If you look at it, a good wine has many similarities with a good symphony. They are both painstakingly put together, have plenty of layers and complexity and should leave you with a lingering sensation after you’ve finished them.
Anyway, enough of my tortured metaphors. You may know that I play in an amateur orchestra (Camden Symphony Orchestra) and that a group of us have formed the somewhat unoriginally-titled “Camden Symphony Orchestra Wine Society”. Our last outing was to Hush Heath vineyard over the summer (https://timmilford.com/2013/07/09/visit-to-hush-heath-vineyard/), but our more usual activity features wine tastings at the inimitable Theatre of Wine in Tufnell Park (north London). Back in March we indulged our more decadent sides and spent an evening tasting classic (ie: very expensive), wines; indeed, this was the subject of my very first blog on this website (https://timmilford.com/2013/03/11/an-evening-tasting-classic-wines-at-theatre-of-wine/). However, as we are all painfully aware, these are very difficult times economically and many people are feeling the pinch, making some of the wines that we tasted mere pipe dreams. As such, for our next tasting I decided that the theme should be a tad more challenging: “austerity wines” – those that can be bought for less than £15/bottle. Some of you may feel that setting the ceiling at £15 may still seem a tad on the high side; however, given that it is (arguably) nigh on impossible to make a “real” wine for less than £6/bottle, I thought that the fairest that we could do was to give the guys at the Theatre of Wine a range of £9 to demonstrate their vini-acumen.
Jason, who led the tasting, rose to the challenge admirably. He did admit, however, that finding wines at the bottom end of the price bracket was the hardest part of his job; whereas lining his shelves with blockbuster wines is comparatively easier.
Overall, I must say that I felt that the choices we were provided with was tremendous. Jason and the team were able to guide us through an interesting variety of reds, whites and one sparkling and by and large they were all wines that I would drink again – which given the price restrictions I’d imposed was impressive.
We had a fresh and zingy Vinho Verde from Portugal (£7.90), a musty yet fragrant blend (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Gewürztraminer [!]) from Thrace in Bulgaria (£8.90) and a mineral-driven Muscadet (£11.30). However, my favourite was the 2010 Domaine d’Escausses ‘La Vigne de l’Oubli’ from Gaillac, France (£13.60); this was a simply delightful wine – oaky, rich, smooth and buttery, whilst also having a sharp sliver of acidity running through it. Upon tasting, I expected this to be a Chardonnay, but was surprised to find out that it was a Sauvignon Blanc-driven blend. For a wine in this price category, it delivered unexpected complexity and intrigue; I scored it a weighty 8.5/10.
We had a slightly flat and uninspiring Grenache from Campo de Borja, Spain (£6.20!!), a fruity Carignan from Mendoza, Argentina (£9.60), a smooth and peppery Syrah again from Thrace, Bulgaria (£7.70) and slightly underwhelming Pinot Noir from Franche-Comté, France (£15.60 – slightly cheating, I know!). The star, for me, on the reds was the 2010 Quinta dos Roques Tinto from Dao, Portugal (£12.60). This had bags of fruit on the mouth and nose, as well as a slight hint of pepper. There were some quite prominent tannins as well, which indicated that this would age well – something that one couldn’t normally say for a wine at the bottom end of the price spectrum. I scored this at an impressive 8/10.
i) An honourable mention for the two Bulgarian wines; they didn’t make my favourite wine for either the white or the red, however I scored them both highly (7/10). Given the price points for both wines, I would say that they both represented tremendous value for money, even if the wine bottles themselves can look rather scary:
ii) When I looked back at my scores, I noted that my average score for the whites was a notch higher than my average score for the reds; this provided further evidence of a position that I’ve held for a while – that, in general, you get better value for money with whites than you do with reds.
iii) When I came to evaluate the wines I tried, as I always do, to look at the wine on its own merits and not factor in the price. As such, I would say that the overall average quality of the wines on show was noticeably lower than at previous tastings – however, this was to be expected due to the extreme budgetary restrictions that were imposed on the team. If we were to do a more thorough analysis of the wines, we should also put a scoring criterion of “value for money” in, which is where these wines would all score a lot more highly than on some of the previous tastings.
What we were able to demonstrate was that in the sub-£15 price category, it is certainly possible to buy real wine. After all, life is too short to drink bad wine, right?