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Sunday Best Extra

Moving up a level from the “everyday” wine stars MidWeek Wines constantly pinpoints can generate further terrific options as illustrated by this “overflow” post from my latest Sunday Best feature.

In the main Sunday Best feature a fortnight ago, I promised a look at wines that were squeezed out of that initial post – and here they are.

Alongside details of those wines come “extras” that include a peep at potential family rivalry in New Zealand.

In addition, there is also a spotlight on why many rave about Bordeaux – and, perhaps, why others fail to see what the fuss is about.

Finally, comes the de-bunking of one well known (but, obviously, unfounded) wine trade myth.

As ever, pictures and hyperlinks are used where possible to make it easier to buy these wines if you are moved to do so.

First up a (brief) waiting game.

Once mainly a Northern Rhone speciality, viognier was quickly adopted by new wave producers in Languedoc and the number of its vines there now outnumber those in the Rhone Valley by 3:1, and include vines used by viognier superstar Laurent Miquel.

Golden in colour and delightfully viscous, 2018 Laurent Miquel La Verité (coming soon to Waitrose at around £18 and 14.5% abv) is heavenly viognier bringing us floral apricot and marmalade flavours supported by tangerine acidity, creamy texture and a background that contains peach stone nuttiness and a suspicion of aniseed too. 

Available now and ready now

While prices for the best-known white Burgundies reach stratospheric levels, the region’s outlying areas continue to offer the best value for money (even if not exactly cheap) and those, like this one, from the area around Pouilly Fuisse seem especially attractive.  

Delicate yet complex, 2016 No.1 Pouilly-Vinzelles Joseph Drouhin (£22.99 at Waitrose – available in 250+ stores if not online – and 13%) combines smooth peach, pear and ripe melon flavours with citrus peel and green herb elements leading into an unexpectedly rich finish that also has a hint of vanilla.  

The uniqueness of Alsace riesling

Riesling from Alsace is different to versions from most other places – even those from over the border in Germany – as, west of the Rhine, those light or steely examples give way to (probably soil-driven) richness and roundedness.

Textured with evolving minerality, 2019 Cave de Bebleheim Kleinfels Riesling (£10.99 at Waitrose Cellar and 13%) has bright quince and apple flavours married here to crisp grapefruit acidity, a background tangerine pithiness and hints of mace.  

Next a brilliant “home run”

With so much great wine coming from England’s Downlands, we sometimes overlook the excellent options from further west, as this Devon white reminds us – with terrific fare from the seriously underestimated madeleine angevine grape.

Aromatic and bold, 2020 Sharpham Estate Selection (£14.50 at Wickham Wine and 13.5%) provides intense greengage and sherbet lemon flavours with creamy softness yet with acidity exhibiting a surprsing vibrancy given the delicacy of the wine’s colour and its slightly bashful orange blossom aromas. 

And on to Champagne

While the classification system governing Champagne’s 300+ villages is not an absolute quality guarantee, there is an accepted correlation between the best grapes and the 17 grand cru villages (top level) and their 42 premier cru equivalents (next level down).

Prices are strongly influenced by that classification system, so this nicely balanced champagne (made using grapes from one or more of those 42 premier cru villages) is great value at £20.

Soft with a good mousse, Finest Premier Cru Champagne (£20 at Tesco and 12.5%) contains subtle lemon and grapefruit flavours, gentle initial acidity (but with evolving sharpness) and a rich background that embodies brioche, creamy and ginger components.      

Family Rivalry?

Brent Marris needs little introduction to wine lovers given the creative work he did with the Oyster Bay and Wither Hills brands and subsequently going it alone (with The Ned and its siblings) when he set up Mariso Vineyards.

His family connections are probably less well known but Brent’s father, John, was one of the first to plant vines in Marlborough for Montana (Brancott) almost half a century ago and now Brent’s daughter, Emma, is also a winemaker.

So coming up is a father and daughter comparison between 2019 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc by Emma Marris and Brent’s 2020 The Ned Sauvignon Blanc  – although allowance is needed for the fact that these wines are different vintages and also presumably aimed at different markets.

The Conclusions

Brent’s The Ned seems softer with peach and orange flavours whereas Emma’s version replaces those tropical fruit elements with an apple and sharp citrus background that is built around a herbal and mineral foundation.

The Ned’s acidity emerges more quickly and is gentler with tangerine and orchard fruit components.

Acidity is slower to evolve in Emma’s version but, on arrival, delivers grapefruit and lime elements that typify the freshness for which Marlborough is justly famed.

Both are good wines though and great value for the prices at which they are currently available and the details are:

Fragrant and rounded, 2020 The Ned Sauvignon Blanc (Shop around for who has the best current deal) is centred on those bold tropical fruit flavours enlivened by tangerine acidity and a long, leafy finish that provides citrus peel and lemongrass depth.

