I can't believe it's not claret: Wine alternatives

Andrew Catchpole

Andrew Catchpole

17 December 2015

With the classic wine styles commanding ever-more eye-watering prices, Andrew Catchpole seeks advice on some attractive alternatives


BORDEAUX
All the tea in China is unlikely to buy you much top-end Bordeaux these days, putting this one-time French mainstay out of reach of many. Fortunately, fab alternatives abound.

EMILY HARMAN, VINALUPA AND CONSULTANT SOMMELIER, LONDON
‘Look at lesser-known appellations around Bordeaux, such as Bergerac, where producers are delivering quality, good value and similar styles. Then look to the same varieties from similar or slightly warmer climates in the New World, from South Africa, Australia and Chile, where the wines are going to be a little different, riper and more forward, but often cheaper thantop Bordeaux. And in the New World there is often less vintage variation, soit can be a safer choice for the customer.

‘With food you do need to factor in the greater fruit ripeness, so look for well-balanced styles but consider pairing with richer, stronger flavours, which can be another plus with these wines. A great alternative are wines from Margaret River in Western Australia, where the best wines have more poise, less extraction and ripeness, so appeal to people that usually drink Bordeaux.’

TRY: Margaret River Cabernet
Stylistic fit: *
Similar food fit: *

Price comparison: *
Hand-sell factor: **


RED BURGUNDY
The pinnacle of vinous perfection for Pinot-philes, red Burgundy has seen big price hikes, helping to shift the spotlight onto cool-climate contenders from places such as the Antipodes.

JOHN POWERS, PRESTONFIELD HOUSE, EDINBURGH
‘If you are looking for good value and phenomenal consistency then New Zealand has some great Pinot Noirs, from across pretty much all of its regions, whether Martinborough, Marlborough or Central Otago. Australia’s ocean-cooled Mornington Peninsula is also making some very sophisticated, lovely, aromatic Pinot Noirs at the moment.

‘I typically find that people who likered Burgundy like Pinot Noir in general and are therefore happy to try wines from other regions, if you make the suggestion alongside the classics. And on price, the New Zealand and Mornington Pinot Noirs stand up very well against Burgundy, so it’s not difficult persuading customers to try these wines. They have similar food-matching qualities, too, though perhaps taking on bolder flavours.’

TRY: Kiwi/Mornington Pinot Noir
Stylistic fit: *
Similar food fit:

Price comparison:
Hand-sell factor: *


BAROLO
Great for basting your palate when munching on hearty game, Italy’s vinous Capo di Tutti Capi is a tough cookie to replace, but there are good alternatives to be found.

YANNICK LOUÉ, LE VIGNOBLE, PLYMOUTH
‘Barolo’s Nebbiolo grape has yet to really make its mark outside of Italy, so I’d look to stay around the region, to different wines and grapes from Piedmont. Good Barbaresco, from old vine Nebbiolo, can be absolutely stunning and half the price that you’d pay for Barolo from just a few kilometers away. It’s also a little more approachable at an earlier age. And then Barbera, while a different variety, can be a good compromise with a little ageing in barrel, still capturing some of the character of the region. Many Barolo producers will make these wines too, so you can explain this to the customer.

‘Otherwise, look to somewhere like Sicily. It’s up-and-coming with some very good wines, also at very good prices for the quality at all levels. The Nerello Mascalese from Etna, on volcanic soils and with the cooling influence of altitude, shares some of the qualities of Barolo in pairing with game, birds and stews, while being good value for some of the best wines.’

TRY: Barbaresco, Barbera, Nerello Mascalese
Stylistic fit: *
Similar food fit: *

Price comparison: *
Hand-sell factor: *


BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO
Tuscany’s big hitter comes with similarly elevated price tags, but there are plenty of other Sangioveses that the imaginative sommelier can bring out to play.

DEBBIE SMITH, 21212, EDINBURGH
‘As Brunello is Sangiovese there’s quite a lot of scope for sourcing wines that may not be quite as intense, but are much more reasonably priced, and also much more approachable, so you don’t have to tie up capital and wait five years to drink the wines. There are some good examples from Argentina, Australia and California, but they have some way to go to achieve greater consistency, so I’d stick with Italy, which has much to choose from.

‘In a good vintage, Rosso di Montalcino can really challenge Brunello, without having to pay for the name. And although neighbouring Chianti is stylistically different, it can also be more reasonably priced for some very good quality wines that would still appeal to Brunello and Sangiovese drinkers. We serve a Sangiovese from Emilia-Romagna, an amazing, great value wine, which I’d rather drink over many young Brunellos. So it’s all about explaining and highlighting to the customer that if they like Brunello they may like other Sangiovese wines, wines that will also pair with game, red meats, pasta ragus and dishes with slightly fruitier sauces.’

