Today we take a break from reviewing the latest wine promotions to concentrate on just one grape variety and find the best that the High Street can offer at an affordable price.
As with most things, the 80:20 rule (or a variant of it) applies to wine. By and large, over three quarters of any large wine category is sound, competently made fare that will prove enjoyable and give ordinary occasions a welcome extra gloss.
Stepping up from good to great is substantially more labour intensive, usually means seeking (or producing) the best fruit from the best terroirs. Costs will go up significantly as a result and selling prices will inevitably reflect that. Today's Sunday Best selections has an example.
Pinnacle wines will cost more and it is useless to pretend that we can regularly find wine that matches their complexity and elegance at everyday prices.
What we can do, though, is review what is available at price points where most folk buy their wine and select those that stand out from their peers for all the right reasons.
Shiraz has been selected because it is familiar to most wine drinkers and is a major player – under that name or under its (originally) French name, syrah.
World-wide almost half a million acres (and rising) are devoted to the variety in 31 different countries and it is the fourth most widely grown red grape variety.
The wine has a long history; Romans were writing about versions of it from France’s Rhone Valley in the first century AD.
Cuttings were taken to Australia by a Scot, James Busby, and began life in the southern hemisphere in the 1830’s in the Sydney Botanical Gardens.
Shiraz (or syrah) wines are widely admired for their blackberry, chocolate and cinnamon flavours and for a texture that grows fuller the warmer the climate in which they are produced.
To ensure that we are dealing with wines for the sort of money that MidWeekers usually spend, the limit for this review of High Street Shiraz has been set at £8.
Today’s post also includes a couple of Best of the Rest wines and our regular Sunday Best selection for times when you do need to spend a little more.
As ever, click on any image shown for an enlarged picture that makes it easy for shoppers to identify the wine on a crowded shelf.
For comparison purposes, I selected 2014 Tim Adam Clare Valley Shiraz (£10 at Tesco) as an excellent example of the desired style (although slightly above the target price) because of its careful balance between bramble fruit, spicy texture and enlivening acidity but also because it is a good example of getting the tannin level just right.
Like the benchmark wine, 2016 Parcel Series Shiraz (£7.99 at Majestic in Scotland or as part of a mixed six elsewhere – otherwise £11.99 and 13.5% abv) has firm – yet not intrusive – tannin but wraps it in a soft texture that brings together elements of mocha, vanilla, sage and clove.
While this option is lighter than the benchmark wine it has more assertive fruit components which skilfully encompass touches of cherry, blackberry and elderberry.
Very nicely integrated wine that is well worth £8 of anyone’s money.
For the curious: I have stolen the term “Magic Bullet” from the medical profession where, apparently, it refers to a remedy that delivers its benefits without side effects. In our context “Magic Bullet Wine” also has important benefits (it tastes good and makes anyone buying it look savvy and surefooted) yet avoids the side effect of a big hole in the pocket – indeed it is often at a discount.
Possibly this emanates from the different conditions in the ocean influenced Limestone Coast – two degrees further from the equator, 3°C cooler and 20% more rainfall.
Dense and savoury edged 2017 The Best Limestone Coast Shiraz (£7 at Morrisons and 13.5%) has bold plum and blackberry fruit with firm acidity and gentle tannin – all supported by hints of chocolate, baking spice and black pepper.
It is more savoury than the benchmark fruit but has especially well defined fruit.
Great Value Award
A special mention goes to a great value option that has been consistently good (even if the dizzy heights of the 2016 vintage right across the region cannot always be attained). It is a wine made for Aldi by Adam Eggins – top guy at the acclaimed Wakefield operation.
Step forward then the rounded and herbal 2017 Exquisite Collection South Australia Shiraz (£5.79 at Aldi and 14%) with its smooth blackcurrant and plum fruit embellished by cream toffee and aniseed touches.
This is lighter than the benchmark wine but probably has the most lively acidity of all today’s prize winners.
Finally to the Barossa
The Barossa contribution to this review could conceivably have won but it fails at the price hurdle – although not, I stress, on the quality criteria.
So, a special mention for the soft yet medium bodied 2016 Barossa Ink (£9 at Tesco and 13.5%) that is centred around cherry and loganberry fruit with a milk chocolate and mint background but, best of all, that rich sweetness that the Barossa does so well.
