Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'm switching the blog to The Frugal Cook!

Five blogs - as anyone could have told me - are just too much to maintain and The Frugal Cook, my budget eating blog seems a logical home for this one. Hope to see you there!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Some unmissable wine buys at M & S

Marks & Spencer has a 25% off promotion across its in store* wine range if you buy 6 bottles for the next fortnight - great for credit crunch drinkers. Here are my top picks under £6

Los Nucos Chardonnay Viognier 2010 £5.49 down to £4.18
A light lush Chilean blend with an attractive peachy character that gives it an extra edge over basic Chardonnay. A good all rounder but especially good with creamy fish or chicken dishes and chicken salads. It’s sister (brother?) wine, the Los Nucos Carmenère Shiraz - a bright breezy red that would make excellent everyday drinking is also good (Same price, same deal) ***

Valdepomares Rioja Blanca 2010 £5.99 down to £4.49
A modern white Rioja made in a fresh, citrussy style but with plenty of complexity. Although not organic the grapes are grown without chemical fertilisers or pesticides. Try it with fishy tapas ****

Vermentino Lazio 2010 £6.99 down to £5.24
Grab the chance to buy this elegant Italian white for under £5 - it’s the best of a very good new range of Italian whites from M & S. Great with simply prepared fish, seafood risottos and pasta dishes and vegetable-based antipasti. (The Falanghina and Fiano are also good.) *****

Corriente del Bio Pinot Noir £7.99 down to £5.99
Really good value at its original price, an unmissable bargain with 25% off, this elegant Burgundian-style Chilean Pinot knocks spots off most of its New World rivals. Frankly you’d never get burgundy of this quality for this sort of money. Perfect with duck or seared salmon or tuna. *****

Garnacha Tinto Navarra 2010 £6.99 down to £5.24
This exuberantly fruity Garnacha-based wine is typical of Spain’s fantastically good value modern reds. Great with gutsy food like sausage and mash - or beans. It could take a fair amount of spice. ****

Negroamaro 2010 £5.99 down to £4.49
A rich, brambly southern Italian red that almost tastes of liquid blackberries. Great with duck, lamb and strong cheeses, especially blues. Would go with baked pasta dishes like lasagne too. ***

Côtes du Rhône Villages St Maurice 2009 £6.99 down to £5.24
A really good example of a Côtes du Rhône - warm, generous, spicy and delicious. Great drinking with rustic bistro-style and gastropub food ****

* So far as I can make out the offer doesn't seem to apply online unless you buy 2 cases which seems a bit odd. Maybe they want you to go into their stores and be tempted

Saturday, August 6, 2011

3 good buys from the Tesco Finest range

Tesco may not be exactly flavour of the month in some quarters but for those of you who do shop there there are some good bargains. Particularly from their own 'Finest' range which regularly features 2 for £10 offers on selected wines. Here are 3 that appeal to me:

Tesco Finest Picpoul de Pinet (normally £7.29)
My favourite holiday wine - a crisp dry white that's brilliantly good with fresh seafood
Rating: ***

Tesco Finest Douro Reserve 2008 (normally £7.29)
A big lush brambly red from the same area that produces port. I'd say lay in for winter drinking but it's almost cold enough to drink it now. One for stews, pies and roasts.
Rating: ****

Tesco Finest Touriga Nacional 2010 (normally £7.79)
Made by the same winery (and flying winemaker) as the above but from 100% Touriga Nacional. Even more warming and spicy. Would be great with roast lamb and stronger cheeses like mature cheddar and Stilton.
Rating: ****

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tillington Hills Premium Cider

What kind of wine can you buy for £2.65? Well, you probably can find one but would you serve it to your friends? This upmarket cider, on the other hand, would look good on any table.

It's made from fruit grown on the Co-op farms in Herefordshire which surprised me as I didn't know the Co-op had any farms, let alone orchards and is a blend of Tillington Ladies’ Finger, Bulmers Norman, Mitchelin, Dabonnet and Yarlington Mill. (What great names cider apples have).

It's on the dry side of medium dry, with a classic sharp cider apple flavour and at 6% would make a great partner for pretty well anything porky - slow roast belly pork, sausages, pork or fidget pies, cold ham - a ploughman's or a chicken or pheasant casserole with cider or a creamy sauce.

It doesn't contain any concentrates, flavourings, artificial sweeteners or colourings and comes in a screwcap bottle so you can keep it in the fridge for a couple of days without it spoiling. If it lasts that long.

Great drink.

Rating: ***

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Good Bibendum wine sale but get in quick!

I don't normally write about wine merchants on this blog, let alone London-based ones but Bibendum has got some cracking offers in its summer sale which started today.

Wines I'd pick out for credit crunch drinkers are the Argento range from Argentina which are now all under £5 - The aromatic Torrontes would be particularly worth trying at £25.09 a case of six (£4.19 a bottle), even though it's from Mendoza rather than Salta, the best region for this grape, along with the Malbec/Tempranillo (£26.48/£4.42), both from the 2010 vintage.

