Is Cabernet Franc getting the recognition it deserves? I think so. As its stock rises in New World countries like Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa, so consumers are also catching on to what this wonderful variety can produce in its home base, France’s Loire Valley. Entirely unwooded, this has engaging freshness, violet and capsicum aromas, racy plum and black cherry fruit, lots of vibrant acidity and finely judged tannins. A red wine that you can chill.
I’ve just spent the best part of a month in South Africa and I’m more in love with Cape Chenin Blanc than ever. This is not the cheapest example in the high street, but it’s worth spending a little more to buy a wine of this quality. Sourced from 40-year-old vineyards, it’s a rich yet refreshing white that shows the cool elegance of the 2021 vintage. Honey, peach and citrus fruit flavours are framed by scented oak, green apple acidity and a dusting of patisserie spices.
New World countries like Chile, New Zealand and South Africa are so good at making Sauvignon Blanc that it’s easy to forget about the variety’s home base in the Loire Valley. And yet, at their best, wines from place like Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre are unbeatable. This example from long-term Tesco supplier Fournier Père et Fils is well worth trading up for. Pithy, nettley and mouth-wateringly fresh, it has good texture from time on lees, stony minerality and flavours of elderflower, lime, celery and white pepper. Delicious.
Albariño is Galicia’s most famous white grape, but Godello from the same part of so-called green Spain can be every bit as good. This appealingly packaged number from Martín Codax is engagingly fresh and perfumed, with jasmine and chamomile scents, tangerine and pink grapefruit flavours and thrilling freshness and minerality. Amazing value for a tenner.
One of those mass-market wines that rarely, if ever, lets you down, this 26 million bottle blend from Chile’s biggest producer uses grapes from Maule, Rapel and the Maipo Valley. Subtly wooded, with classic blackcurrant pastille, mint and fresh herb flavours and a whisper of oak spices. Outstanding at the price.
For those of us dealing with January credit card bills, not to mention food inflation and energy prices, inexpensive wines like this one are a godsend. Juicy perfumed and crunchy, with lip-smacking bramble, plum, and red cherry fruit, a nip of tannin, fresh acidity. Great with a winter stew.
Sourced from the Cantina di Valpantena, the sort of place that could give Italian co-operatives a good name, this is a superb, well-balanced cuvée of Corvina and 30% Rondinella. Made from dried grapes in the classic Amarone fashion, it has plenty of power and depth, just a touch of sweetness, plum, fig, Christmas cake and liquorice flavours and lovely supporting acidity.
I missed the recent Chenin Blanc conference in South Africa, but I was there in spirit. The French grape has made its home from home in the Cape, where it is responsible for many of the country’s best whites. This one comes from Stellenrust, a winery that makes several different interpretations of the variety, and represents wonderful value. Green apple and pear flavours are framed by vivid, sappy acidity, with just a hint of oak spice as a backdrop.
It’s rare to find a ten-year-old claret on a supermarket shelf, especially one that sells for just £16, but this second wine from Château des Fougères in the Graves is the real deal. Combining Merlot with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s a graceful, textured, elegant, mature red with subtle wood, tobacco leaf and forest floor top notes, fine-boned tannins, plenty of freshness and a core of sweet, leafy complexity.
It’s not often that I get excited about a rosé – too many of them are like pale pink spots on a pink wall – but this is the real deal from the south of France. Made by Julie Rouffignac and Gérald Lafont, it’s an intense, deeply coloured number with lots of flavour and concentration to match. Structured and intense, Arbousset is almost a red wine, made from a harmonious cuvée of mostly Grenache with 20% each of Syrah and Cinsault. Juicy redcurrant, strawberry and red cherry fruit is complemented by a nip of savoury tannin.
I’m old enough to remember the days when most Australian Chardonnays were ripe, buttery and oaky. But the last decade or so has witnessed a remarkable transformation in the style of the country’s most famous white grape. This very lightly wooded, great value example from Howard Park shows you what I mean. Textured yet refreshing, with struck match and vanilla spice aromas, waxed lemon and grapefruit flavours and a taut, appealingly refreshing finish.
People who work in wine tend to be a bit sniffy about Sauvignon Blanc, partly because they’re tired of tasting bland examples from all over the world. But when the variety is good, it can be truly magnificent. This unwooded, non-vintage example from the excellent Fournier Père et Fils winery is flinty, focused and tangy with wet stone and nettle aromas, lemon zest and grapefruit flavours and a thrillingly bone-dry finish.