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Recommended wines 2001: under £8

see also: recommended wines 2001: over £8 and wines of the year 2001

Each month, I've been recommending wines in two categories, under £8 and over £8 (£7.99 seems to act as an important psychological barrier in UK wine retailing), and I've picked six wines from each to form a mixed case of my favourites. Below are all the wines that I've recommended in the first of these groups, arranged by country of origin.

Looking back over my recommendations from the last year, it's interesting to see the geographical spread. Overall, at this price level (sub-£8), the old world seems to be in control: of the 49 wines I've recommended, there are 34 old world picks, with under half that number of new world wines (15) making the grade. Does this reflect my own bias, or could it indicate a more general trend, with the new world wines just lacking that extra personality needed to lift them from the crowd? Within the old world my recommendations have also been quite Francophile, with 15 French entries, as opposed to 5 from Germany and 4 each from Spain and Italy. From the new world, there are six Aussies, five NZ wines and three from South Africa. Interestingly, the South American representation is very thin on the ground, with just a single Argentinean wine and nothing at all from Chile. 

France (15)

Domaine des Aires Hautes Minervois La Livinière 1998, Gilles Chabbert
La Livinière is acknowledged to be the best sub-appellation of Minervois, and this is a delightful blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan in which the grapes have been allowed to express their origin by some unintrusive winemaking. The nose mixes 'garrigue' herbal notes with sweet fruit. On the palate there is earthy, minerally, liquorice-laced fruit with good concentration and a herby character. Very good+ (Majestic £6.99) 

Domaine de Comberousse 1998 'Roucaillat', Coteaux du Languedoc
A tasty, strongly-flavoured white wine (a blend of the varieties Grenache Blanc, Rolle and Roussanne), this has an attractive mineralic nose with bright, smoky note. It has a lovely rich palate: rounded, soft and full with nutty, herbal character. Quite fat textured; full flavoured and delicious. Very good+ (£6.95 La Vigneronne)

Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône 2000
Nicely packaged in a heavy bottle, this is a deep purple coloured wine showing great concentration. There's an attractive roast coffee/burnt edge to the peppery nose. The palate is savoury, with grippy tannins, peppery fruit and a drying, slightly green finish. There are also hints of olives and coffee. A great food wine. Very good/excellent (£6.99 Handford, A&B Vintners)

Domaine Terre Mégère Merlot 1998, Vin de Pays
A great bargain from the South of France. Deep purple/black, with a lovely blast of sweet leafy/herbal fruit on the nose, underlain by a touch of smoky complexity. On the palate this shows great concentration and lovely, ripe, mineralic fruit. All you'd want in an inexpensive red. Very good/ excellent (£5.50 La Vigneronne)

Château Grande Cassagne 'Les Rameaux' 2000, Costières de Nîmes
Pure Syrah, this is a brilliant wine for the money. Very deep coloured with a delicious savoury nose displaying roasted, meaty notes and spicy, coffee elements. Palate shows good concentration of rich, spicy savoury fruit with a lovely liquoricey edge. Wonderfully rich and a superb food wine. Highly recommended. Very good/excellent (La Vigneronne £6.95) 

Materne Haegelin Tokay Pinot Gris 1999, Alsace
I was really taken with the latest releases from Materne Haegelin, who offer authentic Alsace wines at very good prices. The Riesling Bollenberg and Gewürztraminer (also stocked by Majestic) are both impressive, but my favourite was the beautifully poised Tokay Pinot Gris. The nose shows notes of smoky bacon and herbs, with a fresh, acidic lift, and leads to a richly textured palate that finishes dry. A full-on food wine: one for the Christmas turkey? Very good/excellent (Majestic £7.99, currently on offer at buy 2 save £2 = £6.99)

Hugel 'Gentil' 1999, Alsace
A really useful white wine: good with food, and good without. This pale coloured blend of Alsace varieties has an attractive grapey/floral nose with a honeyed edge. The palate is fruity and floral with a touch of spice. A nice all purpose house white, this goes down very easily. Very good (£5.99 Sainsbury) 

