Three cheap wines I love

When I mention my interest in wine to a new acquaintance I am rarely surprised by the responses I hear. Sadly, the most frequent reaction is for someone to adjust their face to a woefully tiresome expression and say, in a tone more appropriate for accusing someone of farting in their granny’s face, “Oh you are one of those awful wine snobs are you?” This is because these people are very rude and more interested in repeating their prejudices rather than run the risk hearing anyone say something so interesting it’s beyond the understanding of their blinkered minds.

Many thanks to Andy Singer for having no idea I've stolen one of his jokes - click this image to go to his site

I am not a snob; something is not worthy of note simply because it is expensive. My encyclopaedic knowledge of wine was built from the bottom upwards so I am well aware that quality exists at many price levels and the most expensive doesn’t equate with the best. I normally say that good wine starts at ten pounds but today, [link2post id=”5806″]as the number three is on my mind[/link2post], I’ll tell you about three sub-tenner wines I love. For quality kit, on a shop shelf rather than direct from a producer, sub-ten pounds is cheap.

Just to pre-empt any pleasure-hating tightwads who say that any wine priced more than £2.99 is too expensive I’ll say this: Last night I had a bottle of the Sherry I recommend – it cost £8.44. I cannot think of a single method to make people as happy as we who drank by only spending that amount of cash. Not if you purchased £8.44 worth of staggeringly mature Cheddar or even sherbet flying saucers would you grin and chortle so much. So prise open your wallet and get something nice for a change. Right, the wines!

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Manzanilla La Gitana, Hidalgo – £8.44 from Waitrose Wine (and many other places)

Dry Sherry does not come much drier, lighter or more refreshing and at this price the amount of invigorating pleasure it delivers makes one almost feel cheeky when buying a bottle. There are very few wines that hit the required spots quite so accurately on a warm summer’s day or just before lunch if you were obliged to be awake in the morning. It is a wonderful, interesting wine of real character that has been made using a far more convoluted and expensive process than inordinately less enjoyable stuff that usually commands higher prices such as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (why people think NZ SB is good value, or nice, is totally beyond me). Even better, Waitrose online and Ocado seem to give 25% off the price every other month so this really is the bargain of the wine world. It is so totally brilliant that within minutes of reading this I expect every lover of good times to score a few bottles to stick in the fridge; frankly I’m a tad scandalised you don’t already have some.

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Faugeres 2008, Domaine St Martin d’Agel – £8.99 from Leon Stolarski Fine Wines

I’ve had this wine a few times but am slightly embarrassed to admit none of those bottles I’ve purchased myself direct from Leon. It must be this guilt that has resulted in me dreaming about him a few times in recent weeks – he seems very tolerant of me continually getting lost in a miniscule but inordinately confusing village whilst drinking a huge bottle of rather good Bandol from his list. Nice chap. This wine is also a goody. It fits the cotemporary idiom for reds being fleshy with ripe, round fruit and soft tannins. Most such wines are simply dull, especially at this price-point. Moreover, if I am uncharacteristically indirect I might hint that there at least several reasons why Faugeres isn’t the first name to leap to most people’s minds when thinking of quality wine. The characters that set this apart from others of its style, price and appellation are its cleanliness (it doesn’t smell of sewage), the satisfying restraint and harmony (neither alcohol nor fruit are excessive on the nose or palate) and the commendable complexity it shows in terms of fruit, spice and earth attributes. The Bandol of my Leon-filled dreams (The 2001 here) may turn the ‘profound’ dial up to 11, but that doesn’t cost £8.99.

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Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2009, Torre del Falasco – £9.50 from The Wine Society

Valpolicella is generally frightful stuff – all too often thin, acrid and made for people who feel they need punishing for serious crimes they’ve perpetrated against humanity. This is a bit of a shame as the wines can have a crisp fruitiness and vigorous energy that make them very refreshing reds to drink with great pleasure. Moreover, I feel the very best should flash with hints of the style shown by their siblings, the Amarones which are characterful and intense enough to be meditation wines perhaps second only to Port in migraine-generating ability. This wine certainly does this is is not over-priced like most Italian wines. There is intense, concentrated fruit that shows good complexity, and the palate has fine-tuned balance between fruit, tannin, acid and alcohol. I admit it is a bit of a biggie, but that excellent balance gives it interest for even lovers of less booze-mongous pleasures. Quite a bargain and beezer quality too.

Less regular readers of this site might be thinking, “Why didn’t he mention a £4-to-7 Claret? There are so many of them.” The answer is simple: THEY ARE ALL CRAP!

  • David – you’ve not been buying the Faugeres from those rascals in C*****dge, surely?! 😉 Have to agree with you on cheap Claret, by the way……… or expensive Claret, come to think of it. So much more pleasure to be found elsewhere in the wine world.

  • No, I didn’t buy any at all, that is why I felt guilty. A few friends had secured it (at least two of them from you) and I was served it three times as a blind tasting challenge. My guess first time was understandably hopeless, but my other two chums were wowed by my total brilliance. Did I admit prior experience of it? Oh… erm… surely I did! I wouldn’t want to seem flash, oh no!

    Cheap Claret must be the most depressingly dreary, unvaryingly vapid wine there is. I can attest, having hung around all ends of the wine trade, that their is something more horrible than drinking the filth. That is the unspeakable trauma of having to make up convincing lies about it just to sell some of the mountain that was purchased by someone drunk far beyond any hope of competence. The quantities of such dry, dull horribleness in most Oxford college cellars are enough to make anyone who likes to enjoy wine weep uncontrollably for the best part of an afternoon.

    That being said, I’ve had some amazing Claret of seriously moving quality. However, given the amounts they produce and the relatively trivial viticultural and oenological skills required to make the stuff, the prices asked for it are just so insultingly inflated you almost have to applaud their marketing managers’ bare-faced cheek (and that of all those other people along the supply chain). I will never buy another bottle of Claret again, no matter what it is or what it costs – I don’t care how indirect it is those people do not deserve even one pence of my money.

    Great rant, eh?

  • Yes, I like a good rant David, whether it is me ranting or someone else!

  • Thomas Blach

    Speaking for myself I am not a wine snob, though I would put my hand up and admit to being a pretentious git who spends far too much valuable time engaged in contemplating the pleasures of the table. I attribute this to a genetic imbalance.

  • Majestic have a deal on at the moment where you can buy 2 bottles of the Manzanilla for £7.99 per bottle. Ding dong!

    Even with the Alcohol (Scotland) Act 2010 which came into force on October 1st (disallowing alcohol promotions that offer discounts for buying multiple products in Scottish stores), the discount should still apply. If it ships from England, the law doesn’t apply, and if it ships from Scotland, the bottle price is reduced. Braw!

  • Mr Nye,

    If I were scandalised every time a piece of utterly loathsome, inordinately illiberal legislation were enshrined in Scottish law then hypertension would make pricking my fingers the European Space Agency’s preferred method of powering satellites into orbit.

    Thanks for the heads-up on the cheapie La Gitana, though. Eight fun tokens is beyond a bargain for such a top drop!

    Indeed, I would go as far as saying that if I had only done you (in the quite worrying length of time since we played darts whilst too drunk to see in a boozer on Oxford’s Botley Road) but one favour, the introduction to La Gitana would surely be it. That stuff is the squirrel’s scrote.

    See you soon in Winchester, I hope!

  • Mr Blach,

    There is nothing wrong with seeking out, discussing and certainly not adoring the very best food and wine. Indeed, but two weeks ago I went for a five hour lunch of which only one hour was enjoyed at the restaurant; the rest of the time being spent in transit to and from the establishment. The food was so good I felt my efforts were quite proportionate.

    I would add that, unless you are doing it wrong, there is no shame in being pretentious. One can get it wrong, of course. I seem to recall writing a film review of ‘The Pillow Book’ for an Oxford periodical (which may make me sound ancient to many readers – I am). The review started ‘This film gives being pretentious a bad name.’ Perhaps, so long ago, the film wasn’t the only thing that did…

  • Ed Tully

    The pillow book wasn’t as bad as, was it? Bat Man III. We left after seven and a half minutes. I hate to gloat, but you may remember I posted before the top news La Gitana was on sale, for a very brief time, at the the hilarious price of £2.50. So eight pounds seems incredibly expensive.

    In the bargain price stake let’s here it for Madiera. As you rightly say it is difficult to have a “night out” for less than £200 for two. For that kind of folding you could be drinking in the 19th Century. Larks!

  • Hello Edward,

    Dining out is one of the world’s most undervalued pleasures. As one with lunch-hours of generally unlimited length available to me I have to say the bargains one can get at beezer bunny joints in Town make being up before 12pm worth the considerable effort. You can take someone lovely out for lunch and still have change from the week’s income for cocktails at Hawksmoor afterward.

    Your memory fails you when on the subject of Batman 3. We walked out howling with disgust after three and one half minutes. The line about The Pillow Book that opened my review was swiped from you with no hint of remorse; I am pleased you only learned of my perfidious nature 16-ish years later.

    La Gitana would be a bargain at double the price.

  • Ed Tully

    Do you know I don’t remember that at all? Ah well, such is youth. Well, a youth spent in a bit of a daze. A wine bargain I was dreamily recalling in the bath this morning was that Haut Brion 86 we scored for thirty quid. Yes, regular readers, the Strange used to buy claret. anyway, more fun even than that was the hilarious anecdote (and its aftermath) it provoked at dinner. Oh my!

  • Hello Edward,

    Just to confirm, I most certainly did not buy any HB 86 (which was £27 a bottle) as our good friend Herr Schliess swiped the only case the shop had and had the panache to ask for a case discount. Triple-A!

    But I did buy Claret on that day, it is true. The last decent vintage of Montrose (1988) for a price within the reach of my student’s overdraft, a miniscule £8.50 per bottle. We drank stunning amounts of it during that rather headache-themed little holiday and it was simply lovely. When I remember that elegant little number and compare it with the vile 100-point 1990 (that both Hanneke and Paul D popped with me present) I feel that, unless destitution looms, no winemaker should pay a jot of attention to any wine journo’s aesthetic ideals – especially if they think 50 = 0.

  • Hanneke Wilson

    I remember the occasion well: the Montrose 1990 was the worst wine of the evening. My tasting note ran, ‘You could stand a spoon up in this’. The ‘critic’ to whom you refer hilariously claims that it has ‘high glycerin’.

    I encountered Montrose 1990 again at a Christie’s tasting in 2004. It had settled down and showed rather better, but I preferred the much more elegant 2001 which was shown next to it.

  • That was a great evening, Paul was on top form as a host. That was one of the first ‘100 pointers’ I tried when moderately qualified to make a judgement. Everyone hated it, I could see precisely why and I absolutely agreed! Highly instructive for a young taster. I also seem to recall that, working as a team, we made some stunningly accurate guesses about Tempier and Beaucastel served blind. I admit it was quite a while ago so my faulty memory may just be trying to make me feel good.

    When the Tempier 1990 single vineyards were on a shop shelf in Oxford for £9.95 a bottle I felt so happy I was constantly wondering if something awful might happen to maintain the cosmic balance of fortune. I suppose I did drink that Montrose and the New College wine steward once forced me to try some 1986 Chanson and looked at me as if he expected some comment other than abuse…