Don't be too shocked when I tell you that I write for other magazines! One of these is a local magazine that has the good taste (or desperation) to publish my rantings every month.
I used to think that I was actually writing for my own amusement, but I've been assured that at least one man and his dog read the stuff. I know that you're as shocked as I am, but I feel a certain responsibility to that man and his dog, and it was with this in mind that I put together a series of articles that looked at what was being offered in the bargain bins of my region.
This is Colchester in Essex, in the United Kingdom (I almost added, in the world) and the sellers I cover appear on most of the high streets and retail parks of the United Kingdom (perhaps one or two of the names might be familiar to those of you father afield) and I thought that it might be interesting to share my findings with a wider audience (yes I'm hoping that two men, two women, their dogs and a possible cat might now be interested).
What appears below are copies of various short pieces I wrote in those magazines. I've added very little, and can honestly say that I've no axe to grind with these producers; in fact, I was desperate to find tasty wines of value at every turn. I'll leave it up to you to decide if I did.
Well I’m sitting here, and like most of you I’m pondering if I should take out a mortgage to turn the heating on or simply rub two politicians together to start a fire.
They’re calling it the ‘Cost of Living Crisis’ and I didn’t believe it until I tried to buy a packet of crisps from the supermarket and found out that it cost 90p (the other day this had risen to 95p. Shame on you Sainsbury's!).
There will be those of you who are putting back that bottle of wine because you now feel that it is an expense too much, but I’m here to give you a few tips and a few recommendations that are at the cheaper end of the wine isle. First a couple of tips:
Get yourself a job in a wine merchants where they do regular tastings. At the end of one of these, simply empty the remnants into a variety of nearby bottles, and then sample in the safety of your own home. Not only is this a free way to drink wine, but it can also be a great party game identifying the various varieties you’ve lumped together into the bottles. A word of warning with this method; don’t empty the contents of a spittoon. You might be desperate, but you’re not a reprobate!
My other tip is to go to your local supermarket and pretend that you’re a wine critic looking over the wines they offer. Make sure that as you slowly look over the various shelves and bottles you make the odd tut or heavy sigh. It also helps if you have a small notebook and pencil so that it looks as though you’re making studious notes for an insightful article that you will be publishing in a magazine like the Tatler. Not only does this last tip find you a warm place to stay, but it also gives you a smidgeon of self-respect (it’s one I’ve being using for years now!).
Now I’ve been putting in the legwork so that you don’t have to, and I’ve been visiting the local wine temples where I’ve found a selection that is under £8.
Let’s start off where prices can be so eye-watering that your pockets can shrivel in fear. Off we go to Waitrose.
Forte Alto Pinot Grigio 2021 - £6.79.
This rather youthful wine starts proceedings, and I find that on the nose it’s light and there are clouds of juicy pear and acacia before green shoots and a hint of wallpaper paste come for a dance.
The taste sees the pear grow big, bold, and slightly tart. The floral hints aren’t giving up without a fight and there’s an earthy minerality that seems to bind this wine.
3.5 out of 7
Plush and Elegant French Red 2021 - £7.49.
The nose is crushed strawberries, blueberries, pencil shavings and floor polish.
In the mouth there’s an addition of pepper, blackcurrant, black cherries, bramble, cassis, and plum sauce.
5 out of 7
Sous le Soleil du Midi Chardonnay 2016 - £6.49
The first thing one gets is a nose full of oak that reminded me of an old California Chardonnay from the nineties. Then there’s a buttery pastry that finally settles into an Apple Charlotte. Take a sip and you get a variety of tropical fruits such as peach and pineapple bumping together in an interesting Rhumba.
4 out of 7
So, there is a lot going on at the cheaper end of the wine range of Waitrose, but you have to be adventurous and prepared to kiss many frogs before you find your wine princess!
I once wrote a story I about a woman who’d lost all her money and thought her luck had changed when an ex-wine merchant moved next door. All should have gone swimmingly, but the man owned a cat, and the old lady really loathed cats so much that the sight of them made her panic (this story features near the end and is called 'Susan Caught Catnapping'. give it a try and let me know what you think)
With thoughts of potential bad luck around every corner I headed to the Aldi in Stane Park (unfortunate name I feel. Stane Park, not Aldi!) to see if I’d won or lost the wine lottery.
