It’s harder than ever to find wines that really deliver. Harder, but not impossible… We asked 25 somms to pick out bottles that they thought tasted twice as good as their price tag to see where the best value lies. Jacopo Mazzeo reports
From this autumn’s duty increase to the falling value of the pound and looming uncertainties over Brexit, the quest for good value is becoming an increasingly arduous task for sommeliers and wine buyers. Premium bottles from classic regions such as Burgundy or Tuscany might well be a safe bet, but their quality often comes at a premium. Meanwhile, wines at the cheaper end of the spectrum often don’t deliver. We challenged top UK sommeliers to nominate two wines under £20 (trade price) that they felt tasted twice as good as their price tag suggested.
Sonal Clare, Purnell’s; Matteo Furlan, The Ritz London; Aurel Istrate, The Connaught; Michal Kozyra, Social Eating House; Jacopo Mazzeo, Imbibe; Elly Owen, Fifteen Cornwall; Mattia Scarpazza, Petersham Nursery; Savvas Symgomdis, Gymkhana; Agustin Trapero, Avenue, D&D London
Given existing price pressure, it perhaps came as no surprise that sommeliers responded by going off the beaten track. Many of their recommendations came from countries like Greece and Romania or less-established regions in France and Italy, such as Jura and Alto Adige. We lined up their suggestions for a taste test to see which ones off ered the best bang for their buck.
How it works
We asked sommeliers to pick wines priced less than £20 that they thought offered particular value for money. Wines had to be available exclusively to the UK on-trade and independents. Bottles were tasted blind, with panellists only aware of grape variety, country of origin and ex-VAT trade price. Scores were collated to give percentage scores, with all wines scoring below 70% listed as ‘also tasted’.
89 Alpha Estate, Xinomavro Reserve Barba Yannis 2014, Amyndeo, Greece
Suggested by Giuseppe Longobardi, the Cross at Kenilworth
‘Notes of fresh black cherry and cranberry juice on the nose, great depth and concentration on the palate. Very impressive,’ EO. ‘Dark berries and black fruit on the nose, with an elegant floral perfume of violet. Ripe yet firm tannins, with sweet spices and black pepper on the palate,’ SS.
£17.62, Hallgarten & Novum Wines, 01582 722538
87 Domaine Lafouge, Auxey-Duresses 2014, Burgundy, France
‘Green leaves with sweet cherries and red berry aromas. On the palate, it has some cherries, then green leaves and a gentle smokiness,’ AI. ‘Crunchy strawberries and red cherries envelop well-integrated hints of wood. Full on the palate, with a long, satisfying savoury finish,’ JM.
£17.50, Domaine Direct, 020 7404 9933
87 Cantine San Marzano, ‘Anniversario 62’ Primitivo di Manduria Riserva 2015, Puglia, Italy
‘Rich and intense, with aromas of blackberry jam, black fruit, liquorice, chocolate and mocha. Pronounced spicy palate, concentrated, generous and well-balanced,’ MF. ‘Ripe, with plenty of dried fruit flavours like figs and prunes. It would be fantastic with blue cheese,’ AT.
£20.43, Hallgarten & Novum Wines, 01582 722538
84 Domaine Mur-Mur-Ium, Black Elephant Syrah 2014, Rhone Valley, France
‘Good harmony of sweet and sour cherries, cloves and black spices. Tannins are elegant and the finish satisfying,’ AI. ‘Notes of red fruit, leather, tobacco and spices are followed by an elegant palate, and ripe tannins,’ MS.
84 Bizios Estate, Nemea Agiorgitiko 2011, Greece
‘Austere and elegant, crunchy and full. Its firm tannins and high acidity demand food and will certainly help the wine improve further with age,’ JM. ‘Greatcomplexity with aromas of black fruit, vanilla, clove, black pepper and sun-dried tomatoes,’ SS.