Domaine la Citadelle Côtes du Luberon 1999 Cuvée le Châtaignier
The Luberon is an upcoming wine region of Provence, to the east of Avignon. This is a dark, chunky, chocolatey southern French red with soft, liquoricey fruit balancing the firm tannins. Showing good concentration, this is a really nice wine for the price. Very good. (About £5, World Marechal)

Domaine des Espiers Sablet 1999 Côtes du Rhône Villages
I've enjoyed everything I've tried from this Southern Rhône producer. A concentrated red/purple colour, this is a gorgeously rich-textured Côtes du Rhône Villages that is really punching above its weight, with soft olive and herb flavoured fruit and a sweet spiciness. There's enough tannin to give some structure. Delicious stuff for current drinking. Very good/excellent (£7.95 La Vigneronne) 

Paul Zinck Gewürztraminer 1999, Alsace, France
This full flavoured Alsatian shows great varietal character. It has a ripe, rich, floral nose with pronounced lychee notes. This is followed up with a nicely balanced palate: rich and full with a touch of sweetness in the finish. I often find that there's a discontinuity in many bone dry Gewürztraminers between the sweetly floral nose and bone dry palate, but this wine gets it right. Very good/excellent (£7.99 Majestic)

La Cuvée Mythique 1998, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France
A blend of Val d'Orbieu's best parcels of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan, this is a superb, dense, fruit-packed red at a very good price. Deep coloured, it has a lovely nose of ripe fruit, herbs and well-judged oak. On the concentrated palate there is sweet fruit and oak, underpinned by firm tannins. In style, this sits somewhere in between other new wave Languedoc reds (which tend to be more terroir-driven) and Aussie Shiraz. It's a wine to buy by the case for drinking over the next few years. Very good/excellent (£6.49 Majestic, Waitrose)

Domaine Terre Mégère 'Les Dolomies' 1998, Coteaux du Languedoc
One of the best red wine bargains around. Mostly Syrah, this is a wonderful, rustic, meaty wine of great character. Deep, rich, smoky nose with a meaty depth to it. Concentrated, earthy, rich palate: this is impressive stuff with a slightly wild, animal-like edge. Very good/excellent (£6.95 La Vigneronne)

Mas Bruguière 'L'Arbouse' Pic St Loup 1998, Coteaux du Languedoc
The Languedoc commune of Pic St Loup has developed quite a reputation for classy reds at good prices. Here, top-flight producer Mas Brugière has produced a lovely, expressive Southern French red with a savoury, meaty nose that's actually rather Northern-Rhône-like, showing raspberries, blackcurrants and herbs. The palate is dominated by ripe, meaty fruit, some tannins and nice balancing acidity. It's a wine that doesn't rely on power, but beguiling complexity. Very good/excellent (£6.99 Noel Young) 

Charles Joguet Chinon Les Petits Roches 2000, Loire
Nicely packaged, this is from a single vineyard with gravelly soils. A bright red/purple colour, the youthful aromatic nose is mineralic (wet tarmac?), slightly leafy and shows some raspberry fruit. The palate is young and fruity (bright, pure summer fruits), with good acidity and crunchy tannins on the finish. Good concentration, but yet to develop much in the way of complexity. A good example of Loire Cabernet Franc, though, and this may well improve over the next two to three years. Very good+ (£6.99 Waitrose) 

Domaine L'Aiguelière Grenat 1997, Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile, France
This is a wonderfully expressive, peppery Grenache that outperforms most Châteuneuf du Pape. Sweet fruit, herbs and spice (especially cinnamon) dominate the nose, leading to a deep savoury palate with a peppery edge and dusty tannins. The next day the wine has opened out a bit to display meaty, chocolatey fruit with some smoky notes. This is one of the wines included in the Oddbins summer sale, and it seems to be pretty widely available still. Very good/excellent (£7.99 Oddbins, currently reduced to £5.99) 

