Lingering fears at the start of lockdown that we wouldn’t be able to get our hands on wine to drink at home proved (thankfully) to be misplaced. And for many, being stuck at home led to a re-examination of their cellars, with time to sort out those wines which needed drinking up – and then, of course, the task of perusing merchants’ wine lists to choose what to replace those empty bottles with.
Lockdown, self-isolation and social distancing have meant that traditional wine tastings have not been possible. Like most people, I have discovered the wonders of Zoom, and along with fellow wine lovers, have been enjoying getting together to take part in virtual tastings.
As well as sharing our love of wine, these have been a great way of combatting the feeling of isolation and loneliness which have characterised these strange months. Once again, wine proves to be an essential part of our social fabric!
Given that none of us are currently drinking wine in restaurants, it makes sense to spend a little more on the bottles we are drinking at home. Because the duty on wine is a flat rate, not related to its price, the more you spend, the smaller a proportion of the price is tax, and thus the more the producer receives to create a quality wine. On a £7.50 bottle, tax makes up nearly half the price; on a £15 bottle, it’s less than a third.
So as we slowly emerge from the strictest version of lockdown, here are half a dozen bottles which have helped me and my fellow Zoom enthusiasts keep our spirits up.
- Pieropan Soave Classico 2019 (www.exelwines.co.uk, £14.60)
Sadly, the name of Soave has been tainted by the huge amount of insipid, bland wine bearing the name which is around. A leading supermarket is selling a version in its ‘House’ range which costs £4.50 – which means that two-thirds of the price is tax. Unsurprisingly, with so little left for the producer, the wine is unmemorable.However, prepare to spend a bit more and you will find wonderfully complex, expressive wines, such as this one from leading Soave producer Pieropan. Despite being the producer’s entry-level wine, it is bursting with white flower, almond blossom and citrus notes, with a rounded mouthfeel balanced by crisp, clean acidity. This is how Soave should be, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to seasonal asparagus.
- The Society’s Ruppertsberg 2018 (Wine Society, £7.50)
German wine still has a lingering bad reputation from the days of Liebfraumilch, but if you are looking for fresh, fruity white wines with moderate alcohol levels, you will do a lot worse than this blend of Silvaner and Riesling grapes from the fabulous 2018 vintage.Made in the heart of the Rheinpfalz region, this is dry but fruity, and is a versatile wine which makes a great aperitif, and will match a wide variety of foods. At this price you can’t go wrong.
- Esprit de Buganay Rosé, Côtes de Provence (Waitrose, £13.49, reduced to £8.99 until 30th June)
No summer is complete without an ice-cold pale Provence rosé, and there is a confusingly large choice available on the shelves, not all of which will deliver the heady mix of fruits and spices, fresh acidity and food-matching body that such wines should.I have no hesitation in recommending this beauty from Waitrose – particularly at its current offer price (hurry, this discount finishes at the end of the month). Made from a blend of Cinsault, Syrah and Grenache, it has the full texture and flavour which is lacking in some Provencal rosés, and is chock-full of red berry fruit flavours and light, subtle spice notes.
- Whispering Angel Rosé, Côtes de Provence (Waitrose £18.99, reduced to £14.19 until 30th June)
Also on the Waitrose June promotion is the famous (and widely available) Whispering Angel, regarded as a benchmark Provence rosé. At a shade over £14 you are getting a quality product which delivers evocative flavours of the south of France.It’s pale salmon pink, delicate with lots of strawberry fruit, combined with notes of grapefruit and peach. It’s a quality wine with soft acidity and even a slight oiliness. Just make sure the bottle you buy is from the 2019 vintage – this is a wine you want to drink young.
- Château Saint-Estève, H de M, Corbieres, 2017 (www.exelwines.co.uk, £14.95)
The rugged Corbières region in Languedoc-Roussillon is a good example of a wine region which has reinvented itself in recent years. Once known for cheap plonk, an increasing number of producers are now making top quality wines which belie the modest appellation.Château Saint-Estève is a fine example of just such a wine. Made from 60% Syrah, 20% Carignan, and 10% each of Grenache and Mourvèdre, this has an intense ripe fruit nose of blueberries and blackcurrants, along with spices and vanilla. On the palate it delivers all of that, along with cocoa and even praline notes. A wine for food, this will change your view of Corbières for ever.
- Château Ampélia, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux 2015 (Wine Society, £12.50)
On the eastern edge of the Bordeaux vineyard, not far from St-Emilion, is Côtes du Castillon, from where great value clarets can be had if you know your producer. This one is from Château Ampélia, which has a growing reputation, and which supplements the usual right-bank Merlot with old-vine Cabernet Franc – 20% in this instance.This gives the wine added depth and complexity. This is a wine which needs some bottle age, and five years on from the stellar 2015 vintage, it is starting to come into its own. You’ll struggle to find something this drinkable for the price from the grander appellations of the Médoc.