Value is an odd word because it means different things to different people. I much prefer the French term ‘qualité prix’, which clumsily and obviously translates to ‘quality price’ and, as is often the case in French, is more informative than our English expression.
I spend around half of my life writing about great value wines and the rest writing about so-called fine wines where price is rarely the primary concern. It is worth noting that wealthy wine drinkers are as aware of value as the rest of us. I have never met a person, with DRC, Latour or Salon in their cellars who drinks these wines every day. We all like to find great wines at fair prices, regardless of our circumstances, and I seem to expend most of my ink on bottles under the fifteen quid mark. Of course, in the UK, we major on sparkling wines which, by virtue of their category, don’t necessarily conform to the ‘great value’ mantra. In their own competitive set, we are blessed with sparklers which clearly represent value propositions against all manner of foreign fizz, but ‘great value’ implies a cheaper price point than even our lowest priced sparkler can muster. I have found you three incredibly rewarding wines this month, which I think not only sum up the hollow term great value, but also comfortably conform to the lofty French lingo qualité prix. It is clear that we need many more wines like these in our armoury to try to put our bottles on dining room tables with more regularity. Perhaps these wines will inspire more wineries to raise their game as well as carefully lowering their prices.
2017 Flint Dry
There is no doubt that size of production and penetration in the market are fabulous cornerstones in order for a winery to provide its adoring public with value-driven wines. I doubt we will ever see rafts of English wines under the tenner mark, but Flint Dry gets very close and I have been a huge fan of this wine since it first appeared on our shelves. Winemaker Josh Donaghay-Spire notes that he builds this wine from a base of 52% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot blanc and they both go through malolactic fermentation. This base represents the mid-palate of this wine and it is indeed sleek and juicy. But it is the 25% Bacchus, 8% Huxelrebe, 4% Reichensteiner, 4% Müller-Thurgau and 2% Pinot noir which form the aromatic vanguard and titillating finish and this rabble of grapes does a brilliant job in bookending the central core with vibrancy and verve. There was a time when this wine languished on the shelves and was, on occasion, a few years old by the time customers drank it. These days, people are queueing up for the new vintage release every year! It is a remarkable achievement for this professional outfit.
2017 White Pinot Noir
Alison Nightingale, co-owner and manager of Albourne is disarmingly honest about her delightful wines. She told me that this wine came about a little by accident. In 2013 she tried to make a rosé with some of the ‘taille’ cut (the coarser pressing) from her Pinot noir grapes but the final wine lacked colour and aromatic intensity so she called it White Pinot Noir and it was really popular. Only producers who whole bunch press all their grapes can produce this type of wine as de-stemming and crushing would change the colour and character completely. I asked her about her competitive pricing policy and she simply said that she wants to offer great value for money. Taking a leaf out of the French phrase book this is Alison verbatim – “we strive to produce the best quality we can at the best price we can”. Obviously, this is music to our ears. She continued: “English wine needs to be established as a regular choice, not a very occasional try-this-once-because-it’s-local choice”. With these mantras in place, backing up a flavour which is truly enthralling and unique, Albourne is set for stardom.
2016 Classic Ferment Ortega
Another wise and informed member of our wine community is Adrian Pike, managing director at Westwell Wine Estates. He makes the point that he visits his pricing structure each year, looking at costs in the vineyard and winery, across production and marketing, as well as what’s happening in the market and then matches these to his wines, ensuring that they maintain a reasonable price. He says that he has a very loyal, local customer base and that he wants to continue to develop this by remaining affordable to as many people as possible. My favourite line from Adrian is: “at £12.95, I think we hit the sweet spot with this wine – a balance between offering an affordable product while allowing us to grow as a business”. Three cheers sir, because this price is exactly right for this heavenly wine. I love this Ortega with its gentle, meadow flower notes and magical texture. Westwell builds complexity in this wine by using stainless steel, old oak and their own branded amphora for fermentation. Ortega always seems like a temptress with its primal urges very much under control. Demure but also unmistakably attractive, this is a beautiful wine and it is about as handmade and English as it gets in terms of perfume and palate.