Spain (4)

Castel del Remei Gotim Bru 1998, Costres del Segre, Spain
A blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet and Merlot that spends 10 months maturing in French and American oak, this is an impressive, thoroughly modern Spanish red. The striking nose shows sweet, pure berry fruit with some attractive smoky notes. The palate is dominated by rich, ripe blackcurrant fruit with a lush texture and a spicy finish. Very good/excellent (£6.95 Handford)

Bagordi Rioja 1998, Spain
A rarity: an estate-bottled, organic Rioja. This is an impressive, fresh young red with a sweetly fruited nose showing caramel and vanilla notes. On the palate this is bright and fairly tannic, with bags of character. An interesting, unusual wine, and not at all like the 'traditional' Rioja style. Very good+ (Adnams £7.30, also available from Organic specialists Vinceremos)

Bagordi Rioja Blanco 1999, Spain
An organic producer from Rioja whose wines I've previously been impressed by. This has a seductive, rich nose: rounded and sweet, with honey, vanilla and coconut which carry through to the dry palate. An unusual, complex white that really impresses. Very good+ (Adnams £5.95)

Palacio de Bornos Rueda Superior 2000, Spain
I've tried a few Ruedas in recent weeks, and it looks like a source of tasty, value for money white wines. This, one of my favourites, is a blend of 90% Verdejo and 10% Viura. It is a lovely, aromatic, full-flavoured white wine: it’s a bit like a cross between a Sauvignon and a Viognier in character. There are notes of elderflower on the grassy, herby nose, while the fresh, clean, full flavoured palate is crisp and attractive. No trace of oak. Very good/excellent (about £5, Reserva y Cata) 

England (1)

Chapel Down Epoch I 1998, England
I never thought I'd be recommending an English red wine on these pages, but Chapel Down have succeeded in creating a compelling red wine from four grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Dornfelder, Gamay and Rondo. This is deep red colour with a slightly brownish edge, and has a delightful nose of spice, herbs and smoky fruit. There's a pronounced 'medicinal' edge to the fruit: this sounds unpleasant, but it isn't, and adds to the complexity and appeal. On the palate it shows ripe, spicy berry fruit, coupled with some herbaceous notes and a cheesy, meaty edge. Unusual and appealing. Very good/excellent (Available in some branches of Tesco and direct from Chapel Down, around £5)

Portugal (2)

Quinta de Bons-Ventos, Vinho Regional Estremadura Tinto 1999, Portugal
A bit of a beast, this one. A blend that includes Periquita, Camarte, Tita Miúda and Touriga Nacional, this is a deep purple/black colour. The nose displays vanilla and creamy berry fruits, which are followed up on the palate by an intriguing mix of coffee, chocolate and dark berry fruits. Quite oaky, this is dense and chunky, with juicy lemony acidity. It's quite modern, yet retains an attractive rusticity. Great value. Very good+ (£4.79 Sainsbury) 

Sandemans Vau Vintage Port 1997
[I know I've featured this wine separately, but after selling out it seems to have reappeared on the Oddbins shelves at the offer price once again. Note that the regular 75 cl bottle is still £25 a pop!] Sandemans has had a mixed reputation in recent decades, but signs are that they are getting back to top form. The Vau Vintage port is quite controversial: it's a proper Vintage port, made from the very best grapes and only in a good vintage, but in a style more approachable in its youth (apparently they had the American market in mind). This is a thick purple/black colour. Terrifically dense on the palate with masses of sweet, liqouricey plum, cherry and damson fruit and notes of tar and spice. Firm, spicy tannins provide plenty of structure, and although this isn't as unapproachable as traditional vintage styles would be at this stage, it's a huge wine that will age well for a decade or so. However, it's no crime to drink this now because it is so delicious. Excellent, and a sensational bargain at £4.99 for a half bottle (Oddbins)

Italy (4)

