I selected the following superior everyday wines on the basis of what is easily available in the UK but bargain hunters elsewhere should check out www.winesearcher.com for local stockists and prices (sometimes much better than here in heavily taxed Britain – see Lelia as a wine of the week last month, for example).
Competent cheap white wine abounds but really interesting, inexpensive white wine is much rarer than its red counterpart. Presumably this is because there's a glut of red wine grapes in particular. White wines are also much more transparent and at this level let's face it, rather boring.
These wines were selected from hundreds of others tasted in dozens of different tastings of selections from all over the globe. I did not set out to favour South America at the expense of Australia, California and South Africa. These just happen to be the wines that struck me as best value.
At this price level the supermarkets with their bulk buying can deliver some bargains (unlike in my previous articles in this weekly series on more expensive wines), although the odd independent retailer manages to hold their own even here.
Ch – Château
Dom – Domaine
VdP – Vin de Pays
* special promotional price
WHITES UNDER £6
Caballo de Plata Torrontes 2004 FamatinaValley
Torrontes is Argentina's white grape speciality and makes particularly fragrant, characterful whites. I have yet to come across one that is improved by age – drink this one from La Riojana as soon as possible – but it is very lively, fresh and aromatic. Best drunk without food as an aperitif.
Montes Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2004 Casablanca
Regular price is £5.85 for this creditably mineral-scented Chilean. But any two Chilean wines to get this price.
Vallée Saumur Blanc 2003
Fruit-driven Chenin which, thanks to the vintage and some modern winemaking techniques, tastes almost more like a fruit-driven South African than a Loire wine. Very full and fruity.
Lingenfelder Pinot Grigio 2003 Pfalz
Great screwcapped bottle of lively fruit.
Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Huth Kerpen 1998 Mosel
Very much better than most of Majestic's German's. Off dry and frank.
St Hallett South Australian Chardonnay 2003
This special bottling for Tesco seems to me a great buy, but I must be in a minority since it and its Shiraz counterpart are being discontinued. Grab this superior wine, part barrel fermented, all aged on lees, while you may.
Alamos Chardonnay 2003 Mendoza
£5.99 Majestic and elsewhere
Very long, classic and exciting for the price, from Argentina. Presumably there is some high altitude fruit in here.
Côtes du Rhône Blanc Reserve 2003
According to the label this wine contains Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Viognier, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, tartaric acid, yeast and diammonium phosphate – and jolly delicious too. This is the Co-op's admirable stab at ingredient labelling. The wine was made by Louis Bertrand of Orange and should be drunk as soon as it is opened but it is full and perfumed and is a welcome change from formulaic Chardonnay. Lots of heady character. Memories of summer evenings….
REDS UNDER £6
Tesco Chilean Merlot
I hesitate to recommend a wine as cheap as this. It is available in such huge quantities that I may have tasted a particularly good batch, but what I tasted was wonderfully bumptious and fruity for a wine that had crossed the Atlantic in a tanker and been bottled in Manchester. It is the produce of Via, a joint venture involving Bibendum Wine, Michel Laroche of Chablis and Latin America's answer to Bruce Forsyth. Really.
Ch Grand Champs 2003 Bordeaux
£3.49* Tesco Online
Just the sort of wine Bordeaux should be making, a gold medal winner in Paris via merchant Yvon Mau. An Old World riposte to Chilean reds – and much less sweet. This wine was originally £5.99 and so has been dramatically discounted but you have to buy at least six bottles.
Frontera Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2004 Concha y Toro, Central Valley
More great fruity value from Chile. Youth is an advantage at this end of the market. Concha y Toro have some of Chile's finest winemakers.
Casillero del Diabolo Carmenère 2003 Rapel
You have to buy two bottles to get the price down from its usual £4.99 but this could hardly be easier to drink. Another offering from Concha y Toro.
Chapelle du Bois Merlot/Cabernet 2003 VdP d'Oc
The most striking thing about this is its heavy bottle and smart label which look as though the whole package costs twice as much as it does. The wine itself is a bit young and formulaic with more than a hint of oak chips but is more interesting than many made along these lines.
Tagus Creek Trincadeira.Shiraz 2003 Alentejo
Clean, fresh, fruity attempt to sell Portugal's underrated reds under a New World guise.
Cuvée des Galets 2003 VdP du Gard, Vignerons d'Estargues
£4.95 Stone, Vine & Sun of Twyford
Who says independents are no good at inexpensive wine? This delightfully characterful, non-filtered blend comes from just 10 growers on the Languedoc/Rhône border. Very juicy and healthy.
Lelia Garnacha 2003 Cariñena
£4.99 The Winery of London W9 and at Liberty, W1
The bottle looks as though it might cost closer to £14.99 (although it can be found for less than six dollars in New York). The wine is lightish, relatively delicate, soft, easy and – amazingly at this price – really rather interesting. It shows just how underused a resource is Spain's sea of Garnacha vines, the Grenache of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Dom de la Colombette Grenache/Syrah 2003 VdP des Coteaux du Libron
Screwcapped, very successful southern French blend from a fine address. There is some 2003 sweetness in this very easy, ready drink.
Ch Marquis de la Grange 2003 Bordeaux
Do not attempt to drink this wine without food! With its dry, slightly oaky finish, it is made specifically for the table, but made well. Drink this wine with chewy meat dishes to counteract the tannin.
Classic Claret 2003 Sichel
£4.99 Marks & Spencer
Another very well-mannered red bordeaux with no shortage of fruit.
Valllée Saumur Rouge 2003 £4.99 Tesco
The heat of 2003 has managed to stuff this wine, often thin in other vintages, with really bumptious Cabernet Franc fruit and a refreshing streak of light tannins. From the Saumur co-op. Drink slightly cool with cold turkey.
Old Vines Grenache Noir 2003 VdP des Côtes Catalanes
£4.99 Marks & Spencer
This is a wine style that has emerged on international markets in only the last year or two but is an eminently sensible way of using the fruit of Roussillon's bush vines, much of which traditionally went into strong, sweet wines such as Rivesaltes. This is very intense with cherry sweetness and lots of tannin – a real drought wine (note the vintage). Bordeaux bottled.
CVNE Crianza 2001 Rioja
This is not a good buy at the full price of £6.99, but if you buy two bottles you get a reasonably concentrated, correct Rioja from a venerable bodega for under a fiver.
Dom des Terres Falmet Cinsault 2002 VdP d'Oc
£5.75 Vine Trail
Charming cherry-scented, fruity drink for now made from one of the Languedoc's hidden treasures of a grape variety. Comes from a fine domaine in St Chinian. Pure pleasure from a specialist importer of French finds.
Montes Limited Selection Cabernet/Carmenère2003 Colchagua
Thick, modern, lively and fresh – this is another package that looks much more expensive than it is. The regular price of this offering from Montes, an admirably ambitious Chilean operation, is £6.99, but £5.94 if two bottles of Chilean wine are bought.
Alamos Bonarda 2002 Mendoza
£5.49 Booths, £5.99 Oddbins, Unwins
The Catena group, which will presumably not be calling itself Argentina's answer to Mondavi nowadays, has somehow turned Argentina's most planted grape into something akin to a mature St Emilion. Go figure, as they say.
Las Moras Tannat Reserva 2002 San Juan
This Argentine wine made from the classic grape of Uruguay and Madiran in south west France had a full 16 months in oak and, although still characteristically tough, it stood up well I my tastings to a Madiran at twice the price.