Reds under £10
Photograph by Antonio Olmos
Morrisons Signature Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret, France 2011 (£5.99, Morrisons)
A cut-price alternative to overpriced Châteauneuf-du-Pape produced by the local co-operative in the village of Séguret in the southern Rhône, this classic grenache-syrah blend is just excellent value, surprisingly robust and deep in sweet blackberry and savoury-spicy flavour, and with that important, if hard to define, quality of easy drinkability.
Tesco Finest Côtes Catalanes Carignan, Roussillon, France 2012 (£6.99, Tesco)
This red from Catalan France has been a bit of a hit with the wine-writing fraternity this year, and justifiably so since it’s one of the best value wines around at the moment. The gnarly old carignan vines deliver deep but succulent brambly fruit and scrubby herbs in a rare sub-£7 bottle with a genuine sense of place.
Domaine de Saissac Cabernet Sauvignon IGP Pays d’Oc, France 2011 (£7.95, Corney & Barrow)
Posh merchant Corney & Barrow’s house red is touted as a midweek cheapie for its upmarket clientele, but there’s more to it than its humble billing suggests. Blackcurrants, just on the ripe side of tart, combine with liquorice and gently gripping tannins in a red that works just as well at the festive table as it does with party nibbles.
Torre del Falco Nero di Troia, Puglia, Italy 2010 (£7.99, Waitrose)
Made from a variety, nero di troia, that is better than its position behind primitivo and negroamaro in the local Puglian pecking order suggests, this is the red I’d choose to liven up the post-Boxing Day cold cuts – or a pasta dish fashioned from them. Made without oak for maximum vibrancy of dark cherry fruit and plum-skin tang, in texture it’s suave and soft.
Amalaya de Colomé Malbec Blend, Salta, Argentina 2011 (£8.95 if you buy two bottles, Majestic)
The Swiss-owned Argentine estate Colomé has some of the highest vines in the world at 2,000m and more above sea level in the far northern province of Salta. They reckon the altitude leads to more vividly defined fruit flavours – and the seam of aromatic, perfumed black fruit in this gutsy but refined red makes the case persuasively.
Château de Pitray, Côtes de Castillon, Bordeaux, France 2010 (£8.95, The Wine Society)
Most of us mess with christmas traditions only with great reluctance, and claret (aka red Bordeaux) with the bird is still a part of many a family’s seasonal ritual. From one of Bordeaux’s best recent vintages, this affordable example blends the plump fruit of merlot with the fragrance of cabernet franc, served with the region’s traditional cooling freshness.
Palataia Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany 2012 (£8.99, Marks & Spencer)
Germany is third behind only France and (just) California in the pinot noir production stakes, but the wines have only recently begun to attract attention overseas. Marks & Sparks’ version is appropriately sparky: a bright, juicy, turkey-ready lighter (but not weedy) red, brimming with sappy forest fruit and refreshing cranberry.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata, Italy 2011 (£8.99, Sainsbury’s)
From the other side of southern Italy to Puglia, on the volcanic slopes of Mount Vulture in Basilicata, a deep and powerful red for the Boxing Day roast beef or similar, which tastes of black and red fruit, flowers and smoke, and has some of the paradoxical allure – ethereal fragrance with powerful structure – of Barolo.
Photograph by Antonio Olmos
Château Le Jonc Blanc Les Sens de Fruit, Bergerac, France 2010 (£11.30, Vinetrail)
With the best of Bordeaux now out of reach of all but the highest net worth individuals, neighbouring Bergerac is worth a look for a more affordable take on the region’s trademark cabernet-merlot blends. Few are as good or immediately appealing as this, though: strikingly pure blackcurrant fruit, subtle graphite and delectable melt-in-the-mouth tannins.
Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir, Elgin, South Africa 2011 (from £12.95, The Wine Society; Harrogate Fine Wine Company)
South Africa isn’t known for the quality of its pinot noir (its vineyards are generally better suited to warmer-climate varieties such as syrah and grenache) but a handful of producers are proving that it can thrive in the country’s cooler spots such as, in this case, coastal Elgin. Like all the best pinots, it’s seductively light and silky in texture, and so pretty in its red fruit and subtle earthiness.
