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:
Ignore the trendy label :). A little bit higher in price than most of 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.
This wine will reward care: open it at least an hour before serving, to allow the wine to outgas and make those tannins more bearable. This is one of those rare wines which is actually better on the second day, and a little bit of oxidation is the reason why.
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. A snip at around 22.50 (GBP) a bottle: serious quality for not too much money, and extremely reliable to boot.
The downside of Seleción Especial is that Muga don't produce much of it, so it sells out quite quickly. Majestic email me when it becomes available and if don't get there within a couple of days it will probably all be gone. If I don't there within a week, it will definitely all be gone.
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.
This is my go-to red for everyday drinking. Inexpensive and very drinkable, cheap enough to cook with as well as drink on its own, this is a truly great everyday wine. Excuse the stain on the label, I already opened this one before I photographed it, in order to drink while making a goulash :). A blend of Touriga Nacional, Shiraz and Alicante Bouschet, but aged in oak to add extra complexity. These wines are named after the Lisbon postcode of their maker, and are only available from Majestic in the UK. A truly great companion to any red meat meal, and a soft (and inexpensive) introduction for those unused to Portugese reds, as it has low tannin. Thoroughly recommended.
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. To give you some idea of how wrong-headed this stance is, one of the most expensive wines you can actually buy, Petrus (2500+ GBP per bottle) is pure Merlot.
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.
This Italian wine is an unexpected gem at it's price point of less than ten pounds. Negroamaro means black bitter in modern Italian, but there's little bitterness to be found here. The wine hails from Puglia, the south-east corner of modern italy, the "heel of the boot" so to speak. The most interesting theory behind the name is that the intensely dark grape that characterises Negroamaro was brought to Puglia in the 8th century BC by Greek colonists, and the name is a fusion of the Greek and Latin words for black at the time. Whatever, it has both blackcurrant fruit and spice to recommend it, combined with not too much tannin, a smooth texture and a long finish. Heartily recommended.
If you like the full flavour of the Nero Oro but want something less sweet, then the Ripasso style of winemaking is probably for you. In this case they take the light wine of Valpolicella and give it a second fermentation with the "pomace" of grape skins and stems. The result has the fullness of flavour and body of the appassimento, but with a drier overall feel to it. It's a personal favourite of mine. Consider it a halfway house between the sweetness of a recioto or an appassimento, and the dry complexity of an amarone. And all better for being neither. Highly recommended, especially for less than 20 pounds.