My school reunions always seem to commence with dinner at a spectacularly unremarkable establishment. Astonishingly, tonight the food is even blander than the décor; the tasteless beige adorning the walls is effortlessly overshadowed by the tedium being ceaselessly defecated from the kitchen. A duck breast is placed in front of me; judging by the colour of the skin I conclude it must have died from natural causes. I release an inaudible sigh as I survey my dining companions, currently involved in a heated debate centred on the supposedly rapidly increasing body-fat ratio of Heidi from The Hills. By the time discussion shifts to starting salaries (X reckons he could wrangle 45 from firm Z, Y begs to differ) I realise I am effectively anesthetised. This is certainly not due to the palatability of the conversation – I have absolutely no idea who this Heidi is and school friend X is an insufferable bore – but instead because of the nearly empty bottle of wine standing next to me. Staring long and hard at the culprit (a vacuous, mass-produced Aussie Shiraz) I attempt to savour the final dregs. How could I have drunk so much so quickly? The answer is revealed on the palate. The wine is the vinuous equivalent of indie music: characterless to the point of nauseating, and ultimately leading nowhere.
The lower end of the British market is regrettably plagued with this sort of mediocrity. This is predominately due to the high post production costs per bottle; the price of a cheap bottle of plonk is primarily government duty, transport and bottling without even considering the supplier’s profit margin. This means a slight budgetary increase is well rewarded – a few more pounds can double the value of the wine you’re actually drinking. Though the tendency to drink the cheapest filth available is understandably prevalent amongst the university community, it seems a shame to entirely dismiss the possibility of spending a few pounds extra for pre-drinks when a night out to any York ‘nightspot’ will inevitably set you back at least ten times more.
Though wines in the ‘under £10’ category might not blow you away, Chile remains a very cost effective choice where – unlike Mr Madoff’s trusting investors – you certainly get out what you put in. For something a bit more adventurous I would advise a jump over the Andes to Argentina, billed by Steven Spurrier of Decanter fame as the new world one to watch. With some interesting new varietals appearing alongside the traditional Malbec and some exciting new regions rapidly emerging in the north, it’s an assertion I thoroughly endorse. In European terms, Portugal is an excellent bet; a lot of varietals at competitive prices make it definitely worth a dabble.
Worth A Try:
Cono Sur Pinot Noir, 2007, £6.99 (Oddbins, Tesco) – Despite bearing little resemblance to its Burgundian cousins, this new world expression of the temperamental grape is always a joy to drink and very easy to get your hands on. Fruit in abundance and light enough to enjoy with or without food.
Carmin De Peumo Carmenere, Various Vintages, Chile, £49.99 (Oddbins) – A friend’s grandfather once told me “life’s too short for cheap wine”. Take his advice and decimate the student loan with a few bottles of this Iconic Concha Y Toro Carmenere. Rent and heating are overrated anyway.
Masi ‘Passo Doble’, 2007, Argentina, £10.99 (Oddbins) – A new world excursion courtesy of one of Italy’s most famous names which flawlessly applies the Ripasso method in a new world setting. A big, racy red which is certainly worth the little bit extra.
Norton Malbec/Torrontes, 2008, Argentina, £5.99 (Oddbins) – Extremely affordable red and white for everyday quaffing. Perfect with
or without food.
Portal Da Aguia Branco, 2008, Portugal, £5.99 (Oddbins) – Lovely floral Portuguese white perfect for the upcoming summer. Drink chilled with something with a hint of spice.
Santa Julia Organic Sparkling Chardonnay, 2007, Argentina, £9.49 (Oddbins) – Perfect for individuals wishing to celebrate with a touch of fizz but nevertheless unwilling to spend vast amounts on Champagne.
Jonathan is Drinking … La Copita Dry Oloroso Sherry, £7.99, Spain (Oddbins) – with high profile advocates ranging from Heston to Fergus Henderson of St. John’s fame, this drink is no longer the reserve of those nearing the top of the escalator of life. Chuck a bottle in the fridge and enjoy with tapas or as an aperatif.