Bright with exceptional clarity, 2019 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc by Emma Marris (from £9.99 at Majestic and 13%) offers us lingering and intense lime and apple flavours supplemented by a background in which zingy acidity, grassiness, herbal depth and a trace of granite all mingle agreeably.

Last word to Dad though

Setting aside any sort of contest, let’s also look at one of Brent’s flagship wines.

Aromatic and dense, 2019 The King’s Favour Sauvignon Blanc (from £11.99 at Majestic and 13%) delivers textured white peach and greengage flavours, firm citrus acidity and a finish reminiscent of gooseberry fool dessert – along with those (incredibly elusive) blackcurrant leaf influences.

Claret Corner (Bordeaux reds)

Bordeaux reds never really struck a chord with many of those UK folk who first came to regular wine drinking in the final quarter of the last century.

Instead that generation flocked to the uncomplicated, inexpensive, fruit driven wines then beginning to emerge from the new world.

Bordeaux could never compete with those wines – and, in those early days, few producers there even saw any need to try.

It was not just attitude though, nature does not help much either.

Although Bordeaux has warm summers and long, mild autumns, its climate is such that its grapes need a good year and a good site to ripen fully.

While the Gulf Stream and some natural protections do help, heavy rains and late frosts are regular – and major – hazards.

Equally, within the region, very local meteorology and small geological differences can have significant effects.

These days technology can help reduce challenges, but a more traditional strategy is blending – and Bordeaux winemakers have become brilliant at it.

Since the grapes grown there often ripen at different times, blending can tailor the varieties used (and their respective proportions) to reflect whatever prospered that year.

The contrasting “demands” and successes of merlot and cabernet sauvignon play a significant part in this process – and, of course, drive vintage variation.

Helped by a new breed of winemakers, wine styles have changed too.

Fruit based flavours like blackcurrant and cherry now have higher profiles leading to richer, more intense wines with attendant reductions in tannin, oak influences and maturation times.

Nevertheless, texture and savoury contrast remain important in the world of Bordeaux reds.

Labour intensive processes and other costs rule out bargain basement prices for claret but here are a handful I consider to be great value for money.

At the end, I have added an inexpensive option that reflects the region’s characteristics reasonably well without, of course, hitting the heights more expensive versions attain.

Here are the recommendations:

Smooth and soft, 2018 Chateau Lary Tagot Bordeaux (£8.50 at The Wine Society and 14%) delivers modern claret exhibiting medium bodied plum and raspberry flavours with good acidity, little tannin but attractive aniseed, toffee and woodsmoke elements. 

Warm with fruity aromas, 2017 Chateau Barreyres Haut Medoc (£13 at Sainsbury’s and 13%) provides loganberry, plum and cherry flavours combined with lively acidity and limited tannin plus suggestions of nutmeg, sage and chocolate all built into a lingering finish. 

Soft with only gentle tannin, 2016 Chateau Senejac (recommended to me by Bacchus Concierge – do take a look at their site – and available at Majestic from £18.99 – 13.5%) uses an excellent vintage to bring us eucalyptus and aniseed influenced cherry, red currant and damson flavours accompanied by good acidity and a trace of charcoal savouriness.

To give reasonably modern (but keenly priced) Bordeaux a test run, seek out the rounded and medium bodied 2018 Taste the Difference Bordeaux Superieur (£6.50 – instead of £8 until 25 May -at Sainsbury’s and 13.5%) with its cherry and chocolate flavours, modest tannin and a contrasting granite background.

One less myth to consider.

Did you see the excellent piece by Chris Mercer in Decanter that debunked one frequently expressed myth about the wine trade?

That particular myth has two foundations.

One is the belief that while diners are anxious not to overspend on wine, they never want to appear “cheapskates”.

Hence, the theory goes, many customers gravitate towards the second cheapest option on any Wine List.

The associated (and more sinister) part of this myth is that restaurateurs exploit that thinking by imposing their biggest mark up on that “second cheapest” wine.

So, the doomsayers have it, never buy the second cheapest wine on the list as it will probably represent especially poor value for money.

But how true is that?

However, the Decanter piece suggests that, like so many conspiracy theories, this contention does not survive its first encounter with detailed analysis.

A Working Paper from the American Association of Wine Economists suggests that, actually, the percentage mark up on the second cheapest wine is … “significantly below that on the third, fourth, and fifth cheapest wine and well below the peak mark-up”.

This was based on data drawn from over 450 wine lists in London restaurants a few years back.

Bigger mark ups actually seem apply to the middle of most ranges.

The authors of the analysis suggest this is because low priced wines need to be relatively cheap if they are to encourage consumption.

Equally, there is often a cash (rather than percentage) based element to margins on top end wines.  

