The world's best value reds

best value reds budget People & Places Articles
  • Thursday 13 April 2006

Even we don’t drink crus classés evey night of the week. So which are the best everyday drinking wines for consistently delivering character, reliability, and value? Six of our leading experts, led by STEVEN SPURRIER, each pick 10 wines at £5–£15 that do just that

How do you choose just 10 best value red wines between £5 and £15 when this is already your preferred price for daily drinking, and when at any given tasting there may be a dozen such wines in the ‘gosh, that’s good’ category?

They have to be not just the 10 red wines you like to drink most often, but the 10 that stand out for character, individuality and reliability, vintage after vintage. The results from our judges – who worked independently – are quite consistent, which gives ‘best value worldwide red wine’ a certain definition.

Wines either side of the £10 mark need to be more than just good – they should be very good, even excellent. They must allow for restricted yields, vineyard by vineyard selection, natural vinification, proper oak ageing (no chips) and a little time in bottle before release. But the real reason for the character, individuality and consistency of these wines lies less in the grapes and the soil than in the minds of the people who produce them. They are made by perfectionists, proud of what they produce and of the pleasure they give the consumer.

Of the 60 nominations (some were nominated by more than one panelist), the Old World took 34 places to the New World’s 26, with France by far the leader with one third of the votes. Three French wines are from Bordeaux, all Médocs; two are from Burgundy; eight wines are from the Rhône, with three Crozes-Hermitage (Alain Graillot twice) and five Grenache-based wines from the south; and seven are from the southwest and the Midi. Next came Italy, with nine entries – four from Tuscany, two each from Piedmont and the Veneto and one from Sicily. Two came from Portugal, both from the Douro; three from Spain, all very different. A common denominator? Well-extracted fruit, robust where necessary, balanced and satisfying.

Australia led the New World, with eight wines – three from 100% Shiraz, three Shiraz blends and two Cabernets. Then came five wines from Chile – four Cabernet blends and only one Merlot; and five from California (a country in itself), showing four Zinfandels and one Pinot Noir. Argentina took four places, all Malbec, two from Norton; New Zealand had two wines, both Pinot Noir; South Africa had two also, both Pinotage. And the common denominator here? Rich fruit, excellent winemaking and blending for drinking on release.

BORDEAUX

Les Fiefs de Lagrange, St-Julien

At 113 ha, Lagrange is the largest of the St-Julien crus classés, but quantity is reined in for quality, making this second wine one of the most reliable and best value in the entire Médoc. (SS)

£13.72 (2000); Far, StG

Château Coufran, Haut-Médoc

Bordeaux’s best-sited cru bourgeois can offer compelling value. The Merlot-rich Coufran is perhaps the most approachable of these under-appreciated fine wines. (AJ) £12.95 (2001); BBR

Château Potensac, Médoc

This powerful, earthy