£4.72 a bottle is not a lot to pay for Cotes du Roussillon Villages from the much feted Agly valley, even though some of the fruit comes from over the border in Spain (maybe why it was difficult to sell?).

And £4.80 is nothing for a 2010 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from the well-known producer Wither Hills though I'm not sure what they mean by 'sale stock'. (The answer is that it was labelled that by mistake. All the wines on offer are sale stock so a really good offer then.)

The only thing I'd be careful about is older vintages. 2007 Pinot Blanc from the Cave de Ribeauvillé, a co-op I admire, is a bit of a risk. And I'd be cautious about ordering 2009 rosés.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Good value Rioja - to drink with lasagne!

One of the wines that did best in the What Food What Wine competition results that were announced this week was Campo Viejo's 2008 Rioja Crianza which we voted the best wine to drink with lasagne ('we' being a pretty high-powered group of industry judges including 4 Masters of wine and one of London's top sommelier)

It was the pairing that I found slightly surprising, not the wine (I'd have expected an Italian red to sneak in there). Campo Viejo has always been one of the more reliable, consistent brands and hasn't become over-priced. Currently there are some good special offers on it, according to mysupermarketwine it's £5 a bottle at Asda, £5.99 at Tesco until the 19th and £6.99 at Sainsbury's though I don't know which vintage they're featuring. And Waitrose Wine Direct has the 2007 at £4.97, also until the 19th, which means it's probably around £5.49 in Waitrose stores. Good everyday drinking and, frankly, fine for friends and family too (I'd happily drink it with a Sunday roast). Rating ****

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Two Iberian white wine bargains

Inevitably this blog mainly concerns itself with special offers but here are two terrific under £5 whites from The Wine Society which looks increasingly good value against the supermarkets.

My favourite by a whisker is the Bodegas Virgen de la Sierra Cruz de Piedra Macabeo 2010 from Calatayud, a region which lies between Madrid and Zaragoza. It's fresh and lemony but with cooked rather than fresh lemon flavours and an odd touch of banana (nicer than it sounds). Quite soft - a good all-rounder for summer drinking.

The other is a crisp Portuguese white called Real Lavrador from the Alentejo, 2010 (not up on the site yet) which is made from two of Portugal's weird and wonderful local grape varieties, roupeiro and rabo-de-ovelha. That's more delicate and aromatic - almost floral but without being at all sweet. A good grilled fish wine.

What's great about these wines - apart from the price - is that they're quite different from the great mass of confected cheap whites out there. Clean, natural-tasting and moreish. Good for The Wine Society.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

More cheap Waitrose wine buys

As I mentioned the day before yesterday Waitrose has a 25% off promotion across all its wines until Tuesday night.

Having checked through my notes for the cheapest bargains here are six that are available online and, in most cases, in Waitrose branches though the price may possibly differ there. You only need to buy six bottles rather than the 12 you need to buy online to get the discount though. Prices are adjusted for the 25% discount - all under £6.

Arc du Rhone 2009 Côtes du Rhône £5.99
A good gutsy Côtes du Rhône from the excellent 2009 vintage ****

La Umbra Merlot 2009 £4.49
It's been a while since we've seen Romanian wine on the shelves but this is a really good fruity Merlot that I reckon would be great with robust pasta dishes like lasagne. ***

Vredenhof Cellar Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, South Africa £5.09
A really good lush blackcurranty cab. Terrific for barbies.***

Matra Mountain Pinot Grigio 2010 Hungary £4.49
Yes, I know you can buy Pinot Grigio from Italy but this is a really well made example - brilliant for the price. Wouldn't pair it with French onion soup though. Try seafood pasta or risotto.***

Gran Lopez Airen/Sauvignon Blanc 2010 La Mancha £3.74
A decent basic citrussy white. Fine for a summer party. **

Nederburg Chardonnay/Viognier 2010, South Africa £4.49
Another good buy from South Africa. The lush aromatic viognier element is quite noticeable - not always the case at this price. ***

Friday, June 24, 2011

Majestic riesling flies out!

Who says people don't want to buy German riesling? The limited parcel of Burg-Layer rieslings that Majestic announced yesterday morning are all but sold out. Certainly the ones I would have advised you to buy, so apologies for being away at the crucial moment.

The current trend in the wine trade seems to be for having 'flash sales' - massive reductions that are only available for very short periods. The wine merchant Slurp was offering Taittinger champagne for £21 for about half an hour earlier on today instead of their usual price of £42.95 (which of course is ridiculously over-priced).

The only way to rely on getting them is to sign up for email updates and newsletters. Which is of course exactly what retailers want you to do - and nothing wrong with that. Suspect we'll see a good deal more of it this summer.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

25% off at Waitrose, old riesling parcel at Majestic

A couple of good deals this week to give you the heads-up about.