Using cash-based margins says that, for example, putting £5 into your bank account represents a 50% mark up on something costing £10 but a mere 10% mark up on a £50 item.

Thus, a lower mark up on expensive items nevertheless generates the same amount of hard cash – the stuff everyone is in business to earn.

Those intrigued by the detail of that process should visit wholesaler Matthew Clark’s pricing advice to “on-trade” operations.

And the conclusion?

Whatever the mechanics, however, the conclusion is a simple one.

Anyone who has been studiously avoiding the “second cheapest” wine now has one less constraint to consider.

Do remember, though, that this discussion is about gross profit – the part of a restaurant’s income needed to cover staff and other sizeable “overheads” beyond the cost of the wine itself.

Call in again on Monday to hear about our latest Top Tips and for a round up current promotions at major retailers.

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12 Responses

  1. Wow! very informative piece today Brian, with some great recommendations. I must sing the praises for the Sharpham bottle which I tasted recently and goes to show how good English wine has become, I also tasted their ‘Dart Valley Reserve’ which was also decent. English producers are not about Sparkling (although they do it well) some of their still whites are up there with the best but I’m not totally convinced with their reds yet but they are improving.
    As you may know, I’m always on the hunt for good affordable Bordeaux and I have found a few recently but it is a bit hit or miss (mostly miss for me I’m afraid, lol) I will take a look at the Barreyres & Senejac, still find it hard to get my head around Bordeaux Superieur. One I have enjoyed lately is the ‘ComTesse Saint Hilaire Montagne Saint Émilion’ from the Co op (around £10) which was very drinkable, it’s a right bank Merlot dominant bottle which I find more approachable for drinking now.
    Again very good read, sorry for going on a bit !

  2. Great post Brian, I’m off to Waitrose for the Riesling! I also think that Joseph Drouhin produces some great wines, so will add the Pouilly-Vinzelles to the basket too.
    I thoroughly agree about the Tesco’s Finest Premier Cru Champagne – it is fantastic value for the money. I’ve used it a lot in tastings (all agree it is great) and buy for myself – often it is discounted too. It is a lovely rich and creamy Champagne and if you can get over the ‘own brand’ issue, worthy of taking to a dinner party – once we reach those heady days!
    Finally, I also agree with Dave about the Co op Saint Emilion – very quaffable and a frequent buy for me (alongside the Chiroubles from Beaujolais which is amazing IMO).


  3. Wine mark-ups: Many years ago I was chatting to a Wine Merchant who, when tasked to compile a restaurant wine list, would always put in a slightly obscure but great value and/or interesting wine in both white and red sections. And he wouldn’t make finding them, obvious.
    I could see the logic and the attraction of doing this. So when looking at restaurant lists, offline when they were published, or “live”, pre-ordering, I still pour over a list in great detail trying to find these hidden gems.
    To be honest I have rarely found such wines. I always raise this issue when chatting to wine merchants, and, sadly, have never come across anyone else who either adopts this strategy or even seems to share the fun and intrigue in doing such a thing!

  4. Great read as always Brian, few corkers in there also that will make the way to the cellar.
    Was in M&S today for a few purchases following on from your piece last week. Whilst in, you’ll never guess what I found (like my link?). Anyway, those clever chaps have done a Magnum of the classics Rioja (No. 21). They looked all lonely on the shelf and now have a new home, until Saturday.
    Stay safe and drink well my friend.

  5. Thank you for the informative recommendations. There are a few here that are always welcomed in our house. At the risk of taking an ill informed liberty I thought I might add to the list… Kings Favour does an excellent Gris, a lovely accompaniment to a Thai and good Indian. It has good weight in the mouth and a delicious fruitful flavour. Secondly, De Grendel Sauv is an real bargain at a faction under £9 just now at Waitrose. Proof, if it was needed, that S. Africa can produce wines of depth and integrity at a half reasonable price point….

  6. Thanks Gerry …. It did expand a bit more than I originally intended so I am glad that it worked for you ….. Brian

  7. Really good to get your take on the English wine and on Bordeaux too. I have not tried that Co-op Saint Emilion yet so will try to do so but, as you say, affordable Bordeaux is hard to track down.

  8. Fantastic to hear from you Janet andI appreciate your endorsement for the Tesco champagne. As I said to Dave, I will chase up that Co-op red – and, given your lavish praise, the Beaujolais too.

  9. Hi Richard …. Great story and – like you – I make a point of looking through restaurant lists for something a bit unusual but I suspect we are the exception. I can see why those in catering trade are wary about putting a wine on their lists that many diners will avoid because it is unfamilar, In the end, they may they finish up discounting it heavily to clear the stock before it goes out of condition.

  10. I admire your public spirited approach to dealing with “lonely looking” Rioja magnums. If they are as good as the bottles – I am sure they will repay your efforts handsomely.

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