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Overdue Revival for Great Value Wines

Long outdated prejudices still seem to dog several wines that are actually potential stars currently – and this post seeks to help their rehabilitation.

Although social media nowadays causes more harm to reputations than ever before, the concept of “damaged brands” is not new.

Indeed, some such “damage” in the world of wine dates well back into the last century.

Sometimes once bright stars have descended because fashions change.

Quite often, though, high demand prompted a downward spiral in quality until a critical mass of folk rejected everything about the product.

Sadly, negative perceptions often persist years after every aspect of the initial problem has been resolved.

Over the years, carrying on “throwing out the baby with the bath water” has afflicted Beaujolais, riesling, sherry, Eastern European reds and even muscadet.

Those original criticisms were often over-reactions even at the time but they are certainly seriously unjust now when so much has changed.

So, today, I aim to help the rehabilitation for several excellent wines that, regrettably, still seem to carry a number of “damaged brand” scars.

As an extra incentive, remember that their reduced popularity often makes these wines become terrific value for money.

Where possible, images and hyperlinks are provided to guide you towards more information about the wines and to help you buy them.

Starting with a misunderstood white

With wine royalty like Jancis Robinson MW amongst its ardent admirers, UK wine lovers must surely flock to buy riesling – or so you would think!

Thinking perhaps of (admittedly indifferent) versions from long ago, however, some UK wine drinkers remain convinced that bottles exhibiting the “R” word will be bland, sweet, hugely unimpressive and passé!

No matter that superb versions have emerged from Australia, New Zealand and other countries, the taboo persists.

Taking the bull by the horns, though, I challenge you to blind taste this German white against a couple of similarly priced options and – open mindedly – decide which is the best.

I shall be amazed if you are not equally amazed!

Floral and delightfully long, 2019 Steep Slopes Mosel Riesling (£7 at Tesco and 11.5% abv) provides soft apple, pear and apricot flavours coupled with zesty lime acidity and suggestions of allspice to add a little something extra.

Why not also try: The more textured and mineral influenced Cave de Beblenheim Kleinfeld Riesling from Waitrose Cellar which is a more sophisticated (and justifiably more expensive) option.

Here’s another casualty.

It was probably the fad for “Nouveau” – in increasing quantities, but diminishing quality – that killed off Beaujolais’s popularity.

Whatever the cause, we dramatically fell out of love with the wine and, worse still, based our judgements about the region’s entire output on the very worst of the Nouveau that was arriving here.

Not only does that condemn the brilliant wines from the Crus at the northern end of the region but it also fails to recognise how good today’s versions of Beaujolais Villages and even basic Beaujolais can be.

Here is one I rate.

Dark in colour but light in body, 2020 The Best Beaujolais Villages (£6.50 at present in Morrisons and 12.5%) is made up of juicy raspberry and black cherry flavours with floral chocolate, herbal and truffle influences and all supported by lively acidic freshness. 

Why not also try: The inexpensive juicy, cherry influenced 2020 Tesco Beaujolais that serves as a good, uncomplicated taster for the region’s wine – for about a fiver.

Another neglected hero

Few things take us back to the middle of the last century more effectively than sherry – forever rooted in imaginations as the cream sherries granny drank and vicarages served to visiting members of their flock.

In those days, we tended to focus on just a small part of what that sherry is all about, for it is actually a broad church – ranging from the piercing astringency of its driest manifestations to the opulence of gloriously sweet versions from the Pedro Ximenez grape.

However, I have selected wines close to the middle ground to give you a good guide on whether modern sherry is for you.

One is a blend of the centrally positioned (in the sherry range) amontillado and the other is palo cortado – something of a rarity that sits between amontillado and the darker oloroso.

Light with hints of sweetness, Maribel Romate A Selection of Medium Dry Amontillado (£9.95 at The Wine Society and 19%) includes nutty, apple flavours accompanied by suspicions of anise, butterscotch and ginger counterbalanced by attractive lemon acidity.

Equally though …..

Complex but with well-defined fruitcake, mandarin orange and Brazil nut flavours, No.1 Torre del Oro Palo Cortado Lustau Sherry (£11.99 at Waitrose and 19%) also contains fennel and savoury spice elements with hints of toffee and a real depth of flavour.

