With Christmas around the corner, I gathered some friends to road test a range of white and red wines in the £15 - £25 bracket to see what tickled our taste buds as contenders to match with festive food.
1) Morrisons "The Best" Sancerre, £15
Our first option was a classy white wine to pair with fishy starters, such as prawns, salmon or scallops. Sancerre is from the eastern Loire in France - it's an area of 3000 hectares, unlike the other famous appellation Pouilly-Fumé that lies on the opposite bank of the river and is more contained.
This Sancerre is from Morrisons "The Best" range, and has been sourced from the Caves de Vin Sancerre, a cooperative comprising of over 100 growers.
The grapes of this 100% sauvignon blanc come from 30-year-old vines in the 2020 harvest, and it didn't disappoint. There was citrus and apple on the nose, but as it warmed, the grassy asparagus notes were more prominent. Our tasters gave this the thumbs up, and were impressed with the price.
2) Au Bon Climat Chardonnay, Santa Barbara, £21.99
Our next white wine was a nod to the Burgundian whites, with a fuller bodied chardonnay from Santa Barbara in California. We thought this might pair with the main course; turkey or chicken, nut roasts and any bread sauces.
The vineyards along the west coast of California have the unusual orientation of being east-west, with gaps in the mountain ranges creating funnels to channel the refreshing sea air through to cool off the grapes.
The winemaker at Au Bon Climat is Jim Clendenen - a respected man who was all set to become a lawyer in the 80s until he travelled to France and became enamoured with the Burgundy region. Returning to California, he dumped his law plans and pursued a life in wine, winning gong after gong through the decades. Sadly, Jim passed away in May 2021, but his family and talented team are continuing his legacy at Au Bon Climat.
This chardonnay is made from grapes from 25-year-old vines, and then aged in French oak, giving the finished product notes of vanilla and citrus.
Our tasters found it nice compared to other supermarket chardonnays, but didn't find it special enough to warrant the price tag. This wine is available from Majestic Wine.
3) Parcel Series Margaux, Majestic Wine, £19.99
So, to the reds. If your Christmas dinner is going to be beefy, gamey or you want a nice robust red for the cheese course, then we found an interesting offering at Majestic wine.
Margaux - the left bank appellation in the haut-Medoc region of Bordeaux is highly respected and many winemakers command a premium price for anything labelled as "Appellation Margaux Controlee". The parcel series at Majestic is where winemakers want to offload stock quickly, they sell it cheaply to outlets on the condition that they remain anonymous.
So it could be that this wine comes from a top chateaux, but we'll never know. The delicious blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon gave the wine plenty of red and black fruit flavours with a touch of vanilla, but it didn't stand out as anything different to a usual Bordeaux according to my guinea pig tasters. For the price, they didn't find it extra special.
4) Amarone della Valpolicella, M&S, £19
Our final wine of the night produced "Oooh"s from the first sip. This Italian offering would pair wonderfully with venison, stewed red meats, and strong cheeses.
Amarone is made in the region north of Verona, where the heat of the summer is cooled by the winds rolling off the dolomite mountains. This example is made from 70% corvina grapes by Cantina Valpantena. This winemaker uses the traditional Amarone method of drying out the grapes on mats to concentrate the sugars, which makes the wine exceptionally rich and high in alcohol (the legal minimum is 14% - this is 15%).
The result is a full-bodied, smooth, rich wine with a touch of raisin and spice, its complexity made more prominent from ageing in oak. This was the winner of the evening, and our tasters felt it was worth the price tag. It was a disappointment when the last drop was gone.