BEST OF THE REST
A racy Sicilian
Enjoy then the aromatic and light texture of 2017 Bendico Terre Siciliane Vermentino (£7.99 at www.virginwines.co.uk and 13%) with its ripe apple and pink grapefruit superstructure nicely supported by pithy lime acidity and sweet edged fresh pineapple sweetness.
Sticking in Southern Italy
Let’s head east from Sicily for one of Puglia’s best known grapes – primitivo – which, only recently, DNA evidence proved is the same grape as California’s zinfandel, although terroir and winemaking techniques often make the wines they produce seem quite different from one another.
Aromatic and medium bodied, 2015 ASDA Extra Special Primitivo (£6.75 at Asda but look out for a Rollback – and 13.5%) has bold red cherry and plum fruit, good acidity, suggestions of clove, tarragon and mocha but only gentle tannin.
Pinot gris – the alter ego of pinot grigio
Russian River gets its name from a group of émigrés who built the fort in that part of California two hundred years ago while the similarly named wine region is noted for great pinot noir and chardonnay – but, here, it brings us delightful pinot gris.
There is a rich but savoury edged viscosity to 2016 MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Gris (£17.95 at Great Western Wine and 14.5%) that underpins its aromatic peach and ripe melon fruit and the tangerine acidity and honey influences that support it.
Languedoc tries its hand at albarino
Evidence that any grape variety has “arrived” is when other countries start producing it and this is Languedoc’s take on Spanish Galicia’s flagship wine – albarino – which seems to have more pithy depth than those Iberian versions.
Nevertheless, there remain trademark citrus aromas in 2017 Sillages Les Extraordinaires Albariño (£12 at www.amazon.co.uk and 13%) along with apple and quince fruit and a strident initial acidity that eventually subsides into lime based zestiness.
This time’s “home run”
As you will know, the site tries to feature an English wine each month and today’s option is a small production, sparkling wine specialist from Hampshire making exceptional fare (silver medal at the International Wine Challenge) and using the “big three” grapes associated with Champagne.
After mighty initial exuberance 2015 Black Chalk Classic (£35 at www.blackchalkwine.co.uk and 12%) settles into delightfully poised and balanced wine with gossamer softness, a floral apple and grapefruit backbone, zippy lemon acidity – all accompanied by a nutty, biscuit richness.
Onto the reds
Traditionally, appassimento processes meant drying grapes on straw mats. These days special drying units are used for the task but the goal is unchanged – reducing water content to heighten the concentration of the sugars in the grape residue.
See its effect in a pleasingly inexpensive red wine by sampling the dense and rich 2017 Nero Oro Appassimento (£8.99 at Majestic in Scotland or when part of a mixed six elsewhere – £9.99 otherwise and 14%) with its bold (and, predictably, sweet edged) cherry and elderberry fruit, firm acidity, controlled tannin, long finish and concluding suggestions of mint, herbs and liquorice.
Putting another wine country on the map
The Republic of Macedonia has been in the news recently (for attempts to resolve disputes about its name) but this wine – involving the country’s massive Tikveš Winery and the local Vranec grape (a relative of zinfandel) – deserves headlines too.
Dark and intense, 2017 Tikves Cuvee Methodius Vranec (£8.95 per bottle at www.strictlywine.co.uk but in cases of 6 and 13.5%) has full flavoured mulberry fruit, little tannin, gentle citrus based acidity and suggestions of cinnamon, cocoa and pepper.
Premier division syrah
For an excellent example from a superb supplier seek out 2016 Crozes Hermitage Domaine Alain Graillot (£24.50 at www.yapp.co.uk and 13%) which delivers soft, smooth but forceful cherry and blackberry fruit with hints of aniseed and chocolate skilfully balanced by fresh and firm acidity.
Safely home to port!
Finally to a seriously neglected fortified wine – white port (usually containing the fingerprints of grapes like the typically white currant influenced and aromatic malvasia) that, to me, is the cross-over style between conventional port and the drier sherries.
For my money, the best – and in a class of its own – is the attractively nutty Churchill’s Dry White Port (£16.99 for a 50cl bottle at The Oxford Wine Company – www.oxfordwine.co.uk and 19.5%) with rounded marmalade, butterscotch, and dried fruit flavours kept lively with zesty acidity to mollify its gentle sweetness.
Back to normal next week, folks, with a look at a new promotion at Sainsbury’s
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