Why not also try: For an inexpensive taster of palo cortado, seek out the bruised apple, nutty and raisin components of The Best Palo Cortado Dry (£5.50 per half bottle – instead of £6.25 until 27 July – in Morrisons and 19%)

Not quite so well known

Muscadet was the high riding white wine 30+ years ago but frost and disease among its vines and an expansion onto ill-suited sites depressed its quality, supply, popularity and demand.

Nowadays, climate change and a focus on lower yields, riper grapes and later picking have combined to make muscadet a really attractive proposition again.

Sadly, however, many outdated suspicions do affect its popularity – despite the well-priced, quality examples (like this) currently available.

Zingy and delicate, 2019 Taste the Difference Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (£7.50 at Sainsbury’s and 12.5%) has whistle clean lemon, peach and apple flavours partnered by lively grapefruit acidity along with traces of green herbs and citrus blossom.

Why not also try: The slightly saline but lime charged 2020 The Best Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie from Morrisons which is also a decent drop.

Wine men from the East

Back in the day, Augustus Barnett (remember them) devoted acres of space to presentable – if not particularly exciting – Bulgarian cabernet sauvignon as part of a huge UK focus on Eastern European wines.

However, the trade for even top level Eastern European table wines died almost completely with the fall of State cooperatives that formed part of the old USSR.

Nevertheless, conditions in many parts of Eastern Europe remain very favourable for wine production and new winemakers are creating great wines there – but a sceptical British public seems to be treating them cautiously.

So, try this gentle reader!

Dark and concentrated, Romania’s 2019 Solomonar Reserve Red (from £7.99 at Majestic and 14.5%) brings us plum and black cherry flavours supported by good acidity – but soft tannin – with rich clove, mocha and savoury edges built into a well-judged, medium bodied texture.

Why not also try: Other wines produced by Romania’s excellent Cramele Recas operation which include Dealuri Romanian Rosé at Aldi, Wildflower Pinot Noir at SPAR and two versions of the same seriously underestimated white grape variety – Wine Atlas Feteasca Regala at Asda and Found Feteasca Regala from M&S.  

That’s it for today but see you again on Monday with my usual look at current promotions in major retailers and my outline of the latest Top Tips.

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4 Responses

  1. Morning Brian. Yes, it’s interesting how people can be turned away from certain styles of wine although there may be a lot of truth in what is written negatively about specific bottles. Generalisations can be dangerous but I understand how they come about and I’m not immune myself … when it comes to all entry level Oz Shiraz!!!! LOL!!!! But carefully selected Riesling has always been a go-to for me except my wife does not prefer it so it gets bought less regularly than it should when I like to get stuff we can share. That would bring me to Muscadet and specifically this Sainsbury’s offering that I regularly get especially when it’s on 25% off … along with another on the shelf close to it, the Calvet, that is exceptional value. I’m sure you mentioned it way back? We noticed a few short years ago in France a bit of a resurgence of bottles worth consideration on supermarket shelves there… a tad more expensive at €5 than entry level stuff traditionally under €3, (along with Gros Plant and Blancs de Blancs that I’ve always liked to slosh down with moules et frites …even though they can be a touch edgy and unsophisticated) …and we bought lots of different Muscadets that turned out to be so much more refined now. This has reminded me to put a bottle of that TTD in the fridge now ready for this weekend’s heat wave and some nice fishy stuff with pasta on the al fresco table. Cheers for now.

  2. Enjoy Sunday’s fishy platter – Taste the Difference muscadet (or the similarly enjoyable Calvet version) will, as you know, suit it well. Funny you mention gros plant (muscadet’s little brother) as I thought I was the only one in the UK that enjoyed it – unsophisticated for sure but still enjoyable when done well. As for prejudices and generalisations, yes they afflict us all (including me) but if you want to challenge your assumptions about basic Aussie shiraz, try ones from McGuigan or Andrew Peace if you have not already done so.

  3. Can I give a shout-out to the Lidl Lambrusco I picked up and enjoyed in the sun yesterday? At under £6 a bottle it was delightful, and a bit of a bargain for something many once sneered at!

  4. As you imply Richard, well made Lambrusco is a joy on a summer’s day and I have heard several warm commendations for that particular version. Remember that a new Lidl Wine Tour starts on Thursday and so many wines left over from previous promotions tend to be heavily discounted at some point this week. No promises about which stores though because I don’t know ….. Brian

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