£18.16, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060
81 Domaine Daniel Dugois, Arbois Trousseau Grevillière 2014, Jura, France
‘Intense nose with white chocolate, smoked meat, white mushrooms and superb minerality. Fantastic finesse,’ AT. ‘Enticing colour. Its
spicy, tart and savoury nose leads to a fragrant palate and a satisfying fresh finish,’ JM.
£13.15, Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 538820
79 Antolini, Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2015, Veneto, Italy
‘Vibrant, with a complex, ripe bouquet of red fruit and berries becoming spicier on the palate,’ MS. ‘Sweet spices and crushed red berries dominate the flavour profile; the palate is warm and generous, showing a mature tannic structure,’ JM.
£15.56, Passione Vino, 020 3487 0600
77 Alpha Estate, Xinomavro Hedgehog 2012, Amyndeo, Greece
‘This has lifted aromas of fresh black cherry and cranberry juice, a lovely depth and wonderful concentration,’ EO. ‘Amazing nose packed with black fruit. Beautifully
structured, with firm tannins and high flavour intensity that will support further bottle ageing,’ MK.
£13.71, Hallgarten & Novum Wines, 01582 722538
76 Recas Cramele, Sanziana Pinot Noir 2017, Romania
‘Very light yet with a clean and crisp nose of strawberries, as well as a hint of smokiness that adds to its complexity,’ SC. ‘Red berries and ripe red fruit combine with a slight savouriness. Very good value Pinot here. Delicious,’ EO.
£6.63, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2430
76 Casa Lapostolle, Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile
‘Warm and generous, this wine is packed with dark berry and black fruit aromas, with hints of liquorice and bell pepper. Punchy and lengthy,’ JM. ‘A pleasing deep colour, plenty of fruits with spicy and toasty notes,’ MK.
£11.73, Wine Importers, 01506 468900
73 Garage Wine & Co, Lot # 46 Bagual Vineyard Carignan Field-Blend 2013, Maule, Chile
‘Complex, with a marked spicy element on the nose,’ MS. ‘Earthy and smoky, with fragrant garrigue and crisp red berry notes,’ JM.
£20.40, Bibendum, 0845 263 6924
Bodega del Rio Elorza Verum Pinot Noir 2015
88 Carl Von Schubert, Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Ruwer, Germany
Suggested by Dave Cushley, Prestonfield House
‘Lovely enticing nose of melon, honeysuckle, toffee apple pie. Unctuous palate and long finish. Delicious,’ EO. ‘Pronounced aromas of pineapple, lime and touches of red apple and chalky minerality. Waxy palate with orange blossom and lemon zest adding complexity. Would be great with tapas like anchovies or jamon,’ AT.
£16.99, Raeburn Fine Wines, 0131 343 1159
86 Notary Public, White Wine 2014, Santa Ynez, California, USA
‘Lovely stone fruit, citrus and sweet spices on the nose, leading to great concentration and creaminess on the palate,’ SS. ‘Refined scents of pineapple and freshly cut grass, followed by a
surprisingly full body and a fresh minerality on the finish,’ SC.
£18, Tiger Vines, 07540 199 908
83 Sandhi, Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2015, California, USA
‘Appealing savoury nose, hints of caramel and popcorn. Buttery, silky palate and pleasing salty minerality,’ SC. ‘Ripe character, with aromas of apricot, pineapple and passion fruit. Well-integrated
wood, elegant and velvety,’ AT.
£18.50, Roberson, 020 7381 7870
83 Franz Haas, Manna 2015, Alto Adige, Italy
‘A kaleidoscope of floral and mineral notes, with lychee, chamomile, honey, peach and nectarine.’ JM. ‘There’s an elegant floral character here, plus touches of peas, white grapes and mushrooms. Crisp, lingering mineral finish,’ AT.
£18.54, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350
83 Lyrarakis, Vidiano Ippodromos 2016, Crete, Greece
‘Very good depth and intensity, with citrus and stone fruit on the nose, followed by a bread character on the palate,’ SS. ‘Intriguing aromatic personality, with green peas and green beans, and a touch of saltiness. Apricot and yellow plum coming through on the palate. Lovely with pan-fried sea bass and roasted vegetables,’ AT.
