When I find myself frustrated by the wall-to-wall sauvignon blanc and malbec in supermarkets, I have to remind myself that I, too, often reach for the same product time after time. Like many people, if I find a drink I like – coffee, beer, gin, whatever – I tend to stick with it. And, for many, it’s too much of a risk to experiment with wine – after all, why spend a tenner on something you’re not sure you’ll like?
On the other hand, how do you ever discover something new to love if you don’t keep trying new things? There was a time, presumably, when you weren’t drinking malbec and were more likely to be drinking shiraz. Or, pre-sauvignon blanc, when you used automatically to reach for a bottle of chablis instead (mind you, it’s hard to remember a time when sauvignon blanc didn’t dominate our white wine drinking habits). Things change, though, and that’s often driven by price. Picpoul, for instance, used to be a cheap option for those who loved crisp, dry whites – I love Ormarine picpoul, which we used to get for about €6 on holiday in the Languedoc, but nowadays that costs a tenner at Sainsbury’s (for a cut-price alternative, try the same store’s jurançon sec in today’s pick).
I think it would help all of us to be more adventurous if we knew what style a particular wine was. What other full-bodied reds tick the malbec box, for example? And where do you go if you want a change from rioja? That’s something the supermarkets have occasionally flirted with, but they’ve never wholeheartedly embraced the idea. The fact that some now have ranges called “Discovery” and “Found”, however, suggests there are more adventurous drinkers out there, and maybe you’re one of them.
In the absence of clear guidance, the best indications of a wine’s style are its alcohol level, age and the presence or absence of oak-ageing (all are generally indicated on the back label). If you like lighter wines, go for lower ABVs (less than 13%, I’d say), more recent vintages (2021 and 2022) and no oak. Fans of more full-bodied wines, on the other hand, should be looking for wines of 14% or more, a reference to barrel-ageing and maybe a more mature vintage.
In fact, it’s all a bit like cooking: we all have favourite recipes that we trundle out regularly, but occasionally we feel moved to attempt something we haven’t made before. That’s a risk, true, because it may well not work out, but then you’ll never discover a new favourite dish – or a wine, for that matter – unless you try.
Five wines to widen your repertoire
Baron Amarillo Rueda Verdejo 2022 £5.29 Aldi, 13.5%. Bright, zesty, Spanish rueda is a natural habitat for sauvignon blanc drinkers.
Château de Hauterive Cahors 2019 £8.50 The Wine Society, 14%. Love malbec? Well, this is the region it came from originally. There’s a smidge of merlot in this immensely drinkable, everyday red, too.
Taste the Difference Jurançon Sec 2021 £7 (on offer) Sainsbury’s, 13%. A fresh, crisp white to have in the fridge for when you get back from work. Especially if you find sauvignon a bit OTT.
Matsu El Picaro Tinta de Toro 2021 £9 Morrisons, £9.99 (or £8.99 on mix-six) Majestic, 14.5%. If you like rioja, you’ll love this ripe, supple red that’s also made with tempranillo, known in the Toro region of Spain as tinta do Toro.
Cantina del Garda Bardolino 2021/22 £9.99 (or £7.99 on mix-six) Majestic, 12%. If you like a light, low-alcohol red, this bright, crunchy Italian wine made from the same grapes as valpolicella would fit the bill perfectly, especially if served lightly chilled.
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