ALTHOUGH the usual focus for this column is on affordable drinking, I am often asked about more expensive wine. Here, then, is my quarterly look at celebration wines.
It surely makes sense to spend as much on a good bottle to enjoy at home as you would pay for middle-of-the-road wine in a restaurant.
The end (we hope) of winter is a good time to look at the reds of the Loire where cabernet sauvignon’s father – cabernet franc – remains king. 2010 Domaine La Grange aux Belles Anjou Rouge 53 (£16.49, Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 554750) has a delightful sense of purity and freshness within its deep, cherry menthol and earthy beetroot flavours that are rounded off by a touch of liquorice. Wines with low tannin like this respond particularly well to being lightly chilled.
Gamay is another popular summer drinking option. Seek out 2011 Saint-Amour, Domaine Matray (£14.40, www.nickdobsonwines.co.uk) from Beaujolais. Although wine from Saint Amour has obvious romantic appeal, they offer serious year-round drinking as this smooth, rich and flowery example testifies. It has good acidity to enliven its flavours of plum and other red fruits but, like the Anjou, is given an earthy depth by hints of beetroot.
For a more conventional European red, try the unfiltered, dense, bramble and prune fruit of 2009 Dos Dedos de Frente (£23, Bon Vivant’s Companion, Edinburgh). This is made in Spain’s Calatayud region by an excellent Scottish winemaker, Norrel Robertson MW, who is producing terrific and imaginative wine.
Someone else making wine outside his homeland (in his case Spain) is Miguel Torres who has now also been operating in Chile for over 30 years. His obsession with continuous improvement has created memorable wines there, such as 2008 Torres Chile Cordillera Carignan (£13.28, www.vintagemarque.com, minimum order applies). It is another unfiltered wine and delivers concentrated and meaty damson flavours with a finish that brings together dried fruit, nutmeg, vanilla and liquorice.
Moving north to California’s Mendocino County, I enjoyed a tasty example of a quintessentially Californian grape variety in 2009 Edmeades Mendocino County Zinfandel (£16.50, www.halifaxwinecompany.com). Again, this is big wine with intense blaeberry, damson and vanilla flavours topped off by a long mocha and black olive finish.
For an excellent white burgundy, take a look at 2010 Pouilly Fuissé La Vieille Vigne du Bois D’Ayer (£24.99, www.elliescellar.com). This is a silky, polished wine with creamy red apple and nectarine fruit that leads into a late burst of refreshing acidity and, finally, appealing chalky minerality.
Among the current champagne offers, I was taken with Champagne Comte de Noiron Coeur de Cuvee (£20, down from £30 until next weekend, M&S). This is a nicely balanced fizz with classy restraint, long-lasting bubbles and an appealing combination of bready aromas, apple-centred acidity and a savoury finish.
Moving on to spirits, Aldi may still have a few bottles left of the Glen Orrin 30 Year Old Blended Whisky (£49.9). This has been acclaimed by whisky gurus and provides a smooth, sophisticated dram with skilful balance (in this case, between vanilla and hints of both caramel and marmalade).
The period between Hogmanay and Easter is a quiet season for wine. So celebrate the return to normality with a luxury bottle. The joy is not just in the quality but a heightened appreciation from the contrast with your regular tipple.
• 2011 F Stephen Millier Angel’s Reserve Chardonnay California, USA, 13 per cent
Not what you expect from Californian chardonnay but, instead, a fresh and textured version with apricot and pineapple fruit, balanced acidity and a subtle, savoury finish. £9.49, Naked Wines
• 2011 Minarete Ribera del Duero Spain, 13.5 per cent
Another Spanish star from Aldi with surprisingly soft bramble fruit given the intensity that the old vine tempranillo brings – but the wine then finishes with a combination of minerality and a suggestion of tannic grip. £5.49, Aldi