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Sunday Best Wines as Summer moves to Autumn

Our Sunday Best feature provides its usual diverse collection of wines to grace any special event

Once in a while, most of us have a special occasion that calls for wine as memorable as the event being celebrated – even in difficult times like these.

Usually, such wines involve paying a little more than normal and this is where our “Sunday Best” feature – every six weeks or so – comes to the rescue.

Even though the price band is different, the normal MidWeek Wines criteria apply to selections, to ensure that wine recommended is (a) typical of its style, (b) great value and (c) tastes good!

So, today is one of the days when we talk about – or perhaps just encourage dreams about – bottles that may cost a little more.

Here, then, is a handful of slightly more expensive wines that I think you will enjoy.

Where a hyperlink is available, it will take you the retailer’s web page but do remember that some of these wines are best secured online.

First stop the Loire estuary

Almost while we were not looking, muscadet transformed itself (perhaps with help from climate change) from underperforming, slightly passé white wine into a crisp and delicate option that offers the complexity you find here as you ascend the quality ladder.

Aromatic and nicely textured, 2019 Domaine de La Combe Muscadet (£9.95 at Slurp and 12% abv) has apple, pear and lime flavours well supported by good acidic freshness and savoury (almost saline) initial influences that scale back into a gentle mineral complexity to tuck in nicely behind those fruit-like elements.

And another underestimated grape

Given its proportion of original German emigrees, good riesling from South Australia is no surprise but the cool and moist Great Southern region of Western Australia (home to this wine) is also acquiring a reputation for riesling. 

Bathed in bold lime acidity, 2020 Robert Oatley Great Southern Riesling (£13.99 at Cambridge Wine Merchants  and 12%) provides us with zestiness underpinning its aromatic peach and apple flavours that combine neatly with its rosemary imbued texture and gentle hint of riesling’s trademark kerosene.

Nipping back home now

Alongside the massive success with fizz, English still wines are beginning to gain traction and this option from an excellent sparkling wine producer illustrates the point.

Interestingly, the ubiquitous chardonnay is joined here by the little known ortega grape (a muller-thurgau cross) that seldom excites in its native Germany but can provide good acidity (if only limited texture) in the cooler climes of Southern England.

Light in texture but with a good depth of flavour, 2020 Balfour Chardonnay Ortega (£13 at M&S and 12%) delivers quince, melon and white currant flavours partnered by pink grapefruit acidity and a long finish in which orange pith and bitter lemon touches mingle agreeably.

Something of an oddity

Here an acclaimed producer in Languedoc and beyond – Les Vignobles Foncalieu –  has taken the pink skinned sauvignon gris grape, used to a minor extent in Bordeaux, and given it a local twist to create wine that seems a half-way house between white wine and rosé.   

Textured and concentrated, 2020 Foncalieu Griset (£9.60 at Inverarity Morton and 12%) brings us ripe apple, peach and grapefruit flavours embellished by good lemon acidity yet contrasting savouriness too. 

Next for a red

Baden has some of Germany’s warmest vineyards, so it is not surprising that growers there were early pioneers with that country’s red wines.

Frequently they involve pinot noir but here that grape plays a minority role (with a couple of other varieties) behind blaufränkisch (aka lemberger) .

Light and perfumed, 2018 Klumpp Cuvée No.1 (£18.25 at Yapp and 13%) brings us bold but well-defined raspberry, red currant and red cherry flavours supported by good acidity and hints of allspice and ginger.

Now to France

Even among the other superstars of Western Languedoc, the wines of Saint Chinian always seem a bit a special whether you are seeking whites, rosés or GSM blends like this.

Inky dark and perfumed, 2016 Domaine Saint Cels Mille Etoiles (£22 at Gwin Dylanwad Wine and 14.5%) features velvety plum and raspberry flavours in partnership with truffle, liquorice and clove elements – all embellished by integrated acidity and tannin.

And a little further west

From Saint Chinian keep heading southwest and we reach the famed Vins Doux Naturel country of Roussillon, but that dry and sunny corner of France produces excellent red wines too – and this fantastic value GSM (again) blend is one of them.

Beautifully smooth and soft, 2017 Domaine Bisconte Roussillon (£10 at the Co-op and 15%) contains intense prune and blackberry flavours with firm acidity – but modest tannin – alongside traces of star anise, cocoa and lavender.

And today’s fortified recommendation

While Manzanilla can produce sherry that is too dry and salty for some tastes, this one is more than a bit special for two reasons.

First, unusually, it a single vineyard sherry (from Finca Pastrana) while “Pasada” indicates that it has been aged for longer than normal (some reports say 12 years for this one); both factors significantly improve the quality on show.  

A beautiful golden colour, Hidalgo Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada(from £11.95 at Majestic and 15%) contains mellow, bruised apple, orange and walnut flavours accompanied by citrus peel and toffee texture without deserting those classic Manzanilla saline hints. 

Great value Champagne

Inexpensive champagne often represents a trade-off – sometimes biscuity depth has to be forfeited, at other times the fruit “taste-alikes” are one dimensional or it could have only limited acidity; however, this one seems to balance all three aspects well.

After an exuberant initial mousse, The Best Etienne Leclair Brut Champagne (£18 – instead of £20 until 21 September – at Morrisons and 12%) develops grapefruit, strawberry and melon flavours supplemented by an excellent balance between biscuit (and slightly smoky) texture on the one hand and vibrant acidity reminiscent of lime refresher sweeties on the other.

Or as an alternative

With increased demand for champagne expected for the rest of 2021, discounted prices for Christmas sparkle seem unlikely this year – happily good cava like this could come to the rescue.

It is from a producer that specialises in aged cava and, with a combination of gentle pressing and careful maturation, the result is balanced, concentrated wine with a very low level of residual sugar.

With deceptively languid bubbles that actually generate a vital and energetic mouthfeel, 2015 Roger Goulart Gran Reserva Brut Cava (£16.99 at Luvians and 12%) exhibits soft quince and peach flavours enlivened by lime acidity yet given depth by a creamy almond and toast intensity.

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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4 Responses

  1. Nice one Brian, some great wines again, I’ve never been disappointed with anything from Robert Oatley and that Riesling is a star. Tasted some lovely English Chardonnay’s lately, particularly like the sharpness (lively acidity) you get along with a hint of sweetness but not tried the Balfour one yet although I’ve been to Hush Heath I only tried their fizz (which was excellent) and their Pinot Noir. Sounds like another excellent bottle from the ever reliable Co op the Domaine Bisconte Roussillon, one I will definitely check out.
    Aahh ! Sherry I love it but it can divide, bit of a marmite drink but as you say if you try a Pasada it may well bring you on board, chilled with Tapas it’s (in my opinion) hard to beat.
    Finally Cava, as good as the regular stuff is ( ie: Frexeinet, Codornui) spend a little more and again it’s hard to beat, even the quality bottles are a far cheaper option than some Champagne.

  2. Thanks Dave – for the endorsement of some of those selections and additional pointers in respect of others. As for that sherry, I think it has so much to commend it and is great value for money – in fact The Wine Society seem to have sold out so there must be lots of keen fans out there.

  3. Tried the Roussillon this weekend Brian, could only find a 2018 bottle but it didn’t disappoint. Good balance and pleasing development of flavour. With wine prices generally creeping up I thought it represented good value as well.

  4. Glad it worked for you Nigel – it is a nice example. Pleased also to see your realism about prices. Already I am finding it harder and harder to identify wine below £6 that I can recommend unconditionally to subscribers.

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