury constituents. 

From Italy’s Trevenezie zone, it opens up a wide range of food matching options and uses a relatively unusual grape (refosco) – lightly drying some of the grapes.

Surprisingly dark in colour and savoury to the palate, 2019 Rosa dei Masi (£13.26 at All About Wine and 12.5%) features smooth plum, raisin and sour cherry flavours combined by good acidity and hints of sage, nuts and pepper, all built into a distinctive but relatively modest texture.

Moving onto reds

Perhaps because it is now part of a major conglomerate, Bodegas Palacio (who make the distinctly different Glorioso) has managed to secure significant investment to keep it comfortably on top of its game.

Dark and dense, 2017 Glorioso Rioja Crianza (£9.99 – instead of £13.99 during November – at Ocado and 14%) provides intense loganberry, blackberry and cherry flavours embellished by balanced acidity, soft tannin and touches of graphite, cocoa and clove.

Claret next

While there is something unique about the aromas and tastes of Bordeaux reds, defining those differences is hard.

The best I can offer is to look for “graphite minerality” on the palate and expect “green, slightly vegetal” aromas that reflect the region’s struggle to ripen its grapes fully.

Bright with those classic claret aromas, the 70:30 merlot: cabernet blend, 2019 Cap Royale Bordeaux Supérieur (£10 at Tesco but down to £8 for Clubcard holders until 15 November – and 13.5%), has smooth, rich bramble, black cherry and damson flavours accompanied by good acidity but firm tannin with allspice, graphite and chocolate aspects too.

And a new world red

Given its amazing success with cabernet sauvignon, it is easy to forget that the nine mile stretch of terra rossa that is South Australia’s Coonawarra was originally shiraz country.

Here one of the region’s biggest landowners shows that the region can still produce a laudable bottle or three of that variety.

Full and slightly smoky, 2019 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz (from £11.99 at Majestic and 13.7%) delivers full blackberry and dark cherry flavours supported by good acidity, firm tannin and suggestions of allspice and black pepper within a long finish that offers a suspicion of sweetness.  

Finally, to my pick of the reds.

Their terroir (geologically similar to parts of the Northern Rhone) make the 10 “Crus of Beaujolais” more than a bit special – as is the excellence that the area draws from the gamay grape. 

One of the smaller Crus, Chiroubles is also the highest and, possibly, steepest but it is noted for the freshness of its wines which are often lighter in texture than the more robust examples some neighbouring areas produce.

With earthy aromas and very pronounced initial fruitiness, 2017 Chiroubles La Scandaleuse, Domaine Berarnard Mertrat (£12.50 at The Wine Society – back in stock next week – and 13%) has floral cherry and red plum flavours, coupled with good acidity and a shrewdly compiled cocktail of cinnamon, mint and thyme components.   

So there you have it an eclectic collection of wines to light up special occasions but that you can choose with confidence.

The Train Takes the Strain

The excellent Drinks Business publication carried this nice little article that caught my eye and suggests that Thomas the Tank Engine may be as important as Santa’s sleigh this Christmas.

“A series of “wine trains” are delivering millions of bottles of imported wine in the lead-up to Christmas this year, as supermarkets look to mitigate shortages brought about by a lack of lorry drivers in the UK.”

This link takes you to the full article

You heard it here first.

Echoing a point MidWeek Wines made back in June, the same Drinks Business publication recently carried a piece in which a major supermarket buyer reiterates fears about an (unrelated) upcoming shortage of Marlborough sauvignon.

It said “Speaking to the drinks business last week, Morrison’s senior wine sourcing manager Mark Jarman said the shortages of the top selling region for Sauvignon Blanc was one that would “not be going away any time soon” – and it was up to retailers to engage customers to look further afield.

He continued “Clearly New Zealand is limited in terms of planting, and there is still high global demand for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, so we as an industry feel that it is very much on our shoulders to encourage consumers to look outside New Zealand,”.

As a guide to those consumers, he concluded “The two obvious areas to look to from a style perspective are South Africa and Chile which offer fantastic quality and a slightly different style.”

My next post (on Monday) contains details of promotions at major supermarkets and discloses my current Top Tip – join me then.

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10 Responses

  1. Morning David and many thanks for your kind words. Feedback is always appreciated but words like “brilliant” and “love them” really puff my chest out on a misty November morn.
    I am really pleased that you are experimenting with sauvignon from different countries. For a grape (too) often dismissed as one dimensional, the variety is capable of a surprisingly wide array of manifestations. Glad, too, that France is on your list and hope many others also include it. On that note, I would urge any “would be experimenters” to give serious consideration to a sauvignon dark horse – Bordeaux.

  2. Hi Brian,

    Am I the only one who doesn’t mourn a shortage of NZ sauvignon blanc? I always find it has an unpleasant ‘stalky’ taste. I think you can drink infinitely better examples at a similar or lower price from the Loire, obviously, but also as you suggest from Bordeaux, from where I also highly rate the blends with semillon. What an interesting report this week.

  3. Hi David ….. Not the only one but part of small (although vocal) minority I fear. That piercing acidity really seems to resonate with a sizeable segment of the UK public and, of course, the wine survives – and possibly thrives on – serving at domestic fridge temperatures whereas more delicate wines close up.
    The Loire, as you suggest, is a great source of more subtle versions which can be easier to pair with a wide range of foods. Agree though that those sauvignon and semillon blends are indeed a bit special. Few areas have as much experience and skill at blending as Bordeaux – but then their climate often makes that essential.
    Glad you enjoyed the piece today – was it the extra news items or the range of slightly more expensive wines that ticked boxes for you?

  4. Brian
    I was impressed by your attempt to define the unique flavour of Bordeaux reds – “graphite minerality” fits the bill extremely well. I loved the Cap Royal bottle, recommended by you recently. The wine had such depth I had no option but to savour it and to drink it slowly! It is clear though that such wines are not universally loved. The Tesco website shows polarised views with some, like myself, waxing lyrical over it, while others hated it, probably because their palettes have become accustomed to big fruity wines from Australia and Chile in particular.
    Thanks for your writings generally and for this hot tip – I have gone back to the store for more!

  5. Hi Tony ….. Glad that the Cap Royal “fitted” – OK poor joke I know – and I appreciate your kind words about descriptions. Capturing the essence of Bordeaux reds is tricky and so many otherwise appropriate words (“green” “vegetal” “wet leaves”) come over as negative. As you say, there is a divide between lovers of fruit forward wines and those that seek out more savoury components. Entry point Bordeaux reds do seem to be trying to bridge that gap though and may slowly entice folk onto the ladder that leads, eventually, to those Left Bank superstars about which claret lovers dream.

  6. Agree with all you say David.
    I find quite a lot of NZ (and Australian) wines nowadays seem to want to use a sledgehammer and in the case of sauvignon it doesn’t really work. Not just Bordeaux but also Bergerac and the Duras produce excellent sauv/semillon blends

  7. Good point, Jerry., about sauvignon semillon blends from South West France – there are excellent examples from thereabouts. While on about SW France, I fancy that many pubs will find enthusiasm for Cotes de Gascogne as a reasonable substitute for the basic sauvignon on their list while the latter is in short supply.

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