£12.45, Field, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360
83 Jean-Claude Boisset, Mâcon-Igé Château London 2015, Burgundy, France
‘Expressive nose of lemon, lime, honeysuckle, marzipan and candy apple. Satisfying fresh finish,’ MS. ‘Brioche and butterscotch on the nose, full body, good breadth and texture,’ EO.
£13.94, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350
82 Cantina Terlano, Winkl Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Alto Adige, Italy
‘Grassy and exotic, with kiwi and peach. Excellent concentration and texture, and great complexity without being overripe,’ EO. ‘Bright aromatics and exquisite varietal character. Creamy mouthfeel and full body. Delicious,’ JM.
£15.58, Astrum Wine Cellars, 020 3328 4620
80 Stratus, Niagara-on-the-Lake White 2013, Ontario, Canada
‘Scents of honey, vanilla pod and jasmine flowers lead to a palate of citrus fruit, golden apples, ginger and just a hint of banana,’ AI. ‘Savory and complex, with a comforting palate and a beguiling nutty, bready finish,’ EO.
£23.51, Bibendum, 0845 263 6924
78 Ataraxia, Chardonnay 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
‘Woody yet lean, refreshingly crisp with a full palate and a lingering finish,’ JM. ‘The nose delivers quince and pear with hints of vanilla. A touch of citrus and green apple skin on the finish,’ AI.
£18.45, Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5440
77 Grupo Estevez, Ojo de Gallo Palomino Fino Macharnudo Alto 2017, Jerez, Spain
‘Vibrant notes of stone and tropical fruit, baked apple, caramel and beeswax, with a refreshing mineral palate,’ MF. ‘Citrus and apples on the nose, and a waxy mouthfeel with some orange blossom and lemon zest,’ AT.
£11.35, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350
74 Château de Campuget, 1753 Viognier 2017, Rhone Valley, France
‘Yeasty character with some stone fruit aromas such as peaches. Well balanced on the palate, nice depth despite being fairly light,’ SC. ‘Elegantly perfumed, floral, there’s peach, green apple, lavender and candy fruit on the nose followed by a fine, silky palate,’ JM.
£10.91, Hallgarten & Novum Wines, 01582 722538
74 Markus Molitor, Wehlener Klosterberg Riesling Kabinett 2015, Mosel, Germany
‘Citrus fruit dominates the scene, with fresh minerality backing it up. Crisp and vibrant, very pleasant,’ MF. ‘A light expression of Riesling, zesty, limey, with good varietal character,’ JM.
£16.65, Bibendum, 0845 263 6924
73 Tania & Vincent Carême, Terre Brûlée Chenin Blanc 2015, Swartland, South Africa
‘Tart nose with lemon and golden apples with a touch of toastiness,’ MS. ‘Good aromatics on the nose, green melon, white peach and some kiwi and pineapple,’ AT.
£9.75, Field, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360
Quinta de Covela, Edição Nacional Avesso Vinho Verde 2017; Bachelet Monnot Bourgogne Blanc 2013; Duquesa de Valladolid Verdejo Rueda; Leitz Weingut, ‘Eins, Zwei, Zero’ Alcohol-Free Riesling
Sweet & fortified
88 Quinta do Vallado, 10yo Tawny Port, Portugal
Suggested by Agostinho Leite, St Moritz Hotel
‘Figs, red cherries and hazelnuts on the nose. Vibrant palate with sweet and sour cherry jam,’ AI. ‘Great balance between oxidised character and fresher red-fruit expressions. Raisins, mocha and spices on the palate and a rich nutty finish,’ JM.
£16.32, Bibendum, 0845 263 6924
85 Domaine Sainte Croix, La Part des Anges 2011, Languedoc, France
‘Dried fruit, raisins, figs, cinnamon, plus baked red fruit. Its sweetness is not overwhelming thanks to the high acidity,’ SS. ‘A powerful and fruity nose leading to a palate showing good
balance between sugar and alcohol. Good tannins too,’ MF.
