Glass acts: finding value reds

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

03 December 2019

Entry-level red wines are the workhorses of any wine list. But with Brexit uncertainty looming and prices rising, nailing your offer isn’t easy. Jacopo Mazzeo and a team of somms are here to help you out


It’s easy to select top Bordeaux and please those who can afford it, but the reality is that the majority of people don’t like to spend that much,’ Matteo Montone, wine director at The London Edition hotel, told me recently. He also admitted that ‘finding value is one of the toughest challenges that the modern sommelier has to face’.

Indeed, with ever-rising prices and the prospect of a much-feared no-deal Brexit, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to nail the cheaper end of the wine list. But a good entry-level wine can make the difference between a satisfied customer and a disappointed one, and it can say a lot about a venue’s premium offer too.

To make your selection process a little bit easier, we called in a number of reds – more than 100 – priced between £8 and £11 and tasked a team of ruthless somms with picking the top 30 labels.

OLD WORLD

Château Julien, Bordeaux 2016, France
Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon
‘Juicy and attractive, elegant. Good claret, showing dark fruit and some minerality. Tasty,’ VS. ‘Fruit-forward nose with plum-jam notes, dried fruit and prune on the palate. Soft, light style to drink on its own,’ MF.
£10.54, Hallgarten & Novum Wines

Albet i Noya, Lignum Negre 2016, Penedès, Spain
Cabernet Sauvignon/Cariñena/Garnacha
‘A wine that sits just under the radar, subtly giving more each time. Elegant structure, red and black fruits on palate with good length,’ MF. ‘This one needs a bit of air for blackberry fruit, spices and fine acidity to shine. Grippy yet relatively fine tannins give it presence,’ VS.
£8.15, Vintage Roots

Panel

Romain de Courcy, freelance sommelier
Michael Fiducia, The Royal Automobile Club
Andres Ituarte, Tamarind Collection
Jacopo Mazzeo, Imbibe
Mattia Scarpazza, Petersham Nurseries
Elena Serban, Heritage
Victoria Sharples, St John group

Château de Bel, Echappée Bel Bordeaux 2016, France
Merlot
‘Blackberry and vanilla notes, with underlying herbaceousness. Finely structured, silky palate. Good on its own but would pair well with food too,’ MF. ‘Very attractive wine, nice red cranberry fruit. Light style with good concentration and length. For the summer and the autumn,’ VS.
£9.10, Graft Wine

Domaine Gayda, En Passant Rouge 2018, Languedoc, France
Syrah/Cinsault
‘Ripe cherries plus chocolate and vanilla. Great texture, with pleasant ripe tannins, a full body and a lengthy finish,’ MS. ‘Candied red and black fruit. Black pepper on the palate. Easy drinking but good typicity and very well balanced,’ RC.
£8.54, New Generation Wines

Clos Bagatelle, Saint-Chinian 2017, Languedoc, France
Syrah/Grenache/Carignan/Mourvèdre
‘Tomato leaf and unripe raspberry aroma. White pepper on the palate, fresh, medium bodied. Very nice,’ AI. ‘There’s a fresh herbaceousness plus lots of blackcurrant, raspberry and spicy pepperiness. Silky tannins and great finish,’ MS.
£8.05, Boutinot Wines

Judith Beck, Beck Ink 2017, Burgenland, Austria
Zweigelt/St Laurent
‘Lots of black pepper and dark berries. Tart, savoury. Exuberant, Noir. Beguiling!’ VS. ‘Light coloured, with perfumed red and black fruits. It really opens up on the palate to an intense, plummy character,’ MF.
£9.90, Les Caves de Pyrene

Symington, Quinta do Ataíde Douro 2016, Portugal
Touriga Nacional/Touriga Franca/others
‘Great alternative to a Cabernet. Dark fruits, mineral character, moreish. Interesting palate, fine grippy tannins, good length,’ VS. ‘Great nose: aromatic herbs overlay red cherries and dark fruits. Full yet fresh palate with firm tannins. Good to pair with food ,’ MF.
POA, Fells

Santa Tresa, Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2017, Sicily, Italy
Nero d’Avola/Frappato
‘A fragrant, savoury, intense wine, somewhat Pinot Noir-ish in character. Bursting with floral aromas and great acidity,’ JM. ‘Very well-balanced use of oak that doesn’t overpower the gentle fruit character of this wine,’ ES.
£11, Fraziers Wine Merchants

