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January Wine Budgeting starts here

With post-Christmas bills now arriving on the doormat, belt tightening may be in progress in many homes.

Rather than cut out wine altogether though (Heaven forfend), use the MidWeek Wines website to pinpoint High Street wine offers that can really help you manage a budget.

First up for 2018, is a promotion at Morrisons that starts today.

We also include a couple of “Best of the Rest” options along with a guest feature about the impressive wines of a seriously underestimated region.

Click on any of the bottles shown for an enlarged image to help you pinpoint the wine on a crowded display.

Marlborough Central still hits the spot

Interest in terroir has expanded the focus from wines of the Marlborough region to different wines within it but – as we see here – the Wairau Valley heartland still turns out a decent bottle or three.

Be very careful not over-chill 2017 Workshop Benchmark Sauvignon Blanc (£7.50 – instead of £10 until 27 February and 13% abv) to enjoy the full extent of its orange, peach and melon fruit – accompanied here by elderflower aromas and firm pink grapefruit acidity.

A kindly priced white blend

Next we head across the Indian Ocean for an inexpensive South African white that brings together that country’s signature white – chenin blanc – with, I fancy, colombard.

Undemanding and rounded, 2017 Curious Cuts Crisp White (£5 – instead of £5.50 until 27 February and 13.5%) centres around pear drop, red apple and passion fruit flavours mellowed by sweet spices and touches of honeysuckle but enlivened by sharp lime acidity.

Could this work for February 14?

If you are looking for a dry, food friendly rosé for Valentine’s Day then Provence is the place to go and this well priced version is a good introductory option – even if it lacks the utlimate sophistication of more expensive examples.

The savoury edge in 2016 Amalthee Rose (£7 – instead of £9 until 27 February and 13%) comes from suggestions of cumin and aniseed which work pleasingly well with the wine's perfumed mandarin, rhubarb and morello cherry fruit.

Argentina's malbec continues to delight

For a red, let’s head across the Atlantic for a funkily labelled malbec from older vines (up to 75 years in this case) from – where else – Mendoza.

Enjoy then the soft cherry and plum fruit of Asado Club Malbec (£6 – instead of £7.50 until 27 February and 13%) with its chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon touches, mineral edge, lively acidity but limited tannin.

Emerging from illustrious shadows

Finally, to North Western Italy where the smart wine talk is dominated by the nebbiolo grape of Barolo and its neighbours – but the region is also home to the increasingly appreciated barbera, and the inexpensive wines it often creates.

For an ideal illustration, try 2015 The Best Barbera D’Asti (currently £5.50 – instead of £6.50 and 14%) with its soft raspberry and sour cherry flavours, surprising depth and supporting hints of lavender, allspice and red liquorice.

Best of the Rest

The continuing joys of white Rhone

White wines from the Rhone Valley continue to impress – with the world rapidly waking up to the delights of marsanne and roussanne grapes. Here, though, grenache blanc takes the lead – albeit with a small helping hand from marsanne.

Smooth and creamily textured 2016 Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhone Reserve Blanc (£6.50 – instead of £8 until 12 February – at Tesco and 12.5%) has aromatic peach, pear and quince fruit with citrus freshness – but with those characteristic savoury touches too.

Not all South American malbec is from Argentina

As an alternative to the Morrisons malbec praised earlier, try this version from the Rapel Valley in Chile – a country that often gets less credit for the quality of its malbec than it deserves.

There is  more (typical) ripe raspberry fruit to 2016 Zuncho Malbec (£5 – instead of £6.98 until 7 February – at Asda and 13.5%) than the Asado and those elements are supplemented by mocha, black pepper, sweet edged baking spice components, gentle acidity but only limited tannin.

Top Tip

With wine prices likely to rise, many recommend reversing the Village People’s advice and Go East – especially to Romania and Hungary.

Cracking Wine website founder – and keen MidWeeker – Janet Harrison suggests that you need not go that far east for impressive wine.

She writes “I was bowled over by the passion and dedication of the winemakers you find in Alsace – on the French side of the Rhine – and by their wines, which are much under-appreciated in the UK.

Like most things though, you need to know which producers to look out for, so I’ve done the hard work on your behalf!

Firstly, some facts which might surprise you:

  • Around 90% of Alsace wines are white.
  • Unlike German wines, they are mostly dry and fuller bodied (with ABV around 13% +).
  • There are thousands of wine growers but far fewer producers – hence buying in grapes is essential for bigger companies.
  • Organic and Bio-Dynamic production methods are relatively common – even if the producer is not officially certified.
  • Most of the main producers are family owned (some dating back to the 1500’s).

Trimbach

My first visit this time was to Trimbach in the town of Ribeauvillé – home to some noted Grand Cru sites.

