It’s no great surprise to discover that, where drinks are concerned, we’ve tended to revert to the tried and trusted during this roller-coaster of a year. Big brands have benefited particularly, as have own-label wines, which tend to undercut them, saving us all money in the process.
While you might have hesitated to take advantage during a normal Christmas, when we may have wanted to show off flashier bottles to friends, with the small family gatherings it looks as if we’re in for this year, who cares whose name is on the label?
All the big supermarkets have decent own-brand ranges that are often better than the independent labels they stock, particularly the top-end ranges like Tesco Finest, Morrisons The Best and Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference. Highlights from recent tastings have been the rich, spicy Tesco Finest Côtes du Rhône Villages 2019 (14.5%) and Morrisons The Best Cahors Malbec 2018 (13.5%), both of them top buys at £8, and Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Ribera in today’s panel below.
Most of Marks & Spencer and Aldi’s wines are own-brand, anyway. The M&S white burgundy range, including its chablis, is pretty sound: the Mâcon Villages (13%) is especially good value at £9 (though make sure you get the 2019 vintage); at £7.49, Aldi’s version (13%), from its Specially Selected range, is even better.
The Wine Society is also noted for its own bottlings. I generally go for the mid-priced ones such as the beaujolais in the panel below, but if you’re putting in an order, you may fancy stocking up on the Society’s cheap and cheerful Portuguese Red 2019 (£5.95, 13.5%), from the Peninsula de Setúbal, or its bright, juicy 2018 Australian Shiraz (£7.50, 14%) for your party … oh no, we’re not having those this year, are we? Let’s just call them basic everyday reds, then.
Even upscale wine merchants and posh grocers such as Harvey Nichols and Fortnum & Mason do own-label, though these have the added bonus that they make good gifts if you suddenly remember someone for whom you’ve forgotten to buy a present. And they’re not necessarily expensive, either, as Berry Bros & Rudd’s very decent white burgundy in today’s picks shows. Fortnum’s Claret (14%) is just £10.95, though you can, of course, push the boat out further: its exotic and highly rarefied Picolit 2017 dessert wine (11%), which just explodes with aromas of golden raisins, sundried apricots and figs, comes in at £24.95 the half-bottle, and is so sweet you need only the tiniest of sips. Well, maybe a touch more than that, but you get my point.
Five own-label winners to drink this Christmas
Berry Bros & Rudd White Burgundy 2019, by Collovray and Terrier,£13.95, 13.5%. Really decent, basic white burgundy at an almost supermarket price. Think fish pie.
The Society’s Exhibition Moulin-à-Vent 2018 £11.50, 13.5%. A much richer, riper style of beaujolais than you may be used to. Delicious with turkey, hot or cold.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Ribera del Duero Cune Roble 2018 £9 (on offer), 14.5%. This rioja-style wine is young for a Spanish red, which makes the fruit brighter and more vibrant. Great with lamb.
Adnams Rich Dessert Wine Anthemis Vin de Liqueur £11.99 for 50cl, 15%. You might not think of drinking a Greek wine at Christmas, but just try this gorgeous muscat from Samos that’s redolent of orange peel, Oxford marmalade and cloves. Perfect for Christmas pudding.
Fortnum & Mason Claret 2017 £10.95, 14%. Brilliant, ready-to-drink claret from just outside Saint-Émilion that knocks spots off most own-label bordeaux at the price. Ideal with roast beef.
• For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com