How to find classic wines at a good price
Classic wines are classic for very good reasons.
Much has to do with history, the right grape in the right place, and that place’s distinctive expression in wine.
Once discovered, they are bought over and over again. But with status comes cost, and sometimes it seems more about name than quality. Champagne is a prime example, with some terrible bottles bearing the same “c” word as the finer ones.
How, then, do you find classic wines that deliver at a reasonable price? First warning: there are seldom any straightforward paths to follow, other than trial and error of wallet hijacking.
Second warning: personal taste is an important factor. Third Warning: Things change, so good can go down and bad can improve dramatically. But here are some suggestions. Watch similarly styled wines from less recognized alternative regions instantly.
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For sparkling wines made in the style of champagne, for example, the quality is constant in England, Franciacorta and Tasmania, with French crémants being a generally reliable budget option.
Focus on the lower end of an appellation like Chablis. The grands crus and the best – and expensive – wines generally deliver generously – like Simonnet-Febvre Vaillons 2018, £ 29, Waitrose – although generic windfall can disappoint.
But there are splendid examples at the introductory level, the Petit Chablis, the best of sites near vintage vineyards. Domaine Vrignaud 2019 (£ 16.70, gerrardseel.co.uk), a fragrant seamless fruit and pebbly, salty minerality, is delicious – and organic. I anticipate a similar finesse of Domaine Samuel Billaud 2019 (£ 120 for 12 in bonds, jeroboams.co.uk).
Follow a big name respected in a particular region: in Burgundy and Beaujolais, for example, Louis Jadot and Louis Latour offer consistent quality and at fair prices. Or think of own brands from specialized suppliers. The wine company is itself a classic here, with its Exposition range.
Gigondas 2016, £ 18, from Saint Cosme, recently made a big impression on the big names in wine media – no wonder it’s sold out. But for a fine alternative style of the southern Rhône, Vacqueyras Exhibition 2019, £ 12.50, is a remarkable value, with a long life to come. Sancerre 2020 exhibition, £ 17, is another to buy and keep.
Berry Bros and Rudd also puts its name on a range of classic bottles, including a seductive introduction to red burgundy, Burgundy Côte d’Or Pinot Noir 2019 by Benjamin Leroux (£ 19), which is definitely worth it Champagne by Mailly, Grand Cru, £ 32, and – leave France for a moment – Barolo 2015 by Giovanni Rosso, £ 30, all the right stuff at a moderate cost.
More wines to try in May
Off-piste wines might not be the ones you come back to month after month, but there is fun and often serious fun in trying something different.
New M&S found range combines value and innovation, focusing on largely unknown grape varieties. The tangy fruitiness of green apple Blanquette of Limoux (£ 10, the mauzac grape in a traditional sparkling wine from the region of southern France where the sparkling may well have been invented) with the sweet scent of summer berries from Xinomavro and Mandilaria 2019 (£ 9.50, two Greek varieties a pleasure to meet) they have a lot of appeal. These three tempting whites are among the multinational choices: tropical fruits and freshness Gascon Gros Manseng 2020 (£ 9), lemon and honey Greek Moschofilero & Roditis 2020 (£ 8.50) and edged with hazelnut Italian Ribolla Gialla 2020 (£ 7).
There is also a splendid value in the Pinots Noirs from the vineyards of the Maison Louis Latour, specialist in Burgundy, elsewhere in France. Valmoissine 2018 (£ 12, Majestic mix-six), originally from northern Provence, is richly aromatic and expressive.
Golden stones Coteaux Bourguignons 2018 (£ 18.10, thedrinkshop.com) shows with crunchy but creamy fruit just how well Pinot Noir can express itself on the chalky soils of southern Beaujolais.
With over 1,200 choices listed on thewinesociety.com, the quirky flourishes alongside the classic. Little-known native Cretan grapes are a specialty of Domaine Lyrarakis, and at the same time intriguing, slightly oxidized white Armi Thrapsathiri 2019 (£ 14) and smart and focused red Plakoura Mandilari 2017 (£ 12.95) are a rare treat.
Fascinating cross-border history adds to peach and citrus appeal Weingut Jülg Weissburgunder (pinot blanc) 2019 (£ 11.50). In a warm, smooth and rich contrast is one of many deals under £ 10, The Society’s Sicilian Reserve Red 2017 (£ 8.50).
Queen’s Park beverage and delicatessen store The Winestore of Salusbury offers a Basque Country language challenge: Akarregi Txiki Txakoli (£ 16), mouthwatering white with a touch of spritz – a light green Spain in a glass.