A COMMON theme of New Year resolutions is likely to be spending less or weighing less.
Beyond fellow wine writer Ollie Smith’s very successful ‘reduce what you eat by a third’ regime, I can offer little help with diets but this review of wines under £5 could play a part in controlling spending. Even better, the choices are designed to keep you well clear of those nose-wrinkling cheapies that shatter so many drink-related economy drives.
Starting the recommendations with Asda’s recently revamped Wine Selection category, I turn first to the 2011 French Marsanne (£3.98), an excellent white that maintains the high standard of this long-haul mainstay of Asda’s value lines. Marsanne is an unsung hero among grape varieties that, as here, can provide substantially textured, slightly spicy wine with nice sharp, greengage flavours. It was, however, marginally outshone by 2011 Les Crouzes Colombard (£4.99, down from £5.99 until Tuesday, Co-op) which provides a nicely crafted take on another underestimated grape variety, adding vibrant floral touches and racy apricot flavours to the rounded pear fruit you normally expect from colombard.
Speaking of ever popular whites, Tesco currently has an offer on the delightful 2011 Torres Viña Sol (£4.79, down from £6.29 until 19 February) with its slightly prickly, balanced orange and red apple flavours that are accentuated by a grapefruit centred edge of acidity. Top billing among Tesco whites at this price point must go, however, to a favourite from the past – Tesco Simply Muscadet (£4.99) with its clear-cut, intense melon and crisp green apple flavours that is every bit as good as the original examples from this part of the Loire.
Moving to other parts of Europe, I have been impressed by 2011 Pasqua Pinot Grigio Pavia (£4.99 as part of a mixed case until 4 February, Majestic) from Italy with its lovely soft and perfumed hints of peach that are deftly enhanced by beautifully counter-balancing acidity. Oh that all pinot grigio at this price point was anything like as good. The new world also makes its contribution to value whites with 2012 Rincon del Sol Chardonnay Chenin Blanc (£4.99, M&S) from Mendoza, Argentina, combining lively lemon flavours with zesty lime undercurrents and no trace of the excessive oak that has blighted chardonnay’s reputation in recent years.
Sticking with the southern hemisphere but switching to reds, we come to 2012 Danger Point Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot (£3.99, Morrisons) from South Africa. The wine is light in colour and texture with ripe cherry fruit and an undemanding, fresh and smooth style that rides out on a vanilla and cinnamon finish.
Another Rainbow Nation delegate also did well. The Coastal Region’s 2012 The Wine Selection South African Pinotage Merlot (£4.98, Asda) provides rounded and substantial raspberry, cherry and menthol flavours, balanced acidity but firm concluding tannin. Nevertheless, for me, it was edged out of first place in this Asda range by 2011 The Wine Selection Spanish Cabernet Sauvignon (£4) – a rich, minty, blackcurrant fruit bomb with (like the Danger Point) only limited tannin and, thus, possibly less appeal to cabernet traditionalists.
A much lighter Spanish red can be found at M&S in the shape of its 2011 Spanish Garnacha Shiraz (£4.99) from Cariñena. This is an uncomplicated, juicy version of France’s grenache grape with red cherry fruit underpinned by lively acidity, modest levels of tannin but real freshness. Southern France also has a part to play here with the companion to the colombard praised earlier. 2011 Les Crouzes Old Vines Carignan (also £4.99 – instead of £5.99 until Tuesday - from the Co-op) has intense black cherry fruit, real smoothness but suddenly develops a terrific mineral-centred, vanilla finish.
We must, however, set this review in context. Inexpensive wines can seldom deliver the complexity, depth or subtlety of examples even a couple of rungs up the price ladder. As Michael Saunders (of wine giant Bibendum) points out, the industry’s high level of fixed costs means that up to 13 times as much can be invested in the actual wine itself in a £7.50 bottle, as against a £5 version.
Nevertheless, when great value wine production is done well, it can offer light, bright, mood-lifting contributions out of all proportion to the cost involved – and the dark days of January are just the time to prove it.
WINES OF THE WEEK
• 2009 Vinalba Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina, 14.5 per cent Beautifully rich, dense wine with full, bramble fruit topped off by nice mocha touches but finished with tannins that are surprisingly soft. £8.99, Co-op
• 2011 Terras Gauda O Rosal Rias Baixas, Spain, 12.5 per cent A magnificent 70 per cent albarino blend with delightful contrasts between its sharp lime and orange acidity and the textured apricot fruit it supports, but made more complex by savoury asparagus touches and concluding minerality. £11.97, Costco