Every struggling writer dreams of the perfect sidegig. I thought I had found such a job in 2017 when a wine merchant in a nearby suburb of south east London advertised for part time staff. Perfect, I thought: regular money, some social interaction (I was going a bit peculiar sitting at my desk at home) and, as it was owned by someone who clearly knew her wine, I’d learn something as part of the bargain.
I only lasted a month but it wasn’t an entirely wasted experience because I got to meet the great British wine buying public. Wine writers like me spend far too much time with other drink writers and because we like drinking dry sherry, Greek wines and Riesling, we can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t.
It was an education meeting people who were clearly interested in wine – they wouldn’t be visiting a specialist wine shop otherwise – but were buying wines that most wine writers would think of as a bit boring. The customers liked Australian chardonnay, Argentine Malbec, glossy Chilean cabernet, Rioja and, most of all, they bought New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc by the case. In fact, the most popular wines were exactly the sort of thing I sold when I worked for Oddbins in 1999. It’s almost as if the public pay absolutely no heed to what wine writers tell them.
Back in the 90s, I was a hateful little snob, and used to turn my nose up at these jolly crowd-pleasing wines. Naturally I was drinking dry sherry, Riesling and Greek wines. Now, though, I see the appeal of good, ripe, reliable wines. If you’re spending £15 on a bottle, you want to know that you’re going to enjoy it, which is where the above regions excel. When confronted with a wine list in a new restaurant, you can rarely go wrong ordering a Rioja or a Malbec. So forget trying to be cool, ignore fashion, and ignore wine writers (apart from me, obviously); here are six stalwarts that 99 per cent of you are going to love.
Wakefield Clare Valley Shiraz 2017 (Majestic £11.99)
This is one that I used to shun in my Oddbins days. What an idiot I was because this is lovely: lots of rich ripe fruit, cloves and roasty coffee notes with the all important refreshment factor. Great quality for the money.
El Viaje de Ramon Rioja Reserva 2014 (Co-op £7 for 500ml)
This comes in a handy half litre so it’s perfect for drinking on your own. . . sorry, I mean sharing. There’s lots of coconut and tobacco from oak ageing but no shortage of juicy blackcurrant fruit either. The bottle didn’t last long in our house.
Concha y Toro Marqués de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Waitrose £12.99)
This is the sort of wine that Chile excels at. There’s blackcurrants and green peppers on the nose, with no overt oakiness. In the mouth it’s fresh and smooth with a dusting of dark chocolate and spice. Impeccably put together.
Matias Riccitelli Malbec Hey Malbec! 2017 (Majestic £12.99)
Everyday Malbec is very reliable but it’s eye-opening spending a little bit more. This has all the plummy fruit and violets, you’d expect but with the intensity levels turned up to 11. It’s a big chocolatey wine but surprisingly graceful.
KWV Chardonnay Cathedral Cellar 2017 (Co-op £11)
Wine writers are saying that Chardonnay is back but for most people, it never went away. This one from South Africa has the richness of an old style wine, think coconut, coffee and toffee, but with an effervescent citric acidity that keeps it lively.
Saint Clair Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Reserve 2017 (Majestic £24.99)
I find the all-stops-pulled-out tropical style of Sauvignon Blanc a bit too much, but this is perfect. It’s razor sharp on the palate with mouth-watering grapefruit with some green peppery and gooseberries, a real seafood wine.