Tedeschi 'Capitel San Rocco' 1997, Vino da Tavola Veronese, Italy
Made by the ripasso method, in which young Valpolicella is fermented on the lees of Amarone (a wine made from grapes that have been concentrated by drying). This has a lovely, complex nose of spice and herbs, with a bitter, dry edge to it. On the palate it is a dense, spicy mouthful, bone dry and with a slightly bitter, high-acid character. Super stuff, calling out for food to accompany it -- very Italian in style. Very good+ (£5.99 Majestic)

Banfi Chianti Classico Reserva 1998
Quite deep coloured, with an attractive spicy, herby, slightly medicinal nose. Good concentration of savoury cherry and plum fruit on the palate, with dry, spicy tannins and a dry finsih. A substantial, complex wine with great potential for further development. Very good/excellent (Majestic: normally £9.99, but sneaks into this category as it's currently reduced to £7.99)

Zenato 'Ripassa' Valpolicella Superiore 1998, Veneto, Italy
Made by the ripasso technique, where Valpolicella wine is added to the gunk left over from making Amarone (wine made from part-dried grapes), starting a secondary fermentation that adds 'oomph' to the wine. This is a superb, striking, concentrated wine, although some might find it a little bit sweet and oaky. Concentrated purple/red colour, with a lovely characterful nose of exotic herby/spicy cherry fruit with a slightly dusty edge. The palate is dense and concentrated, with coffee and chocolate flavours and a noticeable sweetness to the fruit. It's a ripe, lush style, with noticeable influence from French oak, and lacking the slightly bitter (although not unpleasant) finish often associated with Valpolicella. Very good/excellent (Bottoms Up £7.99)

Anselmi San Vicenzo 2000, IGT Veneto
Soave with a difference (deliberately declassified to IGT status), I recommended Anselmi's 1999 San Vicenzo here a while back; I'm pleased to say that the 2000 is even better. A blend of Garganega, Chardonnay and Trebbiano di Soave, it has a lovely, rich floral nose with a nutty edge. The palate is rich, full textured, fruity and nutty. Delicious stuff. Very good/excellent (c. £7, Fortnum & Mason, Chandos Deli, Noel Young)

Hungary (2)

Bin 058 Hilltop Chardonnay 1999, Hilltop Neszmély Winery, Quality Wine Minőségi Bor, Hungary
Rich and full flavoured with honey, apples and spice coming through, after a touch of sulphur has blown off the nose. Grapefruit flavours and prickly acidity provide balance to the fruit. This is lovely, authentic stuff, a bit like a Mâcon white in character: it doesn't have that technological edge that is common to most Chardonnay in this price bracket. Very good+ (£3.99 Sainsburys)

The Unpronounceable Grape, Cserszegi Fűszeres 2000, Duna region, Hungary
From the Hilltop Neszmely winery, this grape is a crossing of Gewurztraminer and Irsai Oliver. It has a lovely grapey, floral/aromatic nose and a dry palate that shows a slightly spicy edge. Fresh, crisp, acidic, very tasty and most definitely a bargain. Very good+ (£3.99 Bottoms Up)

Germany (5)

Christoffel-Berres 1994 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett, Mosel Saar Ruwer
One of a clutch of remarkably inexpensive German wines from Majestic, this is a deliciously fruity Riesling with a complex, rounded palate displaying notes of apples, lemons and pears. Nice acidity and great balance for the price; there's a bit of sweetness on the finish, but this helps. Very good+ (4.99 Majestic)

Peter Scherf Waldracher Krone Riesling Auslese 1989, Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany
When you see a 12 year old wine selling for six quid, you'd expect something to be seriously wrong with it. Well there isn't. Instead, this wine has a sensational nose with refined honey and lemon notes, and a bit of petrolly character. On the palate it is bold flavoured, with more lemon, apple juice and honey notes and a rich texture. Since I first tasted this in late April I've enjoyed two more bottles, with consistent notes. Very good/excellent (£5.99)

Fritz Haag Riesling 1996, Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany
AP no. 0502 97. A yellow gold colour, this emerges after a while in the glass to show an intense, minerally nose of citrus and honey. The palate is really nicely poised: it’s mineralic and a tiny bit spicy with good length and acidity. There are also some grapefruit notes. Superb for a qualitätswein, and great value. Very good/excellent (Justerini & Brooks £6.95)

Dr Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese 1994, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Where else would you get seven year old Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese for a fiver but Majestic? This is a good one, despite the low price. Lovely smoky honey-tinged nose leads to a rich palate with bracing acidity, some appley notes and a touch of spice. Expressive and tasty, this doesn’t taste overly sweet, although there’s clearly quite a bit of residual sugar here. Very good+ (£4.99 Majestic)

Dr Hermann Urziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese 1996, Mosel Saar Ruwer
AP No 2 602 145 897 Incredible value for money: for the price of an industrial Chardonnay you get a serious expression of Riesling from a leading Mosel vineyard site. The complex, beautifully evolved nose shows notes of lime, honey and minerals. The palate is quite sweet, but with lovely balancing acidity. A full textured sweet wine that's perfect for sipping on its own. Very good/excellent (£5.99 Majestic, but buy 2 save £1 from Nov 5th) 

New Zealand (5)

Grove Mill Sauvignon Blanc 2000, Marlborough, New Zealand
This is a superb, ripe style of Sauvignon Blanc, with a bright, expressive nose of gooseberry, elderflower and blackcurrant. The palate is rich and rounded, with good concentration and a rounded texture. A striking wine. Very good/excellent (£7.99 Oddbins)

Montana Chardonnay 2000, East Coast, New Zealand
Using fruit from Marlborough and Gisborne, this is an impressive commercial Chardonnay. It has a lovely, fresh, savoury, nutty/toasty nose, that leads to a deliciously rich palate with fresh fruit and subtle oaking. Good balance and intensity. Very good+ (£5.99 widely available)

Forrest Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2000, Marlborough, New Zealand
Wild, exotic nose: grassy and aromatic. This is a huge Sauvignon with masses of ripe fruit, nice texture, and good balance of fruit and acid. Stunning stuff in the classic Cloudy Bay/Marlborough style. Very good/excellent (Adnams £7.95) 11/00

Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay 1998, East Coast
Very attractive full-flavoured and thick-textured new world Chardonnay. It's ripe and spicy: the toasty oak is well integrated with the buttery tropical fruit flavours. Great balance. Very good+ (£6.99 Sainsbury)

Montana Sauvignon Blanc 2000, Marlborough, New Zealand
New Zealand's most well known inexpensive Sauvignon is back on form. The nose is lovely and rich, with gooseberry and blackcurrant (yes, honest guv!) notes and a rounded but intense character. The palate is ripe and forward. It's a really classy effort, with bags of flavour. Very good/excellent (£5.99 widely available)

Australia (6)

Tim Adams Semillon 1998, Clare Valley, Australia
Tim Adams refuses to work with Chardonnay; instead, he makes superb Riesling and Semillon. A yellow/gold colour, this fine example of the latter has a striking nose of lemony fruit, coconut and herbs. Complex and savoury on the palate, with powerful fruit flavours and a savoury, herby edge. Unusual stuff: with great concentration and intensity, this is a super food wine. Very good/excellent (Majestic, Tesco £7.99)

Hardys Stamp of Australia Chardonnay Semillon 2000, South East Australia
Some people have an almost religious objection to branded wines, but to give credit where it is due, this is attractive Aussie white plonk at its best. The Semillon contributes a nice citrussy crispness to the fuller, riper fruit flavours of the Chardonnay. There's also a nice smoky edge to the fresh fruity palate. Full flavoured with good balance. Very good+ (£4.49, Tesco, Sainsbury)

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz/Cabernet 1998, South Australia
Penfolds are the masters of multi-region blending, and the 1998 is the best Koonunga Hill for a long time. A deep, satisfying wine, it shows great balance between the rich, spicy berry fruit and well judged oak. Classy and worryingly easy to drink, it is good value at £6.99, but an even better bargain in Majestic's current promotion of 20% off any six Penfolds wines. Very good/excellent

Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz 1998, South East Australia
Do you like full-flavoured, oaky Australian Shiraz? If so, you'll love this wine, which is one of the best moderately priced examples of this genre I've come across. It is dense coloured, with a pungent, slightly medicinal edge to the nose that adds some interest. On the palate it shows sweet, dense fruit with noticeable oak and great concentration. Delicious, full-on stuff if you like this style. Very good/excellent (£5.99 Majestic)

Oxford Landing Limited Release Viognier 2000
Cheap Viognier usually sucks, but not always. Yalumba are Australia's Viognier specialists, and this inexpensive example shows impressive varietal character. The peachy, floral nose shows tropical fruit and spice elements. The lovely rich textured, full flavoured palate still manages to keep the delicacy that's a hallmark of the best Viogniers. Follows on the heels of the equally successful 1999. Very good+ (£5.99 Majestic)

St Hallett Poachers Blend 1999, Barossa, Australia
A blend of Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, bottled with an attractive yellow screwcap. This is a lovely fresh white wine with a floral, citrus and tropical fruit nose. The palate is almost spritzy, with some bright fruit flavour. This is a very attractive option at the price, and I suspect the screwcap may have helped to keep the wine fresher for longer. Very good (£4.49 Tesco) 

South Africa (3)

Vergelegen Chardonnay 2000, Stellenbosch, South Africa
100% barrel fermented, 50% new oak, aged in barrel for 7 months. An impressive, full-flavoured white with plenty of character. The lovely, rich nutty nose shows toasty oak. The palate is intense, with rich, ripe fruit. Very attractive: rich and spicy. Very good/excellent (£6.99 Oddbins)

Graham Beck Lone Hill Chardonnay 1998, Robertson, South Africa
A classy barrel-fermented Chardonnay at a good price (100% barrel fermentation in French oak; 50% new, 50% second use). Full lemony nose with an edge of vanilla and toast. On the palate there is ripe, rich fruit with nice oaking (nutty and rich-textured), and there's some lemony acidity. Quite a modern-styled wine, but very well balanced and extremely sophisticated for the price. Very good+ (£5.99, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Thresher)

Forrester's Petit Chenin 'Scholtzenhof' 2001, Stellenbosch
A really attractive, rounded, inexpensive white from Chenin specialist Ken Forrester. A fresh, fruity aromatic nose with some herby notes leads to a full flavoured palate showing appley notes, a bit of spice (a little French oak is used here) and a trace of sweetness on the finish. Delicious stuff to glug young. Very good+ (£3.99 Oddbins)

Austria (1)

Erich and Walter Polz Weissburgunder Grassnitzberg 1998 Südsteirmark, Austria
An attractive yellow gold colour, this southern Austrian Pinot Blanc has a knockout nose of spice, toast and bready notes, with a creamy edge. The palate is rich, full and honeyed with high acidity and a lovely spicy character. This is a delicious wine with great balance and complexity. If you're a fan of Alsace-style whites, you'll probably love this. This was recommended here some time ago, and in the intervening months it has really opened out. Excellent (£7.99 Oddbins, currently reduced to £5.99) 

Argentina (1)

Valentin Bianchi Malbec 'Elsa's Vineyard' 1998, Mendoza, Argentina
A single vineyard wine made from 85% Malbec and 15% Barbera that would be perfect with a fat Argentinean steak. It's a lovely savoury red wine with a nice herby nose, showing some leafy notes in the background. There are also notes of spice, tar and chocolate. The palate is rich, soft and ripe with a spicy edge. Quite delicious: a full-on wine, but not in a manufactured, confected style. Very good/excellent (£6.70 The Good Wine Shop) 


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