30 Affordable Winter Wines

wines in snow Every month I taste a lot of wines that don’t make it into my reviews here on wine-pages. Sometimes that’s because the wines aren’t good enough, but not always: often there just isn’t space or a suitable opportunity to write up even wines that I really enjoy, whether tasted at events, as samples that are sent to me, or wines that I purchase for home. So this is the first of a new quarterly series, which each season will gather together my tasting notes on a whole bunch of ‘affordable wines’ – in this case, no less than 30 of them. For the purpose of this exercise I class ‘affordable’ as wines costing up to £12.00. Most will be available in high street retailers and supermarkets, with others coming from independent wine merchants or specialist online retailers.

under £8.00

White wines

Tagus Creek, Chardonnay & Fernão Pires 2012, Portugal
As cheap as chips at Asda, this blends in some local Fernão Pires to add interest to the Chardonnay, lots of tropical and pungently vegetal aromas, the palate hinting at a touch of sweetness and falling away fairly rapidly, but it is not without its fruity and punchy personality. 83/100. £4.25, Asda

McWilliams, Hayfield Verdelho 2011, Australia
Sourced from Southeast Australia this is Verdelho, one of the main grapes of Madeira, but quite common as a dry white wine grape in Australia. This has an attractive nose, a little buttery, with note of lemon rind and spiced apple purée. In the mouth it has plenty of punchy fruit, a tang of orange or tangerine and a long gently citrussy finish. 86/100. £5.99, Tesco, though I note that on two different pages of Tesco’s website one shows it for sale, the other as unavailable. x

La Châsse, Winemaker’s Selection Costières de Nîmes Blanc 2013, France
This southern Rhône blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier is not as aromatic as I would have hoped, presenting a much simpler, apple and citrus fruit with just a touch of mealiness. On the palate it has a bit of flesh and substance, more apple and lemon, but a melon-skin and lightly waxy feel to the texture adds interest. 84/100. Down from £8.99 to £5.99 until 27 January 2015.

Rigal, ‘L’Instant Passion’ Sauvignon 2012, France
Yet another on offer until February 2nd 2015 at Majestic, this Gascogne Sauvignon Blanc could suit those looking for post-Christmas moderation with its low 11.5% abv. Nectarine and passion fruit aromatics, only the gentlest of herbaceous character, and a touch of buttery softness. In the mouth it is very appealing, balancing enough lychee and mango exoticism with the tang of grapefruit juice and pith, and a dry and salty lick of acidity in the finish. 87/100. £9.99 normally (or so it is claimed), but currently £6.66, Majestic.

Miguel Torres, Days of Summer 2013, Chile
From the cool southern vineyards of the recently developed Itata Valley, this is Torres’ 12% alcohol dry Muscat that I have enjoyed in previous vintages too. Herby (dill, leafy parsley) and floral on the nose, there’s fresh apple and lemon too. On the palate definitely a hint of sweetness to this, very easy-drinking in style, nectarine-like sweet fruit and good balancing acidity. Certainly off-dry, and a summer sipper if you wait until the sun shines again, but another natural partner to fresh and spicy Oriental cuisine. 86/100. £9.99 but down to £6.66 (closer to its correct price too) until the beginning of February 2015, Majestic.

Torres, Viña Esmeralda 2013, Spain
From the Torres family’s home vineyards in Catalunya, not far from Barcelona, this stalwart white is an aromatic blend of Muscat and Gewürztraminer. Highly perfumed – much more so than the Days of Summer above – it has all the Turkish delight and Nivea cream Gewürz hallmarks, with a delightfully fresh palate that is just – just – off dry, showing not only exotic fruit, but delicious spice hinting at pepper and clove. 87/100. Widely available (Tesco, Waitrose) though the current price of £6.99 in Majestic appears to be the one to beat.

Rosé wines

x Tercius, Rosé Wine 2013, Portugal
This Portuguese rosé comes from the Tejo region and is a blend of Touriga Nacional and Castelão grapes with 20% of Syrah. It is a fairly deep, almost garnet colour, with modest scents of rose-hip, raspberry fruit and rhubarb rock, though all quite subtle. On the palate the acidity rather overwhelms the fruit, meaning that whilst it is dry, it is also a bit lean and mean. 81/100. £5.99 (on offer), Marks & Spencer.