Tasca d’Almerita, Regaleali Nero d’Avola 2017, Sicily, Italy
‘Deep and intense. Nose shows cloves, char and blackberry. Palate is oak-led by vanilla and toast, plus cherry and plum. Rich and high in tannins,’ ES. ‘Elegant nose, with garrigue, mint, sage and bay leaf complementing fruitiness. Very refined palate, ripe yet firm tannins, juicy but with good acidity,’ JM.
£8.42, Berkmann Wine Cellars

Gorgo, Bardolino 2018, Veneto, Italy
Corvina/Rondinella/Molinara
‘A light red delivering more than expected. Spicy, with saline minerality, floral and zesty, with intriguing bergamot. Palate: red berries and plum. Excellent,’ JM. ‘Crunchy nose, with red berries and cherries. Joyous palate, intense, aromatic. Plenty of fruit balanced by vertical acidity,’ ES.
£8.55, Ellis Wines

Cruz de Alba, Ribera del Duero Crianza 2015, Spain
Tempranillo
‘A wine that needs food. Rich and full bodied, with assertive tannins and brilliant juiciness,’ AI. ‘Pronounced, rich red- and black-fruit aromas of berry, plum and cherry, plus sweet oak spiciness. Well-integrated tannins, long finish. Good potential for ageing,’ RC.
POA, Enotria&Coe

Cossetti, Grignolino d’Asti 2016, Piedmont, Italy
‘A remarkable wine. A very light ruby colour leads to a juicy yet unexpectedly highly tannic palate. It needs food,’ JM. ‘Fresh, crunchy nose of wild red berries. The palate is elegant, showing firm, ripe tannins. Juicy and delicious,’ ES.
£10.70, Graft Wine

NEW WORLD

Edgebaston Finlayson, The Pepper Pot 2016, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache/Tannat
‘Warm mouthfeel, lots of fruit and hints of herbaceousness that keep the wine in good balance. Caramel and cocoa on the finish. Good by-the-glass option,’ AI. ‘Aromas of ripe redcurrant and raspberries. Elegant, soft tannins, with a hint of spiciness. Clean finish,’ MS.
£8.49, ABS Wine Agencies

Michael Fiducia (left), Victoria Sharples (right)
Michael Fiducia (left), Victoria Sharples (right)

 

Domaine Tournon, Mathilda Shiraz 2017, Victoria, Australia
‘Dense, ripe tannins, red and black fruit with herbaceous eucalyptus notes. Balanced, with good intensity and a long finish,’ RC. ‘Enveloping palate of blueberry and blackcurrant, vanilla and toast. Light tannins and long, rich finish,’ AI.
£9.32, Berkmann Wine Cellars

 

Babylon’s Peak, SMG 2017, Swartland, South Africa
Shiraz/Mourvèdre/Grenache
‘Rich and complex, with aromas of leather, tar, bacon and fresh and dried berries. Well-integrated tannins and balanced finish,’ RC. ‘Juicy, fruity blend, with super-smooth tannins and flavours of vanilla, cassis and candied fruit,’ AI.
£8.35, Ellis Wines

Tyrrell’s Wines, Hunter Valley Shiraz 2016, Australia
‘Beautifully aromatic with pink peppercorns, sweet jam and dried cranberry notes. Palate gently floral with round tannins and warming finish,’ AI. ‘Rich, savoury character, showing peppery and meaty notes with a rich fruitiness,’ MS.
POA, Fells

Errázuriz Estate Merlot 2018, Curicó Valley, Chile
Merlot/Carménère
‘Overt and brash, with strong oaky character. Lots of ripe fruit on the palate, and a long-lasting finish,’ VS. ‘Deep, dark, brooding summer pudding. Excellent balance of juicy fruit and structure,’ MF.
£8.55, Hatch Mansfield

Montes, Alpha Merlot 2016, Colchagua Valley, Chile
Merlot/Carménère
‘Blackberry and eucalyptus notes in opulence lead to a pleasantly silky, structured palate which would lend itself to a good steak dinner,’ MF. ‘Bold New World-style red oozing with cassis. Gutsy yet easy-going. Appealing to drink on its own,’ VS.
£10.82, Liberty Wines

McPherson, Don’t Tell Gary Shiraz 2017, Victoria, Australia
‘Fresh, vibrant red and black fruits plus oak spices, leather and smoke on the nose. Medium tannins, good acidity on the palate,’ RC. ‘Pepper and crunchy red fruits. Extra complexity from meaty flavours,’ AI.
POA, Lanchester Wines

