The purpose of this column has always been to steer readers month by month to wines that offer great value for money. Inevitably these days prices being asked for the treasures of the world’s most venerated viticultural areas lift everyday accessibility up-and-away from more modest pockets. Every wine merchant wants to make a sale, of course, though I find it a shame that some of the better-known high street wine outlets fight shy of stocking wines from the less fashionable areas of the wine world where although quality nowadays is remarkably high, unfamiliarity of origin or grape variety militates against their stock take-up. My choice of a super-value red wine this month (see below) would almost certainly have been a case in point were it not for the wider vision of the sales outlet concerned.

Meanwhile the festive season approaches, so my initial choice of a celebratory sparkler finds me in a climate apt to the production of such wines ‘on our own doorstep’ – so to speak.


Chapel Down in Tenterden, Kent, was early on the scene at the renaissance of English winemaking around the ‘90s and apart from wine the estate – now part of a wider wine-making conglomerate – is acknowledged also for its Kentish ciders and beers. In terms of accolades Chapel Down has something of a pedigree as official wine supplier to The Royal Opera House, The London Symphony Orchestra and the Donmar Warehouse, and even to No 10 Downing Street – regardless of incumbent therein.

The Christmassy sparkle here is English Sparklng Reserve ‘Brut’ NV – a special cuvée crafted by winemaker Josh Donaghay-Spire – an ‘exclusive’, or so I understand, for Marks & Spencer Ltd. Given its relatively modest price in the pantheon of top quality bottle-fermented fizzies including non-vintage Champagnes, I thought it well worth a look.

So what informs this wine? In terms of the grapes pressed into service it’s a classic ‘Champenois-style’ blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Meunier (in descending order) from vines bedded firmly on ridges of Kentish Wealden clay. Our own southern English climate benefits particularly from generally cooler conditions than in Champagne itself which is seen as an advantage where sparkling wines are concerned as a sufficiently high acidity in the base wine is more reliably obtainable across harvests.

Did we do well? We did! We poured pale gold with a beautiful persistent mousse of bubbles in the glass to meet a sparkler with a good body and yet with great elegance and freshness, hinting at gentle apple notes.   I’m not sure if the word ‘complete’ is helpful here – but the wine certainly was, and its quality vs. price ratio seemed notable as compared to some of the more variable NV Champagnes one has encountered.

NAME OF WINE English Sparkling Reserve
STYLE Dry bottle-fermented sparkler
PRODUCER Chapel Down Estate
ALCOHOL 12.0% Vol.
RETAILER Marks & Spencer
PRICE £24.00 a bottle


A contrasting red for Christmas?   My own regard for modern-day Portuguese red wines has discovered Sino da Romaneiro 2013, a wine from one of the Douro region’s historic Quintas.

A quartet of the DOC’s traditional Port grape varieties, Touriga Naçional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão comes together here in an unfortified barrel-aged dry red wine offering both rich fruity depth and spiciness, yet with a surprising freshness on the palate and with silky-soft tannins behind. While vinified in stainless steel, the wine’s subsequent maturation for 14 months in French barriques offers the gentlest of mouth-feel sensations. Alcohol is 13deg vol. Although dense and plummily port-coloured on the eye this softly classy wine is quite unlike some of the tannic monster Portuguese reds that I remember having encountered in the past and, assuming this sleek contemporary style is for you, it is one that I believe would well enhance a traditional Christmas dinner let alone offer exceptional value for money.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Portugal (Douro Valley)
NAME OF WINE Sino do Romaneiro 2013
STYLE Full-flavoured red
PRODUCER Socieda Agricola Romaneiro S.A.
ALCOHOL 13.0% Vol.
RETAILER Lea & Sandeman
PRICE £14.95 a bottle or £13.50 as part of a mixed case of 12