Sainsbury’s Winemaker’s Selection Fairtrade Pinotage Rosé 2014, South Africa
The Pinotage grape is South Africa’s problem child: loveable and capable of excellent things, but so often getting it wrong. This Fairly traded pink version is really rather good however, the spice and robust earthy notes marrying very nicely with the juicy and full red fruits, a little stripe of something green and herbal adding a freshening Sauvignon-like character. It is dry, and arguably just a touch bitter in the finish, but that adds to its food-friendly appeal. 85/100. £6.50

Etoile de Mer, Lubéron Rosé 2013, France
A stylish pink from the north of Provence, it’s a blend of Grenache and Syrah that has more depth of colour than a typical Provence Rosé, and a little more juicy fruit joining the typical citrus and gentle herbs on the nose; cranberry and redcurrant. The palate is dry, with again a good deal of dry, small red berried fruit, and a dry apple core acidity to give it some grown up appeal. Bottled with a synthetic cork, and though normally £11.99, on offer until 2nd February 2015. 87/100. £7.99 on offer, Majestic.

Red wines

Asda, Wine Selection Chianti 2013, Italy
The cheapest red wine in this selection delivers pretty well for its price. Hallmark, bright, youthful and unoaked cherry aromas, a touch bubblegummy, but the freshness is there, aided by a hint of herbs and olive. On the palate it balances dry, earthy red berry fruit and cool, lightly vegetal notes into a nicely savoury, quite chewy whole. Good pasta-bashing stuff this. 85/100. £4.88, Asda.

McWilliam’s, Hayfield Pinot Noir 2013, Australia
Partner to the Verdelho also reviewed, this pours a medium to pale, earthy red and has autumnal, rhubarby aromas that are authentically Pinot. In the mouth it is light and spicy, though perhaps a little thin, a little lacking in fruit weight and texture. A reasonable rendition of Pinot, but not a great one. 83/00, £5.99, Tesco.

La Châsse, Winemaker’s Selection Costières de Nîmes 2013, France
The first time I’ve come across this particular wine in the popular La Chasse brand range, from home of some very well priced and generally under the radar Syrah, Costières de Nîmes in the southern Rhône. Here it is blended with Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan. There’s a lightly bubblegummy edge to this, Beaujolais-like and suggesting at least partial carbonic maceration, and the palate has a pleasing sappiness too, a lively cherry and plum skin, liquorice bite, finishing with good balance. 85/100. £5.99 until January 27th 2015, Tesco. x

Château de Triniac, Côtes du Roussillon Villages 2011, France
On offer down from £9.99 down to £6.66 until 2nd February 2015, this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan is bottled under a synthetic cork. It boasts 14.5% alcohol by volume and the back label indicates it comes from old vines. It has a subtle but pleasing nose, subdued aromatically, but deep and creamily dark fruited. In the mouth it is nicely done: a rasp of roughening tannin, pert acidity and yet a good weight of fruit and chocolaty richness to leave it spicy and smooth in the finish. 87/100. On offer at £6.66, Majestic.

Torres, Santa Digna Carmenere 2012, Chile
Aitken Wines of Dundee (and on the web) currently have a good price on this Fairtrade Carmenere from Torres in Chile. There’s a keen, almost Rhône-like note of pepper and schist at first, certainly a touch of greenness about this, but I like the lively cherry and blackberry fruit that comes through. In the mouth it has a richness and chocolaty weight, beefed up with its 14% alcohol, but it does retain good freshness, a keen edge from that herbal and cherry-skin character, with a nicely roughening rasp of tannin too. 86-87/100. £7.75 (on offer) aitkenwines.

Château Boissezon-Guiraud, Saint Chinian 2012, France
Sneaking in under £8.00, this wine from one of the Languedoc’s top appellations is a typical blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. Saturated and dark, the nose has buoyancy and a fine peppery lift, tight black fruit aromas lightened by that pepper and spice. In the mouth it is quite substantial and has an authentic and pleasing rustic grip to the tannins, liquorice and leather meld with sweeter black berries, before a long plummy finish with a rasp of tannin and acid. Very nice. 88/100. £7.97 Asda Wine Shop (online only).

£8.00 to £12.00

White Wines

Asda, Extra Special Gavi 2012, Italy
Made from the Cortese grape in Piedmont, this is produced by the Araldica cooperative. The nose is gently salty and lemony, a little like health salts with a touch of spring flowers thrown in. On the palate it has good fruit, lots of crunch like chilled apple or Asian pear, and good balance without the bracing acidity of some. 86/100. £8.00, Asda.