Waitrose has got a 25% off offer on all its wines until next Tuesday (28th), a great chance to buy slightly more expensive wine than you might normally feel able to afford. It applies if you buy six bottles in store or a minimum of 12 online. Bottles that would tempt me include (reduced prices in brackets)

Domaine Felines Picpoul de Pinet £7.99 (£5.99)
Domain Wachau Terraces Grüner Veltliner already reduced from £8.49 to £6.36 (£4.77)
See Saw Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2009 South Australia £8.99 (£6.74)
Cousiño-Macul, Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Chile £9.99 (£7.49)
and Chateau Musar 2003 £13.99 (£10.49 - expensive but a great chance to buy this iconic wine at a very good price)

And Majestic has bought in a parcel of mature German riesling which should make riesling lovers very happy. I haven't got my notes with me in France so will let you know what I thought were the best buys tomorrow but I note 3 of the wines are already sold out and that they seem to have already abandoned plans to sell them by the mixed case.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Good value Verdicchio

Following the great response to my article on Italian whites the other day there's a good offer at the moment on Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, the slightly herby white that I pointed out was one of the best matches I'd come across for artichokes - along with other Italian veg and seafood dishes. It's selling for 2 bottles for £10 instead of the usual £5.99, not a huge reduction but (unusually for supermarkets these days) it's not overpriced in the first place. I'm not sure if it's the current 2010 vintage but 2009 would be fine. I'd hesitate if you find it older than that. Rating: ***

The same offer applies at the moment to the Taste the Difference Pinot Grigio saving even more (the usual price is £6.99). A cut above the mass of pinot grigios out there even at the full price - it's got some real character. Rating: ***

The offers apply until the 28th of June. And apparently both are the 2010 vintage I've just discovered from Sainsbury's

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rioja offers at M & S

Rioja offers are two a penny currently but not all of it is as classy as the Rioja Perez Burton 2007 from Marks & Spencer which currently has a 20% discount on all Spanish and Portuguese wines. That brings it down from £9.99 - already a fair price - to £7.99 and if you buy three bottles you get a further 10% off (£7.20).

It's made by the respected Spanish winemaker Telmos Rodriguez and has a light, graceful, less woody character than many riojas being aged in French rather than American oak. I really like it.

There were a number of other wines that tasted promising but I can't totally vouch for them because they only presented tank (unbottled) samples at the tasting. But I'd have a punt on the vivid fruity Garnacha Tinto Navarra (£6.99 reduced to £5.99 this month)a modern Spanish red which I'd serve chilled and a very decent young Valdepomares Rioja Blanca (2010) - normally £5.99 down to £4.79 until July 3rd. Particularly impressive as it's made without chemical fertilisers or pesticides.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A great offer on Grüner

Austrian Grüner Veltliner has been a bit of a cult wine for the last few years mainly for its food-friendliness (it goes particularly well with Vietnamese food). If you haven't tried it think of other crisp whites you've come across such as Muscadet, Picpoul de Pinet and even Pinot Grigio - but it has a spicy green peppery (peppercorns not green peppers) character that gives it an extra dimension.

Waitrose has got a terrific offer at the moment on the truly delicious 2009 Domaine Goblesburg Grüner Veltliner from Niederösterreich which has been reduced from £9.49 to £6.99 - so good that it's sold out on the website at the time of writing but it is also in 155 of Waitrose larger branches. Snap it up if you find it.

Rating: I don't often give five star ratings but at this price it's a must *****

According to Waitrose who have just pinged me an email it should be back in stock next week.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Asda Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon

I’ve been to an insane number of tastings in the last few weeks - May is one of the busiest times in the wine calendar when all the supermarkets show their new ranges - so have had a good chance to check out what's on offer under £6, the level I generally set myself for still wines on this blog.

Several trends emerge, none new - a lot of big brands whose price is pitched for dramatic discounts (this particularly annoys me), good value own brands and oceans and oceans of cheap - and in general not particularly good - rosé as I pointed out in the Guardian last week.

The most popular wines I’d say, judging by the discounts being offered, are New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Rioja: the most reliably good value, South of France, Spain and South America, especially Chile.

A good example is Asda’s own minty Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 whose regular price is - amazingly - £4.06. It’s made by Vina Luis Felipe Edwards a Chilean winery which seems to be making the most consistently reliable cheap Chilean wines. Perfect for a Bank Holiday barbecue - if the weather warms up. Or if it doesn't, with a chilli con carne.

Rating: **/***

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cheap Chilean pinot at the Co-op

The Co-op has got a wine festival on at the moment, as many supermarkets do at this time of year to clear old vintages. It includes a couple of star buys from the excellent Chilean producer Anakena, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir. Both, the Co-op claims, are normally £9.99 but I've been able to find the Pinot for less - at £7.99 from Hawkshead Wines and £8.79 from Noel Young Wines. (It does annoy me when supermarkets artificially inflate the selling price like that to make special offers look more substantial. For heavens sake at £3 less than the current retail price it's still a good deal.)