Julian Trimbach (fresh back from an internship at Bodegas Salentein in Argentina) guided us through 16 great wines including the famous Riesling Clos St Hune.

I was hugely impressed with Gewürztraminer Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre 2011 which is a delicious off-dry wine with aromas of rose petals, sweet spice and melon, yet some savoury notes too.

Its standout feature was the balance between fruit, body and acidity (the latter not always present in this style of wine).  It was sublime.

2011 was a very hot year which didn’t suit all grape varieties, but certainly created the ‘oomph’ in this.  The flavours lasted for an age.

Bottles are available at Great Western Wines for £31.00 – www.greatwesternwine.co.uk/trimbach-gewurztraminer-cuvee-des-seigneurs-de-ribeaupierre

As with most great Alsace wines you can age an entry level Riesling for a good 5-6 years and Grand Cru wines for around 15 years.

In my opinion, they are all the better for it – developing delightful mineral/petrol aromas, becoming more textured and complex (and darker) in the bottle.

Hugel

On, next, to Famille Hugel in Riquewihr to meet Jean Frederick Hugel, which – like Trimbach is an independent family company – but with origins dating from 1639.

Hugel has been critical of the Grand Cru system, preferring to champion their own brands.  Despite that, their best wines are grown in premium Grand Cru designated sites (they won’t necessarily say so on the label).

Fortunately for us all, Hugel produces The Wine Society’s Vin d’Alsace (currently 2016) which is a blend of Alsace’s noble grape varieties and is priced at £9.50

https://www.thewinesociety.com/shop/ProductDetail.aspx?pd=AL13521

While you are shopping at The Wine Society. I would strongly recommend you also buy 2014 Pinot Gris ‘Grossi Laüe', Famille Hugel

 Pinot Gris is a joy in Alsace – so often proving to be complex with masses of spice, honey and minerality.  Behind the surprising acidity, though, there can be fantastic texture.

The joys of the variety can be intensified in Hugel versions because their winemakers do ferment a small proportion of their production in oak.

Schlumberger

Last but not least came a visit to Schlumberger in Guebwiller (established 1810) and a meeting with the legend that is Séverine Schlumberger (and her spaniel dog!)

She is smart, direct and full of analogies – mainly about the comparisons between wine making and the way a good chef works with simple, great ingredients.

Great they are too!  They own the largest number of Grand Cru vineyards (4 in total), all very differently situated.

Severine compares them to 4 siblings but all with opposing personalities – I told you she liked a good analogy!

My absolute favourite was Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2014 with aromas that surpass even the usual Riesling characteristics, (even more minerality and honey). It was elegant and fragrant too with a faint acacia note I think.

The bold fruit was amazing to taste, the texture full bodied and full of the honey, minerality and flowers sensed on the nose.  When coupled with the fantastic acidity we all love Riesling for, it was so delicious, lip-smacking I would say!

I also ordered it when at a restaurant in Colmar and have since bought it from the Wine Society here (albeit the 2015):

https://www.thewinesociety.com/shop/ProductDetail.aspx?pd=AL13761

Schlumberger tend to age the wines in bottle for at least 3-5 years before their release.

Conclusions

Although practically everything these producers make oozes excellence, few retail below £10 yet I would argue that Alsace Grand Cru wines are way below their market value given their quality and ability to pair with food.

Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer are the top picks for me but, if you love sweet wine, try Vendage Tardive (late harvest) wines – a great alternative to Sauternes.

I could go on….but I already have. Needless to say, I loved visiting the Alsace producers, they were so generous with their time and wines.  As it is a family affair, for them it is personal!

Please DO drink more Alsace wines if you can find them – or better still, hop on a plane to Basel or Strasbourg and sample for yourself”.

MidWeek Wines will be back on Thursday folks with details of a new promotion at Lidl


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Comments

2 Comments

Dave Cronin

Hi Brian, really enjoyed the write up on Alsace, very interesting.
The times I’ve sampled Rieslings with a bit of age have been a real joy, as you say the extra texture and that lovely petrol/ oily flavour (which tastes better than it sounds) developing over time is something everyone should try, although it is an acquired taste, anything by Trimbach is always good.
Gerwurztraminer is perhaps more approachable with its floral and sweeter profile (my wife’s a bif fan, less so with the Riesling) and I love most Pinot Gris.

Nice one, Salud
Dave

Brian Elliott

I agree that Janet has done a great job with the Alsace piece. Like you I struggle to describe those classic Riesling aromas in a way that makes them sound as attractive as they are. If you can get gewurz with a bit of acidity, it can be spectacular with Thai cuisine and is my wine of choice for haggis – attracting many raised eyebrows both sides of the Border!


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