£19.16/50cl, De Burgh Wine Merchants, 01875 595100
85 Nicolis, Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2013, Veneto, Italy
‘Ripe dark and red fruits blend well with cedar wood, toast, coffee and chocolate aromas. Muscular palate with a richnessthat lingers,’ JM. ‘Intense. The palate is packed with red cherry and plum. The sweetness is balanced by good levels of acidity and tannins,’ AT.
£23.96, Bibendum, 0845 263 6924
83 Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla Vermut, Jerez, Spain
‘This has a balsamic aromatic character, and spicy, with a tea-like herbaceousness too. On the palate, it’s like a liquid Christmas pudding, with marked notes of treacle, raisins and cinnamon,’ SC. ‘Great complexity of flavours here, such as ginger, tea leaves, coffee and dried herbs,’ MF.
£12.50, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300
82 Barbeito, Madeira Rainwater Reserva 5yo, Portugal
‘Nutty and bready. Moreish yet delivering great balance thanks to its fresh acidity and distinct mineral aroma. Most people wouldn’t think of Madeira as a refreshing wine, this goes against those misconceptions,’ JM. ‘Rich and delicious, with a nice tangy freshness and a long nutty finish,’ MS.
£10.40, Raymond Reynolds, 01663 742230
- We welcomed suggestions from any country, but a large number of the submissions came from less well-known regions, showing that somms are increasingly fi nding the best value for money off the beaten track.
- Panellists unanimously thought that sweet and fortified wines offered the best value, especially where there was enough acidity to counterbalance sweetness.
- Everyone was particularly impressed by the Greek wines, with two of the reds within the overall top ten and the Vidiano among the top five whites.
- New World wines, perhaps surprisingly, didn’t perform so well, with only one making the top ten.
Sonal Clare Purnell’s
I see some of the whites as a good alternative to the classics, like the Vidiano instead of a Chablis. However, the red Auxey-Duresses shows that there is still value available in Burgundy. Talking of alternatives, the Vermouth tasted like Christmas pudding – I would have it instead of the pudding itself!
Matteo Furlan The Ritz London
I believe that below the £20 mark, whites always offer better value than reds. However, I must say the Xinomavro Reserve and the Primitivo left me very pleasantly surprised.
Aurel Istrate The Connaught
The Maximin Grünhäuser Riesling was surely the best-value wine of the day; no whites that came later could really match the quality, considering the price. On the red side, I was intrigued by the unusual spot-on balance of the Primitivo and the complexity of the Syrah. Then the vermouth… they were impressive.
Michal Kozyra Social Eating House
In general, I thought the more expensive end of the whites off ered better value, and I was very pleased with the Canadian white blend. In the other flights, the Primitivo and the vermouth really stood out.
Jacopo Mazzeo Imbibe
It’s impressive to see how much bottles under £20 can deliver. These wines show that it’s not necessary to spend a fortune to enjoy complexity of flavour, concentration and balance.
Elly Owen Fifteen Cornwall
The more expensive whites were certainly worthier, while I can’t say the same for the cheaper ones. Good value started much earlier in the red flight. I was particularly impressed by the Greek wines, which I thought were exceptional considering the price-tag.
Mattia Scarpazza Petersham Nurseries
The whites priced at or below £12 impressed me the most, showing diversity and character. Same goes for the reds, with my top pick being the Chilean Carignan.
Savvas Symgomdis Gymkhana
I found some of the whites really appealing, especially those above £10. The complete opposite when it came to the reds: the cheapest was the Romanian Pinot Noir, which definitely over delivers for its sub-£5 price.
Augustin Trapero Avenue
I found the sweet and fortified wines to off er the best value overall, especially the vermouth, which had a very intriguing character. The Primitivo was my favourite of the reds, ripe but still showing good balance.