Since I discovered I was gluten intolerant and switched to wine, I have found that you really can get much better wine by spending a bit more. Most of the wines you see here are unlikely to be found in your local supermarket, but Majestic wines stock most of them, both online and bricks-and-mortar. I promise you one thing - you won't hear me talking the usual bollocks about old leather and a hint of graphite. Prices for wines show here vary from about 12GBP to 30GBP/bottle, at half-case (6 bottle, i.e. the normal size box these days) costs. So, in no particular order:
This was my go-to red for easy drinking (note the past tense). It's a Ribera del Duero, i.e. grown in the valley of the Duero/Douro river (depending on whether you're Spanish or Portugese). It's pure Tempranillo, my favourite grape variety. Earlier vintages haven't apparently always been reliable, but the 2014 has been fine for me.
Ominously, the first bottle of the 2015 vintage I had was not nearly so good. I have three more bottles of the 2015 to go at, so I'm pretty sure the resulting assessment should at least have statistical significance on its side. Watch this space...
Well, the jury is in, and it's not good news. One bad bottle, two indifferent and one sort-of-OK. That's not anywhere near the standard I've expected from them, and I won't be buying any more Emilio Moro this year. If you can get hold of the 2014, then give it a try. If all they have is 2015... pass. One to revisit in a year or so and see if things have improved.
Ignore the trendy label :). A little bit higher in price than the others, El Viejo (the old one) is from a vineyard where the vines are more than 100 years old. That age seems to give a very decent depth and complexity to the flavour. Like all Ribera Del Duero, can be a little heavy on the tannin for some.
Rioja wine is classified (by the Consejos Reguladores)
according to how long it's been kept, both in cask and in
bottle. The classifications are:
Rioja, a.k.a. "Joven" (<1 year);
Crianza (2 years total, one in oak);
Reserva (3 years total, at least one in oak);
Gran Reserva (5 years total, at least 2 in oak).
Personally, I don't drink less than a Reserva. Which brings me to the Muga, powerful and relatively smooth, without the unpleasant sherry overtones that plague some Riojas, this is one of the good ones.
Muga Reserva is very good, but see how much better that house can do with careful grape selection and extra aging. This is significantly smoother than the normal Muga, and that much better for it. This has supplanted the Emilio Moro as my go-to red. A snip at around 22.50 (GBP) a bottle: serious quality for not too much money, and extremely reliable to boot.
Not everyone appreciates the oaky, tannin-heavy wines of Ribera Del Duero and Rioja, so here are some generation-X alternatives
This one that combines the body of those sturdier wines with a much lower level of tannin. Very fruit-forward but with a dry finish, this is a classic cabernet from the Stellenbosch in South Africa.
Most wine lovers will have heard the story of Porta 6 by now: an inexpensive portugese red whose sales went stratospheric when TV chef James Martin recommended it on the Saturday Kitchen TV show. This is its older brother, the Reserva version. Just as berry-heavy as the standard version, but not so slap-you-in-the-face-with-a-bramble-branch forward. It's smoother and somewhat better than the frankly rather variable standard Porta 6 (I don't drink that, too high a chance of a bad bottle, frankly). Reasonable value at around 12GBP a bottle. The predominant grape variety (50%) is Tempranillo, which explains why I like it, tempered with Castelao and Touriga Nacional
Continuing the theme of smoother wines, here's a reasonable smooth merlot from Sonoma County, California. A lot of people are down on Merlot, but that's just because it became a bit of a craze 20 or so years ago (especially in California), inexperienced growers moved into it, a lot of vines were planted that shouldn't have been and the quality tanked. Which is why that character in the "Sideways" movie hated Merlot so much.
Decoy is so smooth it seems almost characterless at first, but its subtlety grows on you. Plus it has a great label. Pity it tends to be overpriced in the UK.
This one's a cut above. One of the smoothest pure tempranillo wines I've ever drunk, despite being a Ribera del Duero, this one comes highly recommended. Bit pricy, though. It's over thirty quid even if you're buying six at Majestic. So save it for a special occasion.
and for folks who like their wine spicy...
This South African wine is 71% Syrah (Shiraz), so you might expect it to taste spicy, and you'd be right (the rest is mostly grenache and cabernet). The typical Syrah spice is tamed by smoothness, and it's also pretty low in tannin. The label is one colour, by the way, I shrunk the image vertically for my own convenience - the original being very tall and narrow.
This Sicilian wine is made from the Nero d'Avola grape using the "appassimento" process. In appassimento the grapes are dried on racks for 2-6 months before the wine is made, concentrating the sugars and flavours. If you like your wine dry, appassimento is NOT for you. It's usually used for Amarone and Recioto, but here the process is applied to Nero d'Avola, which results in a wine which tastes for all the world like you're drinking an alcoholic spiced raisin. Unique and very good on a cold winter's night.