Both are slightly older vintages btw - the Sauvignon is a 2009 and the Pinot Noir a 2008 - but that shouldn't be a problem, particularly with the Pinot which should have benefitted from a couple of years' ageing. You could easily drink it with seared tuna or salmon as well as with grilled chicken and other barbecued food. The Sauvignon would obviously be great with seafood.

Rating: ****

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Finca Labarca Rioja 2008

Along with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Rioja seems to be the new favoured weapon in the supermarket price wars with every chain finding some way to offer it at under £5.

The latest is Waitrose Wine Direct which is promoting a Finca Labarca Rioja Tempranillo Vendimia Seleccionada 2008 for just £4.51 until May 24th as part of its Summer Wine Showcase.

OK, it's not the most subtle and complex Rioja ever but it's a perfectly honest well-made Spanish red which which you could easily pass off as a bottle twice the price. And which would make great everyday drinking.

Rating: ****

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Les Crouzes Cinsault Rosé

For those of you who follow my column in the Guardian I wasn't sure if today's piece on summer drinks would be out in time to take advantage of the current offer on this wine which is in fact £4.19 at the Co-op until next Tuesday, May 10th. (Don't know if that includes Tuesday itself but buy it this weekend to be safe) A great summer drinking bargain.
Rating: ***

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Baron Saint Jean Rouge

I've been really impressed with the wines that I've tasted recently from Aldi but their Baron Saint Jean Rouge is amazingly good value for £2.99

It doesn't look or sound promising admittedly - it has no vintage and the label is pretty naff - but it's a perfectly decent easy drinking blend of Grenache and Cinsault* 'from the warm regions of southern France' (presumably not Provence at that price). A bit rough round the edges on the finish but it would be fine with food like pizza or pasta. Rating: **

The white on the other hand - the Baron Saint Jean Blanc Vin de Pays du Gers - a blend of Colombard, Ugni blanc and Sauvignon is quite unpleasantly cabbagey. To be avoided.

*In case you think I've gone a bit soft in the head while I've been away (hence the lack of posts - sorry) it won a bronze medal in the International Wine and Spirit Competition last year where it was tasted blind!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cortello 2008: a bargain Portuguese red

We're all inclined to think the best bargains come from supermarkets but here's an amazing buy from The Wine Society, which once you pay the once-off £40 fee to join offers some great deals.

It's a wine I came across at a Portuguese supper the other night but was amazed to find was only £4.95 on the Wine Society's list. It's called Cortello, comes from the Lisboa region (formerly Extremadura) and is a blend of castelão and aragonez (aka tempranillo)

It's fruity without being jammy, soft without being flabby and moderate in alcohol - just thoroughly good everyday drinking with anything from a plate of spaghetti bolognese to a barbecue.

The Flying Corkscrew sells the wine for £6.75 and The Oxford Wine Company for £7.99 which shows how keen the Wine Society's price is.

Rating: ****

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sainsbury's Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon

I was wondering the other day why you rarely see Bulgarian wines on the supermarket shelf. When I first started drinking wine back in the '80s they were a real bargain - a cut-price alternative to claret. Then they obviously panicked about being thought old-fashioned and went through a new world-ish makeover with higher alcohol, lots of ultra-ripe fruit and bright jazzy labels but obviously people felt if they were going to buy a new world-style wine they would rather it actually came from South Africa or elsewhere in the southern hemisphere.

This is a relic of the old style and I have to say not a particularly impressive one, despite the budget price of £3.89. There's no vintage on the bottle for a start. It's thin, woody and slightly sour - maybe aged in large oak casks.

If you like this mature oak-aged style you'd be better off going for a Spanish red like Valdepenas or even a Rioja if you find one at a good price. And Sainsbury's has better bargains than this in its 'House' range - the Chianti (£4.29) for a start.

Not a particularly rewarding trip down memory lane. Rating: No score. Well, maybe that's a bit harsh. It's not vile but I really couldn't recommend it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Laurent Miquel L'Artisan Chardonnay 2009

People tend to groan when you talk about Chardonnay these days but the fact is it still remains hugely popular and is a wonderfully versatile wine. (No-one complains about always seeing chicken on the shelves, do they? Chardonnay is the wine world's equivalent of chicken.)

Anyway this was one of the wines in a pop-up Chardonnay tasting I went to last night in Bristol run by wine blogger Ben Austin who calls himself (modestly!) number1wino. It's a well-crafted chardonnay made in the Languedoc by Laurent Miquel and is currently on sale at Majestic for £6.99 instead of the usual £7.99 if you buy two or more bottles. Not a huge discount by today's standards but one that makes it a well-priced bottle for the standard of the wine. (Rating: ****)

It has a nice creamy texture and citrussy lift - not too oaky, sweet or overpowering - a good alternative to basic white burgundy. It would go well with pretty well anything with a creamy sauce or richer seafood like salmon.

