Working here for over a decade, I can honestly say that I have tried hundreds of wines in various tastings and both my palate and wine rack have become rather eclectic over the years. It is easy to revert to choosing your favourite grapes or regions in the knowledge that you will invariably like a style and it will go down well with your guests or cooking. My job is to try new things, particularly wines from smaller producers and a lot of grape varieties that are out of the normal comfort zones. Not only is this a way to find wines that are fantastic value for money, but also to recommend unusual indigenous grapes or a wine with a different name. What I like about the style categories on our website, such as ‘lunchtime red’, is the fact that you can find some real gems that sit alongside recognisable grapes, styles and appellations like Aussie Shiraz and Chablis. You can also look under ‘grape types’ and find some interesting whites such as Grillo and Garganega, or reds like Bobal or Teroldego. My aim is to showcase a few lesser-known wines, that are worth taking a closer look at, and suggest some food that the wine may work nicely with.
When it comes to familiar and unfamiliar names, France is a good place to start. A recognisable appellation, such as Chablis, Chateauneuf du Pape, or Sancerre, will hold more precedence over its lesser known counterparts. Of course the reputation of the former wines often means a higher price tag but you can find some great wines that are literally a stone’s throw away in a plot of land up the road.
For instance, one of my favourites right now, the Famille Perrin Luberon £9.99 could, in my opinon, easily rival the White Chateauneufs out there that are commanding prices of £20 a bottle. Our Wine Buyer, Dave Roberts, wrote a great article on the Perrin Family and these wines a few months ago. Luberon is a village in Provence and the Perrin Family are the owners of Chateau du Beaucastel, a renowned Chateauneuf du Pape Estate. This organic wine is made from Grenache Blanc, Bourboulanc, Ugni Blanc and Vermentino and the blend results in a wine with a full body but full of fresh citrus fruits so it is nicely balanced. It is perfect with roast chicken or meatier white fish.
From the Languedoc, you may look at your traditional blends of Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre but we wouldn’t necessarily think of trying Carignan as a single varietal. Les Grands Chemins Old Vine Carignan 2012 £8.49 has lots of vibrant red fruit but also deeper plum and liquorice flavours. What is surprising with all that depth of flavour is that it is only 12.5% abv and it really is quite light and smooth. In fact, it won ‘Best Old World Red’ and ‘Gold’ at our London Wine Awards last year, tasted and rated blind from our own customers.
If we look at some grapes indigenous to Sicily, the white grapes, Caricante and Albanello are a good pairing to make the wonderful Gulfi Carjcanti 2009 £16.99 (keep your eyes peeled for the Carjcanti’s triumphant return after it was snapped off the shelves rather quickly). They give this wine both a tart acidity and full structure. There is also a great minerality which may be connected to the clay soil. The wine is full of crisp green apple and almond flavours with a rounded creaminess that would be a decadent aperitif or accompany shellfish very well such as a crab risotto.
From my perspective, South America is still the place to watch at the moment. Argentina is the king of Malbec but you will also find a myriad of grapes including Tannat and Caladoc. The former is a light easy drinking red and the latter is a crossing of Grenache and Malbec. Chile has the wonderful Carmenere, one to try if you like Merlot or Cabernet, but with a little more bite. Chile also grow Malbec very well and the Perez Cruz Cot Reserva Limited Edition 2012 £12.99 was one of my favourite reds of last year. This example of Chilean ‘Cot’ (the Chilean name for Malbec) is a lot more elegant than my previous experience of this grape. The wine has a real concentration of fruit, with intense flavours of blackberry, liquorice and cedar. I would pair this with robust flavours such as smoked duck or venison.
Rustenberg John X Merriman 2010 £13.49
John Xavier Merriman was the former owner of the vineyard and key in helping the area flourish. His name appears on their flagship wine. I had the pleasure of visiting this vineyard many years ago in Stellenbosch. South African Meritage (Bordeaux blends) like this can really rival the top end Bordeaux they are trying to emulate. Predominantly Cabernet Merlot with a little Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, damson fruit is dowsed in elegant French oak and the wine also has well-balanced tannins. This would serve as a good accompaniment to ribeye steak.
For my last recommendation, I wanted to talk about a sweet wine. Some avoid this category completely because their experience has been so intensely sweet it has put them off. Looking at Bordeaux, it is easy to choose a Sauternes. However, I would urge you to try a beautiful wine from the village of Cérons. The Chateau du Seuil Cérons 2010 £12.99 holds a special place for me as it was one of three wines I had at my wedding from these lovely winemakers. The Cérons appellation is unique for this late harvest botrytis wine, and the grapes are hand-picked once they have reached the desired intensity of sugar and flavour. The Semillon here has a wonderful balance of citrus acidity and orange marmalade or apricot conserve, making it ideal not only with fruity desserts but also with a variety of cheeses. Try it and for those in doubt, I hope you will be converted!
To conclude, there is certainly nothing wrong in plumping for your favourite wines but when you put together your next case of wine, try just one or two that you are unfamiliar with. Perhaps choose a different winemaker; Torrontes instead of Sauvignon or Touraine over Sancerre. It can be a great talking point with your guests and a pleasant surprise for any sceptics, including yourself.
Suggested alternatives to your favourites
Sauvignon Blanc – Albarino or Gruner Veltliner
Pinot Noir – Gamay or Cabernet Franc
Chablis – unoaked Chardonnay, Cortese
Pinot Grigio – Gavi, Muscadet
Cabernet Sauvignon – Petit Verdot
Sarah-Jane Tweed, Senior Wine Advisor