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 ros├ęs. 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 ;-)