Campo Aldea Rioja Graciano, Rioja, Spain 2008 (£12.99, Marks & Spencer)
For years, graciano was relegated to a bit-part role in Rioja, making up the numbers in blends dominated by tempranillo and garnacha. We’re starting to see more solo examples, however, and M&S’s version has become one of my favourite high street Riojas. It’s sumptuous and smooth, with red and black fruit, a dusting of vanilla and a food-friendly meaty savouriness.
Lammershoek LAM Syrah, Swartland, South Africa 2011 (£13.25, Harvey Nichols)
Part of a coterie of young producers that have made the Swartland region one of the world’s most exciting wine regions, Lammershoek’s Craig Hawkins makes thrillingly pure and expressive natural wines. A mix of red fruit, pepper, rosemary and thyme, this vibrant Rhône-style syrah is a succulent treat.
Frédéric Mabileau Domaine du Bourg Les Graviers, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Loire, France 2012 (£13.99, Waitrose, 7 stores and waitrose.com; Corney & Barrow)
Cabernet franc, the main red grape of the Loire Valley (and some very fine Bordeaux such as Château Cheval Blanc), is at its fragrant succulent best in this lighter (12.5% alcohol) unoaked red, with the summer pudding fruit as vivid as if it had just been picked, and framed and cooled by leafy freshness.
Vasse Felix Cabernet Merlot, Margaret River, Australia 2011 (£15.99, Majestic)
Bordeaux meets Australia in a classy, deep dark red that portions out the rich blackcurrant and cherry and the vanilla oak generously without being overbearingly, Ribena-ishly fruity. There’s a touch of mintiness to give it lift and the palate is polished but lively and fresh: a genuine crowd-pleaser.
Suertes del Marques La Solana, Tenerife, Spain 2011 (around £17, Butler’s Wine Cellar; Dvine Cellars; Prohibition Wines)
The Canary Islands might not be the first place you’d think of for a Christmas bottle – you might even think twice about it if you were there on a package holiday – but this is a seriously fine red. Made from very old vines of the local listán negro, it has an ethereal mix of floaty floral black fruit, supple texture and a subtle shake of pepper that, while very much its own thing, has a kinship with the elegant best of France’s northern Rhône.
Domaine la Tour Vieille Banyuls Reserva, Roussillon, France (£18.99, Yapp Bros)
Along the French Mediterranean coast just up from the border with Spain, the sweet fortified reds of Banyuls offer a slightly lighter (16% rather than 20%) alternative to full-throttle port. This tawny port-like reserva style, made from a blend of casks of grenache and carignan with an average of five to six years, has black cherry and raisins, a chocolatey texture and spice from the cake tin and the pepper pot.
Red over £20
Photograph by Antonio Olmos
Quinta de la Rosa Reserva, Douro, Portugal 2009 (from £26.40, AG Wines; Noel Young Wines; Berry Bros & Rudd; oldbridgewine.co.uk)
Like so many other port producers, Quinta de la Rosa has turned its hand to table wines of power and panache. As is typical of all the best wines in this warm region, it does light and shade very well: the prettiness of violets over a slick of dark forest fruit, the spark of acidity and schisty minerals in the hefty tannic structure. A beautiful beast.
Aldo Vajra Barolo, Piedmont Italy 2009 (£36, Marks & Spencer)
Nebbiolo, the grape variety of Barolo and Barbaresco, can be tough and unyielding when it’s as young as this (it can take several years to come around to drinkability), but in the hands of Aldo Vajra – a winemaker renowned for his lightness of touch – the tannins, though still evident, are tamed, leaving a limpid, graceful red lit up by roses, red berries, and cherries in the most ethereal way.
La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, Rioja, Spain 2001 (from £36, Armit; Berry Bros & Rudd)
There’s a calm mellow maturity to this classic old Rioja from a traditional producer that has been left untainted by the whims of modern winemaking fashion. A little clove-like spice adds a seasonal edge to the brothy savouriness, leather and still-perky fruit, in a wine that is just so comforting and comfortable.
Sandeman 20 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal (£36.49, Waitrose)
Whereas vintage port is bottled while it’s still young and vibrant in colour, tannin and flavour and needs plenty of time (a decade or two) to settle down, tawny is ready to drink now, after, in this case, an average of 20 years resting in wooden casks. Soft and welcoming, with its honeyed Christmas cake spice and nuts, give it a little chill for Christmas pud or cheese or sip until Christmas night turns to Boxing Day.