Some hand-picked favourites from family wine estates that are available in the sweet spot of £9–£20 a bottle. Many should be available outside the UK. A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. See also these recommended whites and rosés, and our list of more than 800 Retailers who'll delivery to self-isolators around the world.
It seems only a moment ago that it was relatively easy for British wine drinkers to find something interesting for £7 a bottle. Thanks to successive increases in UK wine duty and a steady decrease in the value of the pound, this threshold seems to have risen to £10 remarkably quickly.
American wine drinkers seem much less cost-conscious. A bottle of good wine in the US for $12, the current equivalent of £10, is a rare thing indeed, and in certain quarters any bottle costing less than $100 is viewed as rather good value. Continental Europeans blessed with minimal duties on wine must be horrified by these prices. Indeed cheap wine has long been cited as a significant attraction for Brits emigrating to Europe.
My recommended lockdown reds below vary in price from just below £10 to just below £20, which is where I think the sweet spot of wine value is to be found today.
Great value can often be found in some of the cheapest wines of impeccable producers. A good example is the Crianza Rioja (not aged as long as most of their wines) from CVNE, a historic family company whose wines have yet to disappoint me and whose more ambitious bottlings can outlast many a fine red bordeaux. The current vintage is 2016, which means that the wine is much more mature and complex than most reds on sale at around a tenner today, which tend to be 2019s or 2018s. This screwcapped, refreshing, recognisable Tempranillo has enjoyed a year in Rioja’s traditional American oak casks. It is widely available and sits on many a supermarket shelf as well as with the independent retailers listed overleaf.
As proof that independents can offer just as good value as the big retailers, Yapp Bros of Wiltshire, founded half a century ago by a local dentist, has a delicious rioja that’s two years older but only a little more expensive than the CVNE. It’s another crianza, 2014 this time, sold as Marqués de Zearra from the Petralanda bodega of Fuenmayor. The only Spanish producer on the Yapp list (still printed, in full colour, incidentally), it was found almost by accident when one of the current brothers was visiting friends in Spain. Really productive wine regions such as Rioja, Languedoc, Côtes du Rhône and Bordeaux, where in the lower ranks pricing has to be competitive, can be of real interest to bargain hunters.
There are few bargains from the rocky slopes of the Catalan wine region of Priorat but, rather like the CVNE wine, Camins del Priorat is a blend of bought-in fruit given a magic touch by local superstar Álvaro Palacios. Concentration and winemaking competence in abundance shine through this blend dominated by Garnacha and Cariñena.
Good beaujolais has been underpriced for years, ever since the world fell out of love with Beaujolais Nouveau. An interesting new wave of younger producers is trying to make wines that are serious, well-priced competitors to red burgundy, but the wines I really cherish are fresher, lighter, fruitier examples that don’t have to be aged and could only come from the granite hills north-west of Lyons. A beautiful example is the 2018 Beaujolais-Villages grown on the granitic soils of Lantignié by Domaine Rochette.
Morgon is one of the special villages of the Beaujolais region that has its own appellation and the Côte du Py within it traditionally makes wines that can be pretty tough in youth and need quite a time in a cellar to show what they’re made of, but Yapp have an example, another 2018, from Arnaud Aucoeur (voted Hachette vigneron of the year and pictured with his famliy above), that is already gorgeously voluptuous. It too may age beautifully but for the moment the tannins are completely smothered in ripe Gamay fruit grown on a perfect site.
While the upper ranks of Bordeaux are tying themselves in knots of dubious worth trying to launch their embryonic 2019s even in a pandemic, the vast amount of red bordeaux made on thousands of less glamorous wine farms is one of the world’s best sources of value. Like The Wine Society, Haynes Hanson & Clark have long worked harder than most at sniffing out the bordeaux bargains. I was impressed by all four of their recent finds that I tasted, from £10.65 to £16.95 a bottle, but best value, I think, was Ch La Guérinière from the superb 2016 vintage. The Rambaud family’s Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines are grown in the far south-east of the St-Émilion appellation, obviously with great care, as this ripe, rich, velvety wine with a fresh top note tastes not unlike a lesser Pomerol.
It is perhaps telling that an Argentine counterpart to this wine, Zorzal’s Eggo Cabernet Franc, is more expensive and less mature – but it’s super-fresh, having been deliberately picked early and aged in concrete ovoids that are supposed to encourage circulation of the lees and will certainly have cost more than the old concrete tanks at Ch La Guérinière. The Michelini brothers’ UK importers describe their methods here, high in the Andes, as a ‘non-invasive winemaking process that puts austerity before exuberance’. There’s a texture and tension to this wine that contrast sharply with the flesh of the St-Émilion.
Grenache is enjoying unaccustomed enthusiasm today. Ex-London sommelier Carsten Migliarina makes a fashionably transparent, feather-light, Pinot-like version from old vines in South Africa. Even better value, sold by another ex-London sommelier, Severine Sloboda, via her new online wine business in Glasgow, is Ch Juvenal 2017 from the up-and-coming Ventoux appellation and a great vintage in the Rhône. Top local consultant Philippe Cambie advises and 20% Syrah adds backbone that suggests the wine will last longer than the price might indicate.
Shiraz is Australian for Syrah and comes in far more styles than many northern hemisphere wine drinkers realise. I loved Tim Smith’s Bugalugs 2018. The warm, spicy nose is pure South Australia, just like the heady perfumes of Henschke’s beautiful, but considerably more expensive, 2015s that I have just been enjoying. But Bugalugs is clearly made to be drunk immediately rather than aged. It has sweetness but not heaviness or toughness on the palate followed by the saline finish that Shiraz/Syrah often has.
And finally, an even less typically Australian Australian wine, a fine, savoury Pinot Noir from the fashionably cool, damp region of Gippsland on the Victorian coast for under £20 a bottle. Franco D’Anna makes this Wickhams Road wine at his Hoddles Creek winery in the Yarra Valley, where his fellow winemakers are exasperated by his user-friendly prices.
CVNE, Crianza 2016 Rioja 13.5%
£9.29 Dennhofer of Northumberland, £9.45 Cheers of Wales, £9.99 Majestic, £10 Edencroft of Cheshire, £10.95 Winedirect,co.uk, £12.29 Christopher Piper of Devon
Marqués de Zearra, Crianza 2014 Rioja 14%
£11.50 Yapp Bros
Ch Juvenal, Les Garrigues 2017 Ventoux 14%
Dom Rochette 2018 Beaujolais-Villages 13.5%
£13.95 Lea & Sandeman
Arnaud Aucoeur, Côte du Py 2018 Morgon 13%
£14.95 Yapp Bros
Ch La Guérinière 2016 St-Émilion 14%
£15.75 Haynes Hanson & Clark
Zorzal, Eggo Franco Cabernet Franc 2018 Tupungato 14.5%
£16.50–£19 various independent retailers
Tim Smith, Bugalugs Shiraz 2018 Barossa Valley 14%
£17.95 Lea & Sandeman
Wickhams Road Pinot Noir 2019 Gippsland 13.2%
£18.50 Stone, Vine & Sun
Carsten Migliarina Grenache 2017 Wellington 13.5%
£19.95 Yapp Bros
Álvaro Palacios, Camins del Priorat 2018 Priorat 14.5%
£19.75 Woodwinters, £23.49 Noel Young, £23.50 Berry Bros & Rudd, £24.95 Philglas & Swiggot