Andeluna, 1300 Malbec 2018, Valle de Uco, Argentina
‘Dark, smooth and quite oaky. Clean citrus note that lifts the finish. Very interesting,’ VS. ‘Fruit-forward style with floral notes. Softly structured palate. Not overly complicated, yet a thoroughly enjoyable wine,’ MF.
£10.51, Hallgarten & Novum Wines

Romain de Courcy
Romain de Courcy

Kaiken, Terroir Series Malbec/Bonarda/Petit Verdot 2017, Mendoza, Argentina
‘Dark cherry and sweet spices on the nose. Creamy, fruit-forward palate. Good acidity,’ MF. ‘Ripe dark fruit and a supple palate. Full bodied yet easy drinking, good wine by the glass,’ VS.
£8.07, Liberty Wines

Miguel Torres, Cordillera Carménère 2014, Cachapoal, Chile
‘People will like this wine, big, ballsy and powerful, with lots of glossy oak and good savouriness,’ VS. ‘Enticing nose of blackberry, plum, fresh spices and garrigue. Complex palate. Good with grilled meats,’ MF.
POA, Fells

Magpie Estate, The Songlines Grenache 2017, Barossa, Australia
‘Nice buttery texture with dried-fruit character. Palate shows spices and a sweet, woody note,’ AI. ‘Nose characterised by crunchy red-berry aromas and a hint of smoke. Palate is fresh with intense backbone,’ RC.
£9.70, Boutinot Wines

Fowles, Are You Game? Pinot Noir 2017, Victoria, Australia
Pinot Noir/Zinfandel
‘Juicy, fruity, grapey. Palate has flavours of gooseberries, greengages, strawberries, raspberries and great acidity,’ JM. ‘Fruit-driven with intense berry nose. Punch of black pepper balances the fruit,’ ES.
POA, Enotria&Coe

Conclusions

  • Overall, Old World wines performed better than those from New World countries, with Spain and France taking the majority of the spots in this top 30. The best-performing New World country was Australia, which dominated with styles ranging from classic Shiraz to Pinot Noir.
  • The tasting showed that the Languedoc and south-west France are two key areas for the £8-£11 category, where some of the best value and most innovative styles can be found. Italy performed well too, especially with its lighter, fresher styles, with lightly coloured Bardolino, Grignolino and Cerasuolo di Vittoria all conquering the top 30.
  • All tasters agreed that wines between £8 and £11 come in a significant diversity of styles and wide-ranging degrees of quality. Care must be taken in the selection process as these wines are crucial for the success of any restaurant list.

Panel Comments

Romain de Courcy, freelance sommelier

Very good quality overall across all styles. All the Spanish seemed to be great value for money, showing the diversity that the country can offer at such a convenient price point. It was really easy for me to highlight my top picks.

Michael Fiducia,The Royal Automobile Club

Bordeaux and its blends were all relatively simple but a few really stood out with great length and a good balance of New-World style opulence and subtlety. We haven’t seen the quality that I normally find in Portugal, though.

Andres Ituarte, Tamarind Collection

The southern Rhône blends were very interesting. The lighter styles showing more purity of fruit and nice freshness – crucial for a wine of this price, which is often the most important label on a menu.

Jacopo Mazzeo, Imbibe

I was impressed by the diversity and quality in this tasting. It’s been really hard to limit the selection to 30 wines only. By looking at the right regions and wine styles, it’s possible to list exciting bottles at very convenient prices for both restaurants and their guests. It’s a win-win situation.

Mattia Scarpazza, Petersham Nurseries

I was impressed by the Syrahs, which were all of good quality. The two that most impressed though were more New World in style, with plenty of fruit yet fresh enough to work by the glass. I still wouldn’t rule out going back to them in a few years to see how they’ve developed.

Elena Serban, Heritage

Such an interesting selection. When working on a wine list this is a crucial price range that most of our guests will experience so they need to show a character that they’re comfortable with. With such a wide selection, it’s easier to see that even when priced between £8 and £11, wines can show typicity.

Victoria Sharples, St John group

Spanish and Portuguese wines were a nice surprise for me. They were the cleanest that I’ve tried, never too oaky, in comparison to some of the New World expressions. The Bordeaux blends were a bit disappointing, not a great deal of terroir coming through there and a bit too much oak.

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