This has been hard, really hard. I’m talking about selecting just 10 wines from the thousands I sample ‘blind’ on an annual basis through our wide range of competitions, which take in tastings by grape, style, region and country, under the name, The Global Masters.
There are so many more wines I would like to include, but here it is – a very personal top 10, that I’ve pulled together with a few self-imposed limits, which is why quite a few wonderful bottles just couldn’t feature.
The most notable stricture that I set myself was a price ceiling of £30 (except for my single fizz recommendation). That was to prevent me being tempted to list a range of brilliant, but expensive wines that would be only possible to enjoy on a regular basis, or in any quantity, for somebody with much more money than myself.
Rather, these are all wines that I would dip into my limited capital to enjoy with friends, and they are all wines that I’ve selected for their impressive level of affordability relative to their competitive set. It’s why, for instance, I’ve gone to Paso Robles when it comes to top Cabernet, or Lussac Saint-Emilion for great Merlot – or indeed, Rioja, for a fantastic, fully mature red; this is a region that offers such value at the top-end as well as entry level.
The other constraint I made when drawing up a shortlist concerned availability – all these wines are for sale in the UK, right now. That did prove somewhat frustrating, with some of my much-loved wines simply not on offer, particularly a set of greats reds I unearthed this year from the Eastern Med, Italy and Spain.
Anyway, below are the 10 for 2021 that met all my criteria – wines that are delicious, affordable, and available.
I’ve decided to break my own rules regarding a price ceiling of £30 when it comes to fizz – although if you do want to keep to a stricter budget with your bubbles, then I highly recommend Codorniu’s Ars Collecta Blanc de Blancs 2017 vintage Cava, which was a Gold medal winner in our Spring Tasting this year, and can by yours for just under £20, see here. So why am I’m listing a £60 bottle in my top 10, and smashing through my £30 limit? That’s because this particular drop is such a delicious find, and, relative to its category, a good-value one too. You see, it’s a vintage Champagne from Palmer & Co that hails from the first-rate 2012 harvest, and it has the toasty, creamy, grilled hazlenut and lemon zest characters of a great, mature, prestige cuvée fizz that could set you back over £100, and yet, if you buy it by the case, this would cost you around half that amount.
If there’s something that struck me about this year’s tastings, it’s how good the wines from Greece are. I had a broad range of delicious samples from this nation over the course of 2021, wines that were interesting, ripe, and refreshing, with a pleasingly tight texture, whether white or red. Some of these were made with native grapes – with, among the whites, a brilliant find being wine made from the extremely rare Malagousia by the first rate producer that is Ktima Gerovassiliou. Intensely flavoured, it has powerful characteristics, from peaches to rose petals, and a salty, mouth-watering edge. Others featured ‘international’ varieties, with a perennial favourite of mine being the outstanding single-block ‘Ecosystem’ organic Chardonnay from Alpha Estate (a wine I recommended this time last year for its combination of yellow fruit, toasty oak, and salty, tangy refreshment). For 2021, I’ve chosen a Viognier – a grape variety that’s hard to get right, but when done well, so deliciously indulgent, and versatile in terms of food matching possibilities: it will go with anything aside from the most delicate of dishes. This version is made by Domaine Skouras, costs just over £20, and offers Viognier’s classic peach and apricot flavours, and oily rich mouthfeel. There’s also a peanut-like character from the oak used during the winemaking process, and, a dry, gently tannic edge to the finish, to make sure it refreshes. Also, unlike most ripe Viogniers, which can get rather high in alcohol, it’s just 13% ABV.
When most serious wine drinkers think of a great white wine to serve, their mind jumps to Chardonnay, be it top Bourgogne Blanc, or the many increasingly refined rivals to this benchmark style. On the other hand, few would make the imaginary leap to the world of Pinot Gris – the grape just doesn’t have a reputation for fine wine – and if they did, and they ended up in Alsace – where I’ve headed – they might be swayed by the wonderful Rieslings from this region. However, I’m sticking with Pinot Gris, having earlier this year enjoyed the wonderful, oily-and-chalky-textured, pear-and-beeswax-flavoured, biodynamic Roche Calcaire from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. With richness, freshness, and complexity, few white wines deliver more instant appeal, and lasting interest, for £20.
Hailing from historic, organic, ungrafted Grenache Gris vines rooted deep into the phylloxera-free sands of the Camargue in Southern France is this fantastic pale rosé, or gris. Picking up a Gold in both our Global Rosé Masters and Organic Masters, it performed brilliantly this year when compared to its competitive set in the organic category, as well as its peers in the ever-expanding pink wine sector. Why? It’s has a lovely rich, oily texture, but bright refreshing edge, combining flavours of ripe pear and subtle notes of peach, along with a touch of bitter orange to make you salivate. In short, it’s a wonderfully soft, mouth-filling way to cool your palate on a hot day.
My highest scoring sub-£20 wine of this year’s Chile tasting turned out to be a Syrah-dominant blend from a high-altitude vineyard with a bit of bottle age – although the 2016 vintage is still commercially available. Using fruit grown at around 900m above sea level – hence the name – there’s great concentration and freshness to this red, which has wonderfully ripe red and dark berry fruit, some of which is slightly stewed after a few years ageing in cask and bottle, but also a cherry stone-like dry fresh sensation from a mix of quite high acid and tannin. Then there’s vanilla and cigar box notes, and cracked black pepper, too. Together, it’s a juicy, layered, bright, and semi-mature drop that’s hard not to drink. It’s also great value, and a sign that Chile – despite its fame for Cabernet – is a fine place to plant Syrah.
It’s a perennial question for anyone closely involved in wine – what can you recommend from Bordeaux that’s fine and affordable? So it was a relief to have unearthed this in this year’s Autumn Tasting to answer that question for 2021 at least. It’s a £20 Merlot-dominant Right Bank drop from satellite Bordeaux appellation Lussac-Saint-Emilion, and it showcases both the quality of the outstanding 2016 vintage and the winemaking skills of André Lurton – who acquired this estate, called Château de Barbe Blanche, in 2000. Unmistakably Bordeaux, there are notes of cedar and cigar box, even a touch of graphite, and then layers of ripe berry fruit, from blackberry to red cherry, before the wine finishes with a dense wall of dry tannin – which are a little firm, but will no doubt feel softer when tasted with the fatty food at this time of year.
Putting Paso Robles on the map for fine Cab is the fast-developing Daou Vineyards, especially with this excellent entry-level expression, which picked up a Gold in this year’s Cabernet Sauvignon Masters. Made with obsessive attention to detail by Daniel Daou, a war-wounded Lebanese émigré, this is a brilliant sub £30 Cabernet-dominant drop with layers of concentrated blackcurrant, ripe plums, cedar and dark chocolate, and fine, dense, dry tannins to complement all the juicy fruit and help refresh the palate ready for another delicious serving.
Just scraping below my self-imposed £30 UK retail price ceiling is my most exciting discovery from this year’s Global Malbec Masters. Called Le Calcifère – in reference to the limestone content of the vineyard soils where this Malbec is grown – it’s a Cahors produced under the Crocus JV brand from two great figures: top wine consultant Paul Hobbs and respected Cahors vintner Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux. What do you get for your £29? Well, it’s a Malbec with much of the ripe and juicy appeal that has made this grape so popular when grown in Argentina, but then there’s this southwest French edge to it too: and by that I mean a complementary firm structure and restraint to its character. In terms of flavours, expect prune and blackcurrant, along with cracked pepper and cedar, then lingering notes of dark chocolate and cigar box.
It’s hard enough to find Oregon Pinot Noir in the UK, let alone a bottle costing less than £30. So I was thrilled to find that one of my highest-scoring wines in this year’s Global Pinot Noir Masters was a wine from the wonderful part of the Pinot world that is Oregon, and that it’s available in Britain for around £25. Using grapes from the prized Oregonian sub-zone that is the Willamette Valley, and aged in 25% new French oak barrels, it’s a brilliant wine that will please all Pinot lovers, even those on the ceaseless quest for the perfect example from Burgundy. That’s because it has a light body, with delicate, ripe red berry fruit, from raspberry to cranberry, and a touch of creamy vanilla and cedar to complement it, followed by fine, gentle, dry tannins to cleanse the mouth, ensuring this wine contains all of Pinot’s classic appeal: a combination of sweetness, lightness, and brightness.
I was delighted, and somewhat surprised considering the quality of the Viña Pomal Gran Reserva 2014, to see that it slips in under my self-imposed £30 price limit – a reminder to me at least of the incredible value in this Spanish wine region. This example is true to the style of Viña Pomal, a producer that seems to successfully straddle the classic and modern faces of Rioja by making wines with weight and richness, but not too much sweetness and concentration. This is especially seen with this producer’s outstanding Gran Reserva, an aged style of Rioja that tends to feature wonderful characters from extended maturation in barrels, but can also result in wines with faded fruit, and too much tannin. In this case, you get the positives without the downsides, as the wine contains plenty of fleshy, ripe red and dark fruit, from cherry to raspberry, then some more developed notes of sweet balsamic, prune and cedar, along that wonderfully refreshing combination of bright acidity, and a dry, grippy tannic edge. Indeed, this Gran Reserva has hit a sweet spot in terms of power, elegance and maturity.
Please visit The Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call: +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: email@example.com
© 2021 Union Press Ltd | Wigglesworth House, Fourth Floor, 69 Southwark Bridge Road, London, SE1 9HH, UK Tel: +44 (0)20 7803 2420 Registered in England and Wales No. 03606414
It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?
Yes, take me to the Asia edition No
We are using cookies to give you the best experience on our website.
You can find out more about which cookies we are using or switch them off in settings .
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.