With nothing under a tenner (and some bottles with stratospheric price tags) Chris’s promise that there wasn’t a duff bottle on display proved right.
What it also reinforced is that personal taste is the most important factor when you choose what to drink.
Here then are my personal favourites which I’d happily spend the money on, or be delighted if they turned up in my Christmas stocking.
Yealands Estate in New Zealand claims to be a “green wine” business with sustainable large scale premium wine production. Its vineyards are in territory with tough growing conditions and lower yields, concentrating the flavours.
Their Sauvignon Blanc certainly fits that bill, leaping out of the glass and grabbing you by the throat. It’s bursting with fresh, zingy elderflower perfume and doesn’t disappoint when you taste but it’s not as aggressive as the nose suggests. It delivers layers of flavour, which are elegant and have a delicious length. At £10.99 it’s competitively priced within its quality bracket.
The sister Pinot Noir also delivers on fruit and the slightly gamey quality of good cool country pinots. It comes in at £12.99.
The Pieropan Estate, which grow wines in the Veneto region of Northern Italy,has a similar philosophy of smaller yields bringing better flavours. They play a Russian roulette by leaving their grapes to the last possible moment before harvesting, risking rain and cold damage. Their 2008 La Rocca Soave then, is quite unlike any Soave I’ve tasted before, and combines apple fruits with an almond undercurrent, a huge but refined mouthful with a richness not normally achievable with the Garganega grape variety.
After the tasting, I discovered that this wine had won the Best Italian White gong in the recent International Wine Challenge. At £22.50, it’s a special occasion wine, but I’d justify it by staying in and matching it with a home cooked mushroom risotto for the same price as a quick pizza and plonk out.
The same estate also produces a desert wine, made with grapes harvested and left to dry naturally on bamboo mats, before being turned into a sweety underscored with lime flavoured acidity so it’s never cloying. Just like liquid lemon meringue pie, said my Plus One. Quite. One to sip after dinner and savour every drop. Pieropan Le Colombare Recioto di Soave. £23.99 for 50cl.
As a finale, Chris suggested trying the rums from Diplomatico, which produces a premium quality liquor in Venezuela. Forget Navy rum, this is a serious product at a serious price. Their Ambassador is aged for 12 years, and then transferred into Pedro Ximenez (Spain’s sweet wine) casks for a further two years, bringing a sweetness and lightness. I’m no expert but my Plus One was ecstatic – so he should be at £195 a bottle! If you want to trade down then the Reserva and Reserva Exclusiva from the same house both come highly recommended at a more approachable price level of £27.50 and £39.99.