To make up the six bottles you need to buy to shop at Majestic you could also pick up the Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs we also tasted which is currently down from £11.99 to £7.99. Not that it was worth £11.99 originally - more like £9.99 - but this is a good price for party or even wedding fizz. (***) And their Spanish range, like the Vega Sindoa I was writing about the other day, has 20% off at the moment.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vega Sindoa Cabernet Sauvignon: a stonking Spanish red

Spain seems to be offering particularly good value at the moment as this bottle proves. It's a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva from Vega Sindoa in Navarra which is next door to Rioja but they tend to make their wines in a more forward international style.

At 14% it's a belter - quite extracted, with a big hit of spicy oak - but some good ripe blackcurranty fruit to balance it. A Napa-style Cabernet at half the price. It would be perfect with a steak or any other hunk of well grilled meat.

It's normally on sale at Majestic at £7.99 which is good value anyway but there's a current offer of 20% off all Spanish wines if you buy two bottles which brings it down to £6.39 a bottle. A brilliant deal.

Rating: ****

Friday, March 25, 2011

Yes, wine duty HAS gone up again

You might be justified in thinking that the Chancellor had let off Britain's winedrinkers in the Budget a couple of days ago. Sadly not.

Basically he didn't interfere with an inflation-linked rise in duty which had already been put in place by the previous government. Duty will in fact go up by 7.2% - that's roughly 15p a bottle.

As Gavin Quinney of Chateau Bauduc points out in his passionately argued blog post today that makes Britain's wine duty the highest in Europe.

Most retailers are saying that they won't be putting up their prices immediately. But they will over the next few weeks, no doubt about it.

Not that I think that's any cause to panic buy unless you've run low on your favourite tipple. There will always be deals. But there will be still less variety on the supermarket shelf or interesting wines coming into the country and that is depressing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Vieille Fontaine: two cheap as chips wines from Tesco

If you're tempted by 3 for a tenner wine offers you'd be better to pick up this bargain basement pair from Tesco which sell at just £3.49.

They're the sort of wine you buy from a French co-op and I frankly don't see anything wrong with that for everyday drinking.

The red, a Vin de Pays du Comté Tolosan and a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Negrette, Tannat is the better of the two I think. Soft, fruity and easygoing it would be perfect for a midweek plate of pasta. Rating *** (for the 2009, a good year)

The white, also currently 2009, is a Vin de Pays du Gers and I suspect Ugni Blanc but could pass for a cheap Sauvignon. And just 11.5% which makes for good springtime drinking. (It's recommended with 'warm asparagus with melted cheese' which is an unusual food pairing suggestion.) Rating **

There's even a Facebook fan group called the Old Fountainians which seems to consist mainly of expats struggling to find bottles of their favourite tipple. But no-one seems to have posted since 2009 which either means Tesco has shipped it to the Falklands or they've moved on to something else.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Buy a Wine Relief wine for Red Nose Day

Apologies for the lack of posts but I had to go to France unexpectedly for a family funeral. However I just wanted to remind you that tomorrow was Red Nose Day and that if you haven't already done so to take advantage of one of the special promotions for Wine Relief.

You can find a full list on Jancis Robinson's site here (scroll down to February 12th for the full explanation) but it's worth flagging up again that Marks and Spencer is donating 10% of all its sales of South African wines to Comic Relief which means that a full £1 of more expensive wines like the Charles Back Barbera I wrote about a few weeks ago will go to their charities.

Jancis, who together with her husband Nick Lander instigated Wine Relief, also singled out a Barbera that's on offer at Majestic as one of her top picks. You can see some of the others in her Financial Times column here and the reviews of all the wines on Wine Relief promotion if you're a subscriber to her site here.

And you can find an up-to-date list of more local activities on my colleague Simon Woods blog Drinking outside the Box. So no excuse!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Two good Fairtrade reds

Having been quite critical about Fairtrade wines in my Guardian column today it's good to find a couple of recommendable wines I didn't have an opportunity to taste before I filed my copy. Both come from Sainsbury's top level Taste the Difference range, a welcome indication they take the quality of Fairtrade wines seriously.

