What to look for in a wine sale
Author: Barbara Drew MW
In the flurry of January sales it can be difficult to discern the genuine deals from the disappointing. Barbara Drew MW talks us through her approach to wine promotions, and which bottles to look out for in our New Year Sale.
I love a bargain. I’m not entirely sure whether this is due to upbringing, culture or just simple common sense, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than rooting around in the reduced section of a store, and coming up with a treasure.
Of course the key to bargain hunting is only getting what you truly need, and ensuring it’s something that won’t date. It’s not quite the same with wine though. As many wines improve with age, it can be a chance to pick up a bottle somewhat ahead of its drinking window, for a reduced price. For classic wines, you can stock up on bottles ready to give as housewarming gifts for friends. And it can be a great opportunity to try a new producer or grape with a nice little saving as well.
Read on for my top tips on how to make the most of a bin-end sale.
It may be hard to believe when there is ice on the ground, frost on the lawn and the sky is unendingly and unutterably grey but summer will come again. And – as we’ve increasingly seen over the past few years – warmer days are likely to hit far sooner than we expect, perhaps as soon as March. That means that being prepared is vital. Even the word rosé may seem ridiculous in the depths of winter, but it is one of my favourite wines to buy when I see a good deal.
The first reason is there is nothing so cheering as having a bottle of rosé in the cupboard ready to go at the first sign of spring. Summer is a short-enough window as it is – no need to shrink it further by not being prepared. The second is that, contrary to popular belief, many rosés in fact benefit from a year in bottle, and can develop more stony and herbal aromas. One of my favourite wines for this is Miraval Rosé which I often decant before serving, the better to bring out its complex aromas. Another six months to a year of age can also help the wine to really express itself.
Discover a new grape
Just as the sales are often a time to try a new item of clothing – perhaps that slightly garish top you weren’t so sure about at full price – so it’s an opportunity to discover a new vinous treasure. The difference is as wines only come in three main shades, you’re far less likely to regret your choice a few weeks down the line.
I’ve written about my love for Arneis before, a Piedmontese variety whose name roughly translates as “little rascal”. Partly because it is so tricky to grow, it teetered on the edge of extinction some decades ago but a few enthusiastic growers have brought it back, and are making beautiful wines from it. Giovanni Rosso’s peach and orchard-fruit filled wine is a great example of this variety – and you can consider yourself to be rescuing an endangered species from extinction at the same time.
Other grapes to seek out in a sale are those that rarely receive star billing. Mourvèdre is one such grape, often found as backing vocals in a Southern Rhône blend, such as a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where it adds savoury, gamey flavours and bold tannins. As a solo artist though, from the warm climates of the Barossa valley, this grape makes velvety smooth and heady red wines. The Hewitson Old Garden Mourvère is made from vines over 100 years old. There is no sign of the occasional gristly chewiness sometimes apparent in French Mourvèdre; in the intense Barossa sun, these vines provide deep plummy and blueberry flavours and sweet spice.
Rediscover an old country
Occasionally it can feel that all the key wine-producing countries of the world have been discovered, and explored thoroughly. However, outside of France this is far from the truth. Spain, in particular, abounds with vinous treasures and producers are constantly pushing into new regions, and experimenting with the grapes that suit them best.
One such producer, Dani Landi, is one of the rockstar winemakers in Spain right now, working with Garnacha so fine, it tastes like Pinot Noir. Often when discussing Garnacha (or Grenache, as it’s known in France) we focus on the rich red fruit, and how the grape adds body and alcohol. In his hands though, this becomes a delicate grape, with floral and earthy notes, balanced by dry tannins. This is no mean feat in the extreme continental climate of Mentrida, with oven-hot summer days and frosty autumn and winter nights – no wonder he named the blend The Grapes of Wrath. This is a wine to pair with simple January suppers of root vegetables, cheese and bread.
Buy something to lay down
It never ceases to amaze me how often you can pick up a bottle of wine in a sale that is simply too young to drink now. A wine that, with a few years’ patience, will become both delicious, and increasingly rare. Of course, this does depend on one having space to keep that bottle (or multiple bottles) for a few years; unless buying by the case, storing these in a warehouse generally isn’t an option. However, for those blessed with an underutilised corner of a cool room, there can be real delights to be found particularly in the Burgundy and Italy sections of wine shops.
Tuscany in particular always offers delights for those willing to dig them out. The hilltop town of Montalcino offers fantastic wines, and often I will pick up a Rosso from a top producer and stick it away for a couple of years to add a touch more complexity. When Brunello bottles crop up, I snap those up. Something like the 2015 Brunello di Montalcino, Gemini, from La Serena, is a real steal. Already a very fairly priced Brunello, this 2015 will develop complexity over the coming decade and be absolutely stellar in the 2030s. I’ll also be picking up some bottles from Barolo. If I have to limit myself to one producer – which I may, unless something else gets knocked off the list – I’d focus on Marcarini. Not (yet) one of the traditional iconic names, they are rapidly making a mark in this region, with fresh and elegant wines, not weighed down by overuse of oak, and with good ageing potential. This 2017 La Morra Barolo will keep happily for eight years or so.
Hone in on Burgundy
Finally, if there is space on your list or in your wine rack, a couple of bottles of Burgundy are always a wise investment. As harvests seem to get smaller year-on-year, and demand ever higher for this corner of France, snapping up interesting bottles now will make for smug drinking further down the line. White wines from top biodynamic producers such as Domaine de la Vougeraie can generally age for a lengthy period, and this particular wine will develop rich orchard fruit and lanolin notes with age.
If in doubt, plump for classic producers, and remember that a village wine from old vines can often equal a Premier Cru in terms of quality. Something like this Nuits-St Georges from Patrice & Maxime Rion will be delicious over the next 4-6 years.
Our New Year Sale is now live. Browse the full selection here.