Wine: how to choose that special bottle

IT’S that dreaded moment: your wine enthusiast boss or rich maiden aunt invites you to dinner and asks you to bring a bottle. Suddenly that emergency supply of £4.99 Chardonnay lurking in the wine rack isn’t going to pass muster.
Waitrose Mont Gras MerlotWaitrose Mont Gras Merlot
Waitrose Mont Gras Merlot

Such occasions – or just some self-indulgent treats for home consumption – really demand something from £10 upwards, where the quality often rises sharply. To help you make an impressive purchase, here is our quarterly list of reliable wines around that price point.

We open our selection with a 2012 Abbotts & Delaunay Zephyr Limoux (£16.99 at from later this month) from an area in south-west France well known for sparkling wines. The toasty nose here hints at the length, vanilla flavours and creamy texture that follow, but these are nicely integrated with ripe peach depth and contrasting tart grapefruit acidity.

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Te Mata fermented its 2010 Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc (£18.21 at in oak barrels, adding substance to this intense and complex New Zealand white. It delivers zingy and zesty lime flavours and tangerine acidity with peppermint and spice, but supplements that with extra texture – courtesy of the small proportion of Sémillon it contains.

Oak fermentation, along with ageing on its yeasty lees, also gives a toasty character to the 2010 Chalkers Crossing Hilltops Sémillon (£13.71 at Exel Wines, Perth) from Australia. Consequently, the variety’s customary texture and depth is embellished by vanilla touches and lanolin-style smoothness. There is also an early zing – with lime-centred acidity – which slowly acquires very attractive greengage edges.

Bridging the gap to red wines, 2013 Dr Koehler Blanc de Noirs Trocken (£12.50 at Oddbins) uses pinot noir and pinot meunier – the two main red grape varieties of Champagne – to create a white Rheinhessen. The result has aromas of peach and honey but brings crisp yet just off-dry flavours of pear and apple to the palate.

Among the actual red wines, 2012 Ventisquero Grey Pinot Noir (£14.95 at The Fine Wine Company, Musselburgh and Portobello) from Chile was made using grapes from geographically separate vineyard blocks. The result has autumn berry aromas, but bright cherry and raspberry flavours that combine softness and juiciness with bold acidity that neatly complements the wine’s complex chocolate, mint and nutmeg finish.

Boutinot created something unusual with its 2011 Les Six Cairanne (£15 at WoodWinters, Bridge of Allan and Edinburgh) from the southern Rhône, by blending grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, carignan, cinsault and counoise. The totality exceeds even the sum of the parts, with juicy cherry, mint and vanilla flavours enlivened by gentle acidity, yet also given background toastiness by a savoury edge and well-judged levels of tannin.

Complexity was also on show in the 2009 Chateau Haut Gléon Corbières (£23.50 at, with its inky dark colour signposting the full, meaty structure and concentrated flavours of blaeberry, bramble, mint, rosemary and all-spice. Subtle touches of acidity – and tannins that are pronounced but pliable – complete the package in this aristocrat of wines from Southern France.

For something sweet to finish, 2012 Royal Tokaji Late Harvest (£9.99 at Majestic for 50cl) rarely disappoints. An opulent nose leads into a mélange of honey, orange, grapefruit and peach flavours, but shrewdly judged acidity leaves everything fresh and clean yet still smooth, rich and textured.

2013 MontGras Reserva Merlot, 
Colchagua Valley, Chile, 14 per cent

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Merlot and carménère were often confused in Chile – understandably so given the chocolate and mocha in this merlot. But there are also sufficient merlot black cherry and spice components to underline its pedigree and delight your taste buds too.

£6.49 – instead of £9.79 until 7 October – at Waitrose

2013 Les Abeilles de Colombo Cotes du Rhône Blanc, France, 13 per cent

For me, white Rhône is the “next big thing”, but judge for yourselves with this smooth and complex blend of clairette and roussanne. Behind its floral nose there is textured melon fruit bolstered by green apple acidity and a savoury but spicy finish.

£8.49 at Aitken Wines in Dundee