All are on promotion and cheaper still if you take advantage of Sainsbury's current offer of 25% off all wines if you buy any six bottles (up to and including Tuesday, March 1st)

Taste the Difference Leap Point Fairtrade Pinotage 2010 (14%, down from £7.49 to £5.61, or £4.21 when you buy 6 or more bottles)
A soft, intensely fruity red that would be good with a medium-hot lamb curry or, once the weather warms up, a barbecue. Produced from dry farmed bush vines by the Citrusdal winery, one of the first Fairtrade certified wineries in South Africa. ***

Taste the Difference Fairtrade Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (14%, down from £9.99 to £7.49 or £5.62 if you buy 6 or more bottles)
A really lush, sweet, delicious minty Cab produced by Bosman Family Vineyards. Some firm tannins which makes it more a wine to serve with food than drink on its own. Would be great with a steak, roast or grilled lamb, roast field mushrooms and hard cheeses like cheddar. ***

They also have a couple of whites I was less impressed by but given the scale of the discounts you might want to give them a whirl:

Taste the Difference Fairtrade Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (13.5% £6.99 down to £5.24 or £3.93 when you buy 6 or more bottles)
Simple, crisp and lemony - a touch sharp but would be fine with with garlicky prawns or a seafood salad **

Taste the Difference Fairtrade Chenin Blanc 2010 (13.5% down from £7.99 to £5.99 or £4.49 if you buy 6 or more bottles) 13.5%
Slightly weedy and sharp for Chenin, despite some attractive melony fruit. Would be fine with a chicken salad or seafood pasta dish. Wouldn't pay the full price for it.**

STOP PRESS: I've just discovered that organic wine supplier Vinceremos is offering a case of wine that's both Fairtrade and organic. Just what I was asking for in my piece. More details here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

25% off at Sainsbury's until March 1st

25% across the board discounts on wine if you buy six bottles seem to be the supermarkets' favourite promotional strategy at the moment and this week it's Sainsbury's turn. I haven't had a chance to taste their range since I last flagged up my best buys back in December so I can't recommend any new bargains.

As a general rule I'd stick to their Taste the Difference range which is more realistically priced than the brands they feature. You might take the opportunity to try their Taste the Difference Gruner Veltliner, an intriguing fresh peppery Austrian white that works really well with south-east Asian-style salads, fish and noodle dishes. Normally £6.99, down to £5.24.

The offer also applies to the four Fairtrade wines they've got on promotion. I haven't been that impressed by the Fairtrade wines I've tasted this year (see Saturday's column in the Guardian) but at these prices and for this good a cause you should give them a try.

The offer lasts until March 1st.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Your Favourite Wines

With all the special offers going on in the supermarkets I wouldn't have thought there was room for a site dedicated to discounting the big brands but apparently there is:

The proposition is simple - they offer discounts on the best known wine names in the high street. Nothing wrong with that - we all like a bargain - but do bear in mind that the prices of many of these wines are pitched for discounting which can make the price reductions not quite as compelling as they seem.

They do have the advantage of having a former supermarket wine buyer Angela Mount on board though who used to head up the wine department at Somerfield and whose tastebuds were once famously insured for £10 million pounds. (A brilliant piece of PR!)

I guess it would be most useful - like any mail order service - to people who live miles from a supermarket or who don't have a car. All I'd suggest is that you compare their prices with other sites such as mySupermarketwine and or even a supermarket online wine site like TescoWine to make sure you are actually getting the best price.

Also keep an eye on the vintages. Some of them, like Louis Latour's 2007 Ardeche Chardonnay (reduced to £7.16) are clearly bin-ends. That's quite elderly for an inexpensive - or relatively inexpensive - white.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

If you must drink pink fizz . . .

Those of you who follow my Guardian column will know that I've had a bit of a rant today about the relentless pressure on us to buy our 'loved ones' (loathe that expression) a bottle of pink champagne. It's not that I mind pink fizz as such I just resent the mark-ups the champagne producers put on it and the fact that the discounts are never as good as they seem.

Take Oddbins current price cut of £14 on Laurent Perrier rosé. You might reasonably conclude that makes it a fantastic bargain but at 'only' £45.99 instead of £59.99 it's still overpriced. Lanson rosé, which is by no means cheap, is £11 cheaper at £34.99 (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Waitrose.)

You'd be better off buying a bottle of Sainsbury's own brand rosé champagne at £20 or, if you can't bring yourself to pour a bottle of own label for your beloved, take advantage of their current offer on Taittinger which they're selling at £23.32 instead of £34.99. Admittedly not pink but not bad for a grande marque. I'm less keen on Marks and Spencer's offer on Oudinot at £15 instead of £25. I've never liked the Oudinot label that much.

For real credit crunch drinking the best bargain this weekend (Cava apart and your partner will know Cava is cheap) is the attractive wild strawberry-flavoured Bluff Hill Rosé from New Zealand, down from £9.99 to £7.99 at Marks and Spencer. It's very similar to Lindauer Rosé (on sale at the same price if you buy two bottles at Majestic) which is no great surprise as it's made by the same producer, Pernod Ricard.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Aldi Italian liqueur specials

Those of you who are Aldi fans will be familiar with their 'special buys' which are flagged up every Sunday and Thursday. I'd always been under the impression they were only available for the one day but according to the PR department they're on offer at that price 'for as long as stocks last'. Which I imagine could be quite a long time.

Anyway seems they've got an Italian promotion running from this Thursday which includes a couple of liqueurs and a grappa you might want to try:

A 50cl bottle of Amaretto for £4.99, an Italian Lemon Cream Liqueur for £5.99 (not so sure about that one - sounds like an Italian lemon Bailey's) and a 'premium' grappa for £8.99 in a very fancy bottle.

