Fill your glass? Jonathan Fransman investigates the options for student wine connoisseurs.
Some people seem to find polite chitter-chatter, a faint hum of Vivaldi and the refined manner of the guests essential foundations for a successful wine tasting. My fellow tasters and I, however, felt at perfect liberty to break out of these unnecessary bonds of formality.
“This smells like day-old semen,” remarked an especially forthright taster, to anyone out of those assembled who actually cared to discuss the wine before glugging it down their throats like 15-year-olds at a bus stop. It is probably best to refrain from divulging the name of this particular wine, as I don’t think a defamation suit would help anyone.
So what was the aim of the evening? To have a raucous get- together with some good friends? In a sense, yes. But the evening had a far worthier subtext. This evening was nothing less than a quest to find the best, most delicious and most readily available wines we could, whilst keeping a student’s budget in mind.
We were therefore looking for easy-drinking wines, pleasant on the palate and flexible. We wanted nothing too pretentious or expensive, but wanted also to strive to avoid the poorly-disguised alcoholic fruit juice that large companies like Jacob’s Creek, Blossom Hill and Ernest &?Gallo like to flog. These big-label wines are fabrications. All they are is alcohol added to flavouring-powder. Avoid them.
So, with open minds and empty glasses we popped the corks, twisted the caps and started the evening’s tastings.
The first wine we tasted was collectively agreed to be one of the best and was by far my favourite white. It was the Casa Leona 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (M&S, £4.39), and everyone variously agreed that it was a lovely, off-dry sauvignon with a hint of melon and gooseberry on the nose and with nice citrus notes on the palate. As an easy- drinking white, this wine really stood out from the crowd.
As the wines slipped down, the tasters began to warm to their task. The rest of the whites were despatched, with the La Regate Muscadet (Sainsbury’s, £3.49) deserving a special mention. Drier in nature than many of the other wines we had, it was still approachable and with a lovely hint of minerality.
Oddly, one of the most expensive wines we tasted turned out to be the worst. The Simonsig Chenin Blanc (Threshers, £5.99, buy two get third free) was a gloopy, cough-syrup sort, disappointing from a producer with an excellent record. Similarly, Sainsbury’s Germanic offerings, Sainsbury’s Own Liebfraumilch and Hock, (Sainsbury’s, £2.99) met with loudly universal, if slightly hyperbolic, disapproval.
After the process of painstakingly analysing the rest of the whites was completed with only minor injury and two broken glasses, but with the breadsticks and dip running low, we reached for the reds.
The first real winner was the Ogio Primitivo 2006 (Tesco’s, £3.99). This fantastic easy drinker was a well-crafted little number which represents excellent value for its price. Giving off hints of dark fruit and chocolate, the by now slightly tipsy tasters found that it went down all too easily. The Casillero Del Diablo (Threshers, £5.99, buy two get third free) was another group favourite from a well established Chilean producer. If you are looking for cheap but still very drinkable plonk, however, we found that the best value-for-money was Tesco’s own brand Chilean Merlot (Tesco’s, £2.99). It’s over -oaked, sure, which isn’t that approachable, but at that price, we were not about to argue.
The first prize, however, with unanimous approval from all of the tasters, goes to the Berberana Rioja Reserva 2003 (Tesco’s, £4.49, reduced from £8.99, pictured) which was truly a cut above the rest. Everyone agreed that this wine displayed a superior elegance which is usually unavailable anywhere close to this price bracket. Try it, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Afterwards, over empty dip-packets and forlorn plates covered in the sad crumbs of a thousand snacks, ourselves slightly the worse for wear, we discussed our findings.
Most apparent was that our experiment was successful. It is absolutely possible to find good, accessible wine on a student budget. In fact, one of most expensive wines we had, intended as a benchmark, was the worst one there. This is representative of a very important thing to remember when choosing a wine: the label means nothing. Nothing at all.
Therefore, educate yourself. Every wine buyer would do well to have a little look on the World Wide Web before buying anything. Every newspaper has numerous recommendations available free online, so just log on and have a look at them.
Finally, just kick back and enjoy. Any wine will taste good with the right company and a few nibbles. Some will just taste better than others.