CHASSAUX COTEAUX VAROIS EN PROVENCE - £6.13
I wasn’t too impressed with their white, but are Chassaux going to change their luck with this Rosè offering?
The nose gives you small strawberries dancing in a shallow bath of red fruit. There’s a creamy frosting that is quite enticing and a sliver of Parma Violets.
It’s a little too watery in the mouth and the red fruit feels as though it needs the kiss of life.
3.5 out of 7
CHASSAUX CÔTES DU RHÔNE - £4.39
The nose is all straw and grass up front. Then it settles down and has an edge of icing sugar. I’ve got to say that this wine is neither taxing nor complicated, but what is a sip like?
There’s Golden delicious apples, green stalks, tomato plant and so much acid you could put it in your car battery. In fact, it gave me a night of heartburn and regret!
2.5 out of 7
PEPA NERA – PRIMITIVO 2021 £4.99
My luck must be changing because this wine actually has a year! I like Primitivo because it shares the same heritage as one of my first loves; Zinfandel, but is this a close relation or a distant cousin?
There’s bags of juicy dark and red fruit with a lip-smacking liquorice coming out to play before a taste brings great dark fruit without being too overwhelming. It’s a sticky blackcurrant taste that’s enjoyable, and a price that really works in its favour.
5 out of 7
So, after a skip around the wine racks of Aldi I’ve got to say that it’s a real mixed bunch at the cheaper end. Perhaps if I look at the more pricey range there might be greater consistency.
My search for those bargain bottles comes nearer to where I live, and I drop into Sainsburys for bottles of red, white and Rosé.
Over recent years I’ve been rather critical of the range of wines this supermarket serves up, and I’m getting a little tired of them dropping popular ranges, rows of empty shelves and the regular moving of wines around as though they are swapping dance partners.
I do often find something suitable to drink, but always expect Sainsburys to delete it from their stock. Still, here’s the three I tried.
Bouchard Aïné & Fils – Chardonnay. Reserve du Conseiller 2021 - £8
On the nose there’s a cream base that’s almost like an Apple Charlotte. This is helped by the oodles of green fruit. I’m almost getting icing sugar, grass and syrup. That’s not bad for a wine in this price range.
Take a sip, and it’s gentle in the mouth with the apple now becoming more of a Golden Delicious. At the back I’m still getting sweetness and a sliver of warm pear tart. Not too shoddy, and a wine that I would recommend that you try with a tarte of the pommes variety.
5 out of 7
Piccini Memoro – Vino Rosso D’Italia - £6.50.
After a couple of French numbers, I’m moving east and across the Italian border to try a wine that Decanter Magazine gave a gold award to back in 2019.
It’s bottled in Chianti so there might be a little Tuscan fun going on here. The smell isn’t overpowering and there’s a light feel to proceedings. I’m aware of blackcurrants, a touch of chocolate and a little spice (black pepper).
In the mouth one becomes aware of blackcurrant growing, soft tannins, coffee and woody, forest flavours. The get out is short and not unpleasant. This might be the one to line up with your red meat.
5 out of 7
Roches de Provence – Côtes de Provence - £8.50
Once again this might seem expensive, but if you’ve been following my reviews you’ll know that Rosé had gripped the tastebuds and can often be over £20 (I remember once recommending one that was over £100, but those were the days when good times didn’t seem so far away).
This is hard to work the nose, and I felt that I was in a life and death struggle to get anything.
I finally started to get straw, hay, hints of red fruit and watered-down cherry cola.
As I tasted, I was aware of growing red fruit (a mixture of strawberries and redcurrants) and the wine seemed a little tight and reluctant.
2.5 out of 7
So there is a range of interesting budget wines to be found on the shelves of supermarkets up and down the country. It can be a challenge if you want something interesting and tasty, and you might have to really take your time looking carefully at what's on offer. Out of the ones mentioned above there were a couple of beauties, but there were also a couple of time wasters.
The debate about quality wine at a cheap price will rage and rage, and may never be truly settled. I tend to find that it's often a case of you pays your money...
I'd be really interested to know what you come across as you try to battle the financial crisis in the aisles of your local wine seller!