I haven't tried them so I can't give a verdict on them but would have thought at that price they're worth a punt. (Especially if you like grappa, which I do.)

I was also quite amused to see they're offering a giant Italian pepper mill which you might like to acquire if you want to release your inner Italian waiter . . .

Monday, February 7, 2011

Morrisons Fairtrade wine promo

For some odd reason Morrisons is jumping the gun and promoting two of the Fairtrade wines it stocks now rather than during Fairtrade fortnight which starts on February 28th. Or maybe it'll keep them on offer then too.

Anyway they're from the Fairhills range and include a Sauvignon Blanc and a Shiraz/Merlot. To be honest I wouldn't recommend them at their normal retail price of £6.69 but at £4.99 they're reasonable value especially the Shiraz/Merlot (**), a soft juicy red which would make a good partner for a midweek pasta dish or a Friday night pizza. The Sauvignon (**) is a bit sharp but would probably go down fine with a few garlicky prawns or other robustly seasoned seafood.

I just hope it's Morrisons taking the hit for the discount and not Fairhills. The offer lasts till February 20th.

You can find out more about the Fairhills project on Vimeo

Friday, February 4, 2011

Valentine's Day champagne promotions

It doesn't seem more than a couple of weeks since Christmas and here we are already with more cut-price champagne offers. Today Sainsbury's is advertising a half price discount on Champagne Lanson bringing it down to £14.74 from £29.49.

Of course, as I never tire of saying, champagne is ludicrously overpriced at that kind of level which is obviously designed for discounting but this is a good price for a much improved champagne.

Sainsbury's also has the heavily-discounted but decent Charles Heidsieck Blue Top on sale at £14.29 (previously £28.59)

Expect more of the same over the coming week to 10 days.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Port isn't just for Christmas

I sometimes think the port producers must tear their hair out. How many of us only buy port in the run-up to Christmas? Which is actually the worst time to drink it if you think about it, apart from its affinity with mince pies. Who needs a fortified drink on top of all the other booze we down over the festive period?

January is a different matter. It's cold (freezing, actually), grey and miserable. You've probably cut right back on wine so what could be nicer than a late night nip of warming port?

If you've drunk all your Christmas port here's a bargain from Lidl. A bottle of Armitar tawny port* for just £5.99. I'm not pretending it's subtle, but it's sweet and warming and better than most ruby ports at the price. Nice with a nibble of Stilton. Very nice with a square of dark chocolate or a slice of sticky fruit cake

Port is also a good friend in the kitchen. Add a slosh to a gravy or beef stew. At this price you can afford to.

* Having read the back label it says the wine may leave a sediment. Unusual in tawny port but you might want to decant it if you're serving it for a crowd.

Rating: ***

Friday, January 21, 2011

Marks & Spencer wine sale deals

The new year sales trundle on, not least at M & S which is knocking a couple of quid off a number of wines that are moving on to their next vintage. As I've said before you need to watch out as some of them are 2-3 years old now but here are six I'd take a punt on (former price in brackets):

Pirque Chardonnay 2008 £5.99 (£7.99)
Classy Chilean Chardonnay of the full-on buttery kind from a boutique estate I visited earlier this year. Their Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 at the same price is also well worth the price

Corriente del Bio Pinot Noir £5.99 (£7.99)
Pretty good at its full price of £7.99. A snip to find a really quite elegant pinot for £5.99

Kaituna Hills Cabernet Merlot 2008 £6.49 (£8.49)
Haven't tasted this for a while but a normally reliable minty blackcurranty Cab from giant NZ producer Brancott (formerly Montana)

Minervois 2008 Gerard Bertrand £4.99 (£6.99)
A good gutsy blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. Just what you need for the last couple of months of winter drinking.

Torre Scalza Montepulciano 2007 £5.99 (£7.99)
Possibly the best bargain of the lot: a rich spicy southern Italian red that could pass for a posh Tuscan. Would be lovely with lamb and baked pasta dishes.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

De Bortoli Verdelho 2009

If you haven't tried Verdelho, now's your chance. The very decent 2009 DB De Bortoli Verdelho (13.5%) is on a 25% discount at Waitrose at £4.58 a bottle until January 25th.

It's light, lush and limey (sorry - couldn't resist the alliteration but it's true). A bit less aromatic than a riesling, softer than a Sauvignon but a bit zestier than a Semillon, it would be good with Asian-style salads, seafood (I'm thinking grilled prawns) or noodles. Or just for one of those 'feet-up' moments when you get back from work.

The Aussies pronounced it verdello by the way.

Rating: ***

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A mixed bag from Majestic

Majestic sent me some samples of a limited parcel of wines it is offering for the New Year - two bottles from the Australian producer Houghton, three from Mondavi's Woodbridge range and a Ravenswood Zinfandel.