TRY: Other Italian Sangioveses
Stylistic fit: *
Similar food fit: *

Price comparison: *
Hand-sell factor: *


CHABLIS
Chablis is as much about lean, fresh, poised food-pairing style than the grape variety, so one good option is to find lean and cool-climate Chardonnays from lesser-known and emerging regions.

LIONEL PERINER, THE LUCKY ONION, COTSWOLDS
‘If you want to stay in France then wines with minerality and good acidity from less celebrated regions, such as good Rully or similar from the Côte Chalonnaise, can offer great value for money. Or even look to a different variety, Sauvignon Blanc, from appellations such as Côteaux du Giennois or Cheverny in the Loire, again with fresh acidity and minerality that can remind you of Chablis, but at very good prices.

‘Otherwise, look to the New World, to cooler regions such as Tasmania or New Zealand’s Nelson, Australia’s Mornington Peninsula or Chile’s Leyda, where lean, unoaked Chardonnays can have a real focus and freshness. There is some great value to be found, wines that have good acidity and some of the minerality that you look for in Chablis, so they will pair well with seafood. If you explain why these wines work as good alternatives, with similar dishes, then customers are happy to try them.’

TRY: Rully, Tasmania, Leyda, Nelson, Mornington Peninsula
Stylistic fit: *
Similar food fit: *

Price comparison: *
Hand-sell factor: *
**


WHITE BURGUNDY
These are often sublime wines, but edging towards ridiculous prices when compared with the many excellent
‘new wave’ New World Chardonnays from around the world.

ROGER JONES, THE HARROW AT LITTLE BEDWYN, WILTSHIRE
‘Cooler climate southern hemisphere Chardonnay is delivering restraint and freshness, and just as food is getting lighter, with less cream and butter and more precise flavours, so are these wines. I’d suggest South African Chardonnays as a great alternative, such as Jordan’s wines from Stellenbosch, ranging from unoaked but textured Chardonnay reminiscent of Chablis to more seductive and luxurious barrel-fermented styles, similar to top white Burgundy.

‘And not only wines from Stellenbosch, but places such as Franschhoek, where outlying old bush vine Chardonnay is giving a bit of interesting quirkiness, or up-and-coming Elgin, or Hemel-en-Aarde, where the styles are at their most Burgundian. The mix of price and quality means that these wines sell themselves, being much more affordable than equivalents from France or Australia. They are also very flexible, food-friendly wines.’

TRY: South African Chardonnays
Stylistic fit: *
Similar food fit: *

Price comparison: *
Hand-sell factor: *


SANCERRE
Sancerre’s success has launched a thousand imitators with some, such as New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc, managing the neat trick of rising to even greater popularity and fame. For a refreshing foil to the original, though, perhaps give Sauvignon Blanc a miss altogether.

LAURENT RICHET, RESTAURANT SAT BAINS, NOTTINGHAM
‘With Sancerre, customers are looking for quite a dry wine, with acidity and freshness, so as an alternative I’d propose wines from Galicia in Spain, such as Ribeiro, Monterrei, Valdeorras and the coastal wines of Rías Baixas. And not just Albariño, but also several of the local varieties including Godello, Treixadura and Loureira.

‘We have a few on the list at Sat Bains – some Albariño, some not – but all sharing characteristics such as freshness and clean fruit, with a salty note that, like Sancerre, goes really well with seafood, while also being great wines to drink just on their own.

‘Our wine list is set up and categorised by style, so these wines sit with Chablis, Sancerre and Muscadet, as they all share elements of style. This then makes it easy to explain to the customer that these Spanish wines are something new and that Spain has really come up these days, so they are not difficult to sell.’

TRY: Galician whites
Stylistic fit: *
Similar food fit: *

Price comparison: *
Hand-sell factor: *


CHAMPAGNE
Paying a premium for the privilege of having holes in one’s wine is part of the fun, but great bottles of less wallet-busting bubbles abound. We celebrate a very stylish alternative.

LOUISE GORDON, LIMEWOOD, HAMPSHIRE
‘We have an Italian-influenced menu with seasonal British ingredients, so either English sparkling wine or Italy’s franciacorta are the obvious choices. Franciacorta is slightly underrated and overlooked, but it sits in a perfect spot for those customers who don’t want to stretch to champagne, while not wanting to drink prosecco either.

‘Franciacorta is quite elegant, with longer ageing, and comes off a little lighter than champagne, and perhaps more gently sparkling, so it’s also less “in your face” than either champagne or prosecco. These can be absolutely superb wines, not cheap but cheaper than champagne and – importantly – still offering great quality.

‘Franciacorta is an exciting discovery for most customers and also perhaps a little more versatile than champagne with food, too. We have a smoke house, so offer a board of smoked fish and meats, and with the flavours and textures franciacorta is gorgeous.’

TRY: English fizz, franciacorta
Stylistic fit: *
Similar food fit: *

Price comparison: *
Hand-sell factor: *

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