Monday, 20 January 2014

Break The Habit: Brilliant New Wines To Discover in 2014

Oh, it's so easy to get stuck in a wine rut, but let's not do that this year. Let's make this the year we drink better wine in smaller quantities, considering it with the same care as the artisan ingredients we splash out on and seasonal recipes we try out each week, and savouring every mouthful.

The thing is, there are so many wines to choose from - in supermarkets, independent shops and wine merchants - that it can be overwhelming, especially if you've never heard of half of them.

It's a bit like a bad relationship: because you're scared to move on, you keep going back to what's familiar, but bad for you, and inevitably unsatisfying. People tell you 'there's plenty more fish in the sea', but you don't know where to start, or which choice is really going to be good for you. So you stay with the same old disappointment.

But PUT THAT BIG BRAND MERLOT DOWN, RELINQUISH THAT MARLBOROUGH SAUVIGNON (unless it's a really good one) and ABANDON CHEAP CHARDONNAY. In doing so, you just punish yourself, and preventing yourself from being truly happy. In the words of your best gal pal: you can do better, babes. You ARE better than that.

Here are some wines to which you should open your heart this year.

Tesco Finest Frappato (£7.99)

Frappato is a Italian red grape variety that is mostly produced in Sicily. This example from Tesco has the characteristic cherry, strawberry and blackcurrant aromas mixed with a slight herbaceous quality and a touch of spice. It's pretty light with juicy acidity - the perfect accompaniment to a lovely oily tomato dish. An easy-drinking red with its own character - a must-try for mid-week suppers.

Contesa Pecorino (Majestic, £9.99, or currently £7.99 when you buy two)

A good sign of a new wine worth trying is one that all the supermarkets are desperate to stock. We told you about a brilliant Tesco Pecorino last week (and have since been told the Sainsbury's Taste The Difference one is also marvellous - thanks Lucienne Simpson on Twitter!) and Majestic have a sublime example of this Italian white grape variety.

Contesa Pecorino is soft and citrussy with orange blossom hints and added complexity from a smidgen of oak ageing. Grab a bottle next time you're rustling up some seafood.

La Puerta Bonarda (Marks and Spencer, £43.96 for six, was £65.94. That's equivalent to £7.33 a bottle.)

I told you about bonarda last year and it's still slowly seeping into the supermarkets. This one, from M&S, is a super-fruity red - think blueberry and raspberry - with a smooth texture. And it's on offer at the moment, so there's no better time to give it a try. Especially if you're planning on sausages any time soon. (I'm always planning on sausages.)

Tesco Finest Viognier-Marsanne-Roussanne (£8.99)

Occasionally, Tesco Finest wines can be characteristic but maybe a teensy bit on the bland side, but not this. It's made by the legend that is d'Arenberg, and they know a thing or two about blending white grape varieties, but it's the viognier in this that made me giddy with happiness. It's a fresh, juicy, tropical wine that's full of flavour - equally sip-worthy on its own as it is with shellfish or a fruity chicken dish. One to have on standby - especially on Mondays in need of brightening.

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Languedoc 2012 (currently on offer at £5.99, was £7.99)

Saino's just get it right with this one. Languedoc wines can be mistaken for cheap, unimpressive things you don't share with people you want to impress, but this is too good to keep to yourself (and will probably make you think you should buy a whole lot more Languedoc wine).

A blend of grenache, syrah and carignan, it's deceptively easy to drink for 14% abv, and bursting with dark fruit flavour. It doesn't get all up in your grill, though, it's smooth and silky too. Crazy-good for the price.

Tesco Finest Slovenian Sauvignon Furmint, (currently £5.99, normally £7.99)

Slovenia is one of those European wine-producing countries that doesn't get enough credit. As such, you'll find good value here if you look in the right places.

This is a crisp, zesty wine with apple, lime peel and pear drops, which gives it a simple likeability. Sharp and refreshing like a good Sauvignon Blanc should be, and after a while in the glass it develops another dimension of melon, lychee and orange rind. The intense acidity softens and the wine becomes fuller and smoother on the palate. Perfect match for white fish and Thai food.

Massaya Classic (£11.50, The Wine Society)

Like the Taste the Difference Languedoc, it's not always about new grapes, but new regions. If you stick to the roads most travelled, you'll too often end up paying more for reputation than quality, so find examples of the wines you like from further afield.

Having been producing wine for centuries, Lebanon is no newcomer to wine (or indeed wine geeks - we've been harping on about Musar for yonks) but if you haven't tried Massaya, you're seriously missing out. 60% cinsault (a grape with which southern French wine fans will be all too familiar) with 20% each of cabernet and syrah, it's one of those wines that pleases with every mouthful. Vibrant and fruity, with a deep, lasting flavour, it's an 'Oops! Where did that bottle disappear to?' wine.

So go on then, what are you looking forward to trying? Give us all your top tips in the comments...

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