All are from the 2007/2008 vintage - i.e. bin ends or vintages they want to clear. Not a problem in the case of the reds but I think both the whites are past it. The best buy to my mind is the Woodbridge Shiraz which at £3.99 is a steal. Here are my ratings and comments

Houghton Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008 4.99
Has that canned asparagus, tinned pea taste you can get in Sauvignon. A little bit sweaty and oily - i.e. not massively appealing. Even at this price I'd give it a miss. No score.

Houghton Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2008 £4.99
Soft and fleshy with a nice whack of blackcurranty fruit. Not over jammy. A little tarry on the finish but I don't think you'd notice that with food. Looks smart enough to wheel out with the Sunday roast, especially if it's lamb. Quite full-bodied at 14%
Rating: ****

Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Sauvignon Blanc 2008 £3.99
A bit soft and flabby, like a woolly apple that’s been left in the fruit bowl too long. Past it.
No score.

Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Merlot 2008 £3.99
Light juicy, fruity red but oversweet (like boiled sweets) and a bit rubbery. Not worth buying when you can get the shiraz below
Rating: *

Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Shiraz 2007 £3.99
A little bit jammy but actually has some real substance and character. Decent everyday drinking with e.g. pasta, pizza or sausage and mash. About half the usual price. Worth buying (but not keeping for any length of time).
Rating: ****

Ravenswood Zinfandel Vintners Blend 2007 £4.99
Attractive, soft brambly fruit, a little rubbery when you first open the bottle and a little sharp on the finish. Would work with baked pasta dishes like lasagne. Maybe worth picking up if you're a Ravenswood fan (it's half the normal price) but not as good as previous vintages I've tasted.
Rating: ***

Friday, January 7, 2011

A bit of advice about buying bin ends

With wine merchants sales in full swing a word or two of warning about snapping up what may look like unmissable bargains:

* Check the vintage particularly on inexpensive whites and rosés. A 2008 white may not sound that old but if it comes from Australia or Chile it's almost two years from harvest. It may even be a bit elderly for a fresh-tasting European white.

* Be particularly careful about mixed and 'mystery' cases. Check the vintages of all the bottles. Merchants have a habit of slipping in one or two older vintages they want to get rid of.

* Don't buy an unmixed case without tasting the wine. OK there's a danger that someone else will snap it up but it's better than being landed with 12 bottles you wouldn't want to serve to your worst enemy. (This of course is true outside sale time)

* Remember many wines are now priced for big discounts so 50% off may not be the amazing bargain it looks. If you have a chance - and certainly if you're buying online - check the price on

* With a few rare exceptions (fine wines, designed to be aged) don't keep the wine you buy in a sale too long. Maybe there was a problem with the corks on that particular bottling so you might get a higher than usual incidence of cork taint. (You can of course take the offending bottle(s) back but that's harder to do a couple of years on.)

* Buy from a merchant you trust rather than one you haven't dealt with before. And ideally one local to you who is not going to risk losing your custom.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Useful UK wine tax calculator

Following on from yesterday's post about the VAT increase here's a nifty new iPhone app called UK Wine Tax Calculator you can download to find out how much of the cost of your bottle is accounted for by tax.

It's fairly startling to see that over 50% or £2.52 of a £4.99 bottle of 13% wine is now accounted for by tax - £1.69 duty and 83p VAT, leaving just £2.47 to cover the cost of packaging, transport, labour and of course the wine itself.

On a £6.99 bottle of the same ABV that goes up to £4.14. (The duty remains the same and the VAT goes up to £1.17) which shows that it is worth spending as much extra on a bottle as you can afford - and snapping up special offers on more expensive wines as and when you find them.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Why you shouldn’t panic about the VAT increase

If your instinct is to rush off this afternoon and stock up on wine before the VAT increase comes in tomorrow, hold your horses. The increases really aren’t that big. I got my husband, who is considerably more mathematically minded than I am, to work out the increase on a number of popular price points and these are the figures he came up with:

A £3.99 wine will go up to £4.08 (i.e. an increase of 9p), a £4.99 one to £5.10 (+ 11p), £5.99 to £6.12 (+ 13p), £6.99 to £7.14 (+ 15p) and £7.99 to £8.16 (+ 17p).

Of course it’s perfectly possible that retailers will take the opportunity to hike prices further to reflect other costs but equally likely that they - or the supermarkets at least - will continue to put a large selection of wines on special offer. As we’ve seen in the run-up to Christmas wine is a major battleground in the supermarket price war.

There is of course another way to keep the cost of your wine-drinking down which I've suggested in my Guardian column this week. Which is to drink the wine you normally drink, just rather less of it. I'm not taking a moral line on this just pointing out the financial (and health) benefits!

I've also spotted that quite a number of wine retailers aren't increasing their prices til the end of the month including Majestic and Great Western Wine. Yet another reason for keeping calm ;-)