Sara & Sara, Friulano Colli Orientali del Friuli 2010, Italy
At one time this wine would have been a ‘Tocai’ Friulano, but the use of the term Tocai was outlawed by the EU in the 1990s after petitions by Hungary’s famous Tokaji or Tokay region. It comes from the far northeast of Italy, and has a really absorbing nose, with honey and brioche richness, hints of something floral, and quite a natural nutty and appley character. On the palate it is searingly dry, a real blast of pithy citrus and minerality, almost Fino-like in its salty precision. Possibly not everyone’s cuppa, but I liked it. 88-89/100. £8.49 (on offer), 31dover.com.

Clefs du Pontif, Marsanne Viognier 2013, France
With a clear nod towards Châteauneuf du Pape in its packaging, this is in fact a IGP Pays d’Oc blend of Marsanne and Viognier, relatively light (which suggests crisp and fresh) at 12.5% abv. With a hint of Emerald to the colour, the aromas are indeed fresh and lifted, with a lovely honeysuckle perfume to stone fruits and juicy apple. In the mouth it strikes a lovely balance; one the one hand quite fat and filled with sweet fruit, on the other cool and crisply defined by a hint of spicy creaminess before a rush of palate-cleansing acidity. 88/100. £8.99, Avery’s.

Château Le Bernet, Graves Blanc 2013, France
This is a typical white Graves blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and a touch of Muscadelle. It has a really inviting nose, with some of the Sauvignon Blanc grassy punch and tropicality, but waxy, lemon and grapefruit peel tang too. In the mouth it is fully, vibrantly fruity, filling the mouth with those zesty citrus flavours, but a touch of peachy ripeness too. Good weight and texture, a touch of mineral salts to the dry, fresh acidity, all add up to a wine that’s excellent to sip on its own, but which has broad food-matching credentials too. A Wine of the Week for me, watch my video review. 88/100. £9.00, Sainsbury’s.

Louis Latour, Ardèche Chardonnay 2013, France
Burgundy’s Louis Latour has been making very good Chardonnay and Pinot down in the Ardèche for many years, and after a complexing little whiff of fresh struck match or flint, this has a green and figgy character and is quite inviting. In the mouth it is cool and savoury stuff. If it has seen any oak it must be old barrels as there’s no toast or vanilla, but there is a hint of fat and openness, and lots of punchy acidity. Rather nice really. 87/100. From as little as £7.98 at underwoodwines, but generally around £9.00-£9.99, see wine-searcher

x Laroche, Vignoble Peyroli Chardonnay 2012, France
The single vineyard for this wine is located in the western Languedoc, at between 400m and 500m above sea level, on limestone and clay which is claimed to produce ripening conditions similar to those in Chablis ( where Laroche is based, though in fact Michel Laroche is no longer in charge and the brand is now part of a larger company). It seems heavily oak influenced to me however, and quite un-Chablis-like, with toast and vanilla and touches of tropical fruit. In the mouth it does have a juicy, lively character, again the fruit teeters on the pineapple and tropical, with a touch of baked apple pie, but acidity is refreshing. 87-88/100. Normally £12.99 but £9.74, Majestic, until 2nd February 2015.

Morande, Reserva Pinot Grigio 2012, Chile
A sophisticated Pinot Grigio from the cool coastal vineyards of the Casablanca Valley, this has loads of aromatic character unlike some bland versions of this variety. Sparky with greengage and hints of elderflower, and lots of crunchy apple and lime aromatics. In the mouth it becomes much more tropical, and I believe there’s a bit of residual sugar here too, giving this a full and luscious character, whilst it has spice, texture and acidity. A big blast of orange finishes in style. That sweetness and verve would make it ideal with spicy Thai and Szechuan dishes. 88/100. £9.99, Oxford Wine Company and various independent merchant: see wine-searcher

Tyrrell’s, Old Winery Verdelho 2012, Australia
From the Hunter Valley, home of those amazing Semillons with just 11% or 12% alcohol but flavour-packed and capable of long ageing, in many ways this is in a similar vein: only 12% abv and explosively fruity on the nose, with a spike of citrus and gooseberry, greengage and fig, there’s a lot going on. In the mouth it is just abundantly fruity and lip-smackingly vibrant (much more so than the McWilliams version above) with really punchy fruit, a vital core of acidity and a long, flavour-packed finish. 89/100. £10.99 Noel Young, winedirect, see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Wakefield, Clare Valley Riesling 2012, Australia
Couldn’t be more classic this, with lime, flowers and sherbet, a whiff of waxy paraffin, and plenty of pithy directness. No wonder fans of this style love these bone-dry and sheer, but relatively complex Rieslings. In the mouth it is energising stuff: like sucking on the tangiest grapefruit in one dimension, but then nuances of candy, bright and ripe apple and stony minerals are there too. Very long, very layered, very delicious. 90-91/100. £11.99, Marks & Spencer.

Red wines

Jean-Luc Colombo, ‘Les Abeilles’ Côtes du Rhône 2012, France
Sourced from vines that are at least 25 year old, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, and named Abeilles because 10p from every bottle sold goes towards the study and protection of honey bees. No honey on the nose though, just a very attractive and sheer wall of black and red berry fruit, quite dark and spicy, but richly fruity too and very inviting. On the palate this wins on its balanced drinkability: savoury and yet fruity, full and yet racy and fine, it has some pepper and spice in the finish too. 87-88/100. £8.79 (on offer) Cellarvie, see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Quinta de Vale Veados, Selection 2011, Portugal
Made by ace Portuguese winemaker Rui Reguinga, this wine from the Tejo region is mostly Touriga Nacional with a splash of Syrah. It has a lovely nose – dry and curranty, with a hint of woodsmoke and black plum, but immediately suggests a refreshing, forward style. The palate has deliciously juicy and chocolate-touched richness of black fruit, that hint of briar, earth and smoke is lovely, giving this a lingering finish and good deal of complexity. 88/100. £9.99, Virgin Wines.

Morrisons, ‘Signature’ Crozes Hermitage 2010, France
Made by Ogier, this is classic Rhône Syrah, the nose somehow marrying a velvety pool of deep black fruit with lift of tobacco, fresh-cracked black pepper and spice. In the mouth it has delicious balance. It is briary and sappy to an extent, giving energy and life in the mouth, but the smoothing note of fleshy plum and cherry, and then that spice coming through again, gives it a long, balanced finish. Drinking well and Morrison’s web site is still showing 2010 on the label of the bottle, if not in the description of the wine. 88/100. £9.99, Morrisons. x

Wirra Wirra, Church Block 2012, Australia
McLaren Vale stars Wirra Wirra’s excellent blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot is widely available, and whilst the 2011 vintage is down to £8.99 in Majestic until early February 2015, The Wine Society’s price appears to be the one to beat on this 2012. Aged in mostly French oak barriques for 18 months it has a beefy 14.5% abv, and a smooth and voluptuous aromatic profile, deeply set with plum and chocolate, and just a whisper of menthol. In the mouth it is a real crowd-pleaser, just laden with dark berry juiciness, the tart astringency of plum skins, and a seam of toast and chocolate to the tannins adding weight, texture and definition. Gorgeous really, and it’s very difficult not to like this. 89-90/100. £10.95, The Wine Society, see all stockists on wine-searcher

Piccini, Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Italy
Piccini has become a fairly ubiquitous brand on UK shelves in the past few years, with wines sourced across Italy. This comes from their home turf in Tuscany however, and is Sangiovese with 5% of Cabernet Sauvignon, which spent a year in barrel. It is boldly cherryish on the nose, slicked with sweet vanilla, and with elegantly aromatic violet nuances. It’s a lifted style of Chianti. On the palate it is dry, savoury, with an earthy and smoky quality, spice and dry red fruits – just a touch too dry, perhaps suggesting this needs just a little more fruit substance against the considerable spice and slightly green note. 85/100. £11.49, Morrisons.

Marques de Casa Concha, Carmenere 2010, Chile
One of the upmarket brands within the excellent Concha y Toro portfolio, this comes from their Peumo vineyard in Colchagua and is aged for 18 months in French oak. It’s immediately classy stuff with a whiff of graphite and hint of eucalyptus, and beneath a core of solid, plump and ripe black fruits. There’s a touch – no more – of a camphor and incense-like exoticism too. On the palate this has a great core of black fruit, tight like blackcurrant and blueberry, a hugely intense concentration, and dark notes of coffee and liquorice adding to the sensuality. The tannins are very chocolaty, and this finishes big (14.5% abv) but balanced and impressively long. 91/100. £10.98, thedrinkshop; £12.50 Hawkshead Wines.

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