Where to find classic wines at a good price
- Credit: Liz Sagues
Classic wines are classic for a some very good reasons.
Much has to do with history, the right vine variety in the right place and the distinctive expression of that place in the wine.
Once discovered, they're bought again and again. But with status comes cost, and sometimes that seems linked more to name than quality. Champagne is a prime example, with some dire bottles carrying the same 'c' word as the very finest.
How, then, do you find classic wines that deliver at a sensible price? First warning: there are rarely simple pathways to follow, other than wallet-busting trial and error.
Second warning: personal taste is a big factor. Third warning: things change, so good can go downhill and poor may improve spectacularly. But here are some suggestions. Look at wines of similar style from alternative, less instantly recognised areas.
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For sparkling wines made in the champagne way, for example, there is consistent quality from England, Franciacorta and Tasmania, with French crémants a usually reliable budget option.
Focus on the lesser end of an appellation such as chablis. The top – and expensive – grand and premier crus normally deliver generously - like Simonnet-Febvre Vaillons 2018, £29, Waitrose - although generic chablis can disappoint.
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But there are splendid examples at the introductory level, petit chablis, the best from sites close to cru vineyards. Domaine Vrignaud 2019 (£16.70, gerrardseel.co.uk), fragrant seamless fruit and stony, salty minerality, is delicious – and organic. I anticipate similar finesse from Domaine Samuel Billaud 2019 (£120 for 12 in bond, jeroboams.co.uk).
Follow a big, respected name in a particular region: in burgundy and beaujolais, for example, Louis Jadot and Louis Latour offer regular, fair-priced quality. Or consider own-brands from specialist suppliers. The Wine Society is itself a classic here, with its Exhibition range.
Gigondas 2016, £18, from Saint Cosme, hugely impressed wine media's top names recently – no wonder it has sold out. But for alternative fine southern Rhône style, Exhibition Vacqueyras 2019, £12.50, is remarkable value, with a long life ahead. Exhibition Sancerre 2020, £17, is another to buy and keep.
Berry Bros & Rudd also puts its name of a range of classic bottles, including a tempting introduction to red burgundy, Bourgogne Côte d'Or Pinot Noir 2019 by Benjamin Leroux (£19), truly worth-the-money Champagne by Mailly, Grand Cru, £32, and – leaving France for a moment – Barolo 2015 by Giovanni Rosso, £30, all the right elements at moderate cost.
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Off-piste wines may not be the ones you return to month on month, but there's fun and often serious pleasure in trying something different.
The new Found range from M&S couples value with innovation, focusing on largely unfamiliar grape varieties. From the tart green-apple fruitiness of Blanquette de Limoux (£10, the mauzac grape in a traditional method sparkling wine from the southern French region where fizz may well have been invented) to the smooth, summer-berry fragrance of Xinomavro & Mandilaria 2019 (£9.50, two Greek varieties a delight to meet) they have much appeal. These three tempting whites are among the multi-nation choice: tropical fruit plus freshness in Gascon Gros Manseng 2020 (£9), lemon-and-honey Greek Moschofilero & Roditis 2020 (£8.50) and nutty-edged Italian Ribolla Gialla 2020 (£7).
There's splendid value, too, in pinot noirs from burgundy specialist Maison Louis Latour's vineyards elsewhere in France. Valmoissine 2018 (£12, Majestic mix-six), from high in northern Provence, is richly aromatic and expressive.
Pierres Dorées Coteaux Bourguignons 2018 (£18.10, thedrinkshop.com) shows with crisp yet creamy fruit how very well pinot noir can express itself on the limestone soils of southern Beaujolais.
With more than 1,200 choices listed at thewinesociety.com, quirky flourishes alongside classic. Little-known Cretan native grapes are a specialty of Domaine Lyrarakis, and both intriguing, gently oxidised white Armi Thrapsathiri 2019 (£14) and smart, concentrated red Plakoura Mandilari 2017 (£12.95) are a rare treat.
A fascinating cross-border story adds to the appeal of peach-and-citrus Weingut Jülg Weissburgunder (pinot blanc) 2019 (£11.50). In warm, smooth, rich contrast is one of the many sub-£10 bargains, The Society's Sicilian Reserve Red 2017 (£8.50).
Queen's Park drinks shop and deli The Salusbury Winestore offers a tongue-twisting challenge from the Basque country: Akarregi Txiki Txakoli (£16), mouth-watering white with a touch of spritz – breezy green Spain in a glass.