Given the high prices of top red Burgundy these days, we Pinot Noir lovers are always on the lookout for more affordable examples of our favourite red grape. Chile is a good place to start, but I don’t think it can compete with the quality of this Romanian red. Sourced as an exclusive parcel for Majestic, it tastes as good as it looks. Racy, supple and perfumed, with raspberry, pomegranate and wild strawberry flavours, tangy acidity and fine-grained tannins. Remarkable at £6.49.
Winemaker Jean-Claude Martin calls this his “village wine”, produced from 11 different blocks at Creation, tucked away at the top end of the painterly Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Deftly wooded in 10% new barrels, it has an engaging combination of citrus, pear, nutmeg and beeswax flavours lifted by acidity. A very impressive Cape white from a Chardonnay master.
Albariño is fast becoming one of my favourite grapes, not only in its native Portugal and north-west Spain, but in Uruguay and Argentina too. It’s a variety that’s drinkable young but ages really well too. This wine from Katia Álvarez and Martín Códax is a single vineyard expression that looks as good it tastes. Tangy, crisp and wonderfully focused, with citrus, green apple and sea salt flavours, wonderful texture and enduring palate length. Seafood heaven.
It’s something of a paradox that the best winter reds often come from warm climates that produce throaty, full-bodied wines. This old-vine cuvée from the Portuguese Alentejo region is a case in point. Made with Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez (Tempranillo), Castelão and Syrah, it’s spicy, intense and textured, unfurling bramble, fig and blackberry flavours in the glass, with a patina of sweet cinnamon oak.
I know I’m running the risk of being accused of favouritism, but I really can’t get enough of the wines made by the brilliant Apostolos Thymiopoulos. The hugely exciting Greek region of Naoussa continues to produce some of the best value reds in Europe from the Xinomavro grape. Mid-way between a Barolo and a Côte de Beaune Pinot Noir in style, this has rose petal and patisserie aromas, red cherry and raspberry fruit, fresh acidity and engaging, granular tannins. A perfect Christmas lunch red.
Tempranillo may be Spain’s best known red grape, but Garnacha is just as interesting and much better suited to climate change. This is an amazing, old-vine example from Bodegas Nekeas in Navarra that shows the variety at its great value best. Perfumed and enticing, with notes of wild herbs, raspberry and redcurrant, a hint of oak and some underlying savoury tannins. So well balanced that you don’t notice the 15% alcohol.
Something of a favourite with Majestic managers, apparently, and I can see why, this is a spectacularly exciting white from the Lugana region close to the southern shore of Lake Garda. Made from the Turbiana grape (the local name for Verdicchio), it’s a pithy, stony delight that’s mid-way between a Spanish Albariño and a Chablis in style. Tangy and well balanced, with notes of citrus peel and gunflint and a hint of stone fruit sweetness. Long, complex and refreshing.
Stellenbosch struck gold in 2017, with one of the best ever red wine vintages in the Cape. This refined, well-structured Bordeaux blend, made at one of the most historic properties on the Simonsberg, is unbelievably good value and would wipe the winery floor with similarly priced wines from south-west France. Cassis, black cherry, graphite and cigar box notes are framed by fine, age worthy tannins and bright, refreshing acidity. Some retailers may be on the very good 2018, but the 2017 is the one to go for.
Unwooded for the first time in 2018, but as full of bounce and blackberry fruit as ever, Hey! combines grapes from Luján and the Uco Valley in a juicy, supple bundle of fun. Sweet and appealing, this is Malbec at its immediate best: the kind of thing that makes you want to pour a glass into a tumbler and put on some of your favourite music with the sound ramped up to 11.
Hey! is a wine that grabs your attention with its super hero label as it caresses your palate with the supple tannins of a delicious Argentinean Malbec. Made with old vine fruit from Mendoza’s Luján de Cuyo sub-region, it’s a plush, perfumed juicy red with violet perfume, a kiss of oak and lashings of bramble and blackberry fruit. Wonderfully gluggable.
Bready, tangy and well balanced, this great value bubbly from the Cape’s leading fizz producer would give a lot of basic Champagnes a run for their euros. Leesy, complex and frehsh with the Chardonnay providing acidic backbone and structure.
Montsant is not as famous as neighbouring Priorat, but generally offers much better value. Blending Garnacha and Carignan, this isn’t short of alcohol (we’re close to the Med after all), but it has plenty of spice, plum and bramble fruit concentration and stony minerality for balance. In summer, it would make a great barbecue red. Right now, try it with winter stew.