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.
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, as the number three is on my mind, 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!
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.
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.
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!