What do you feel about wine at the moment? Not just as in, “I’m drinking more of it” or “I’m trying to drink less of it”, but what sort of wine are you buying? Same old, or are you taking the opportunity to experiment?
According to industry giant Concha Y Toro, we’ve reverted to brands during lockdown. Given it owns mega brands such as Casillero del Diablo and Cono Sur, you’d expect it to say that, wouldn’t you, but it does actually make sense because the way we’ve been shopping has changed, with more of the infrequent, so-called “big shops”, rather than the more regular top-ups that would favour impulse buys. “People seek to buy brands in times of crisis,” says Concha Y Toro’s head of marketing Emma Ashton. “They bring a sense of stability and reassurance at a time when we’ve been separated from friends and family.”
Marks & Spencer, too, has gone back to basics with the launch of a new Classics range that includes the best-known French, Italian and Spanish wines. This is not rocket science, either – supermarkets regularly rebrand their ranges – but this one has, by and large, been executed with flair and at a reasonable price. At £7, the eminently swiggable young 2019 No. 34 Claret (13.5%) is a particularly good buy, as is the attractively elderflowery Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (13%), which at £8 does make you wonder why people are willing to fork out for an inferior sancerre at twice the price.
On the other hand, there are people out there who clearly do want to experiment. “We’ve added about 250 new lines over the last few months,” says Jack Merrylees of Majestic. “And they’re already making up 20% of customer baskets. Wines such as Australian marsanne and tempranillo, new Jura additions, Loire reds, sparkling wines from Tasmania, England, California and elsewhere in France, and rosé from Sicily and Portugal have all gone off like rockets since launching. It’s pretty remarkable, because we’ve only just reopened the stores for walk-in browsing [which is how customers usually discover something new].”
Ewan Murray of The Wine Society, meanwhile, argues that it’s been a lockdown of two halves. “Members were certainly stocking up on what they knew when they were battening down the hatches. But as time has gone on, and we’re virtually back to normal, they’ve gone back to exploring. Greek, Spanish and Portuguese wines are going well, perhaps as a substitute for the holidays abroad that people haven’t been taking!” Ah, holidays … Remember those?
Four wines you may not have tried, and maybe should
Altolandon Bobal con Altura 2018 £8.95 The Wine Society, 14%. Bobal is a grape variety to look out for: Spain’s answer to beaujolais is bright, cherry-flavoured and as sweetly jammy as a Black Forest gateau filling.
Yalumba The Y Series Tempranillo 2019 £8.49 (on mix-six) Majestic, 14%. If you like rioja, you’ll love this walloping, rich, Australian tempranillo in which the ripe fruit is unmasked by oak. Ideal for a barbecue.
Flysch Txakolina 2019 £16.50 Berry Bros & Rudd, 11%. There’s a bit of a buzz around txacoli, the light, spritzy white they serve (with a certain amount of ceremony – Google it) in the bars of San Sebastián in northern Spain. It’s brilliant with anchovies, by the way.
Babylonstoren Mourvèdre Rosé 2020 £14.99 novelwines.co.uk, 13%. Something completely different in the world of rosé. Made from mourvèdre on a South African estate, it’s deep-coloured, with a whiff of fresh pomegranate, and stylishly bottled. It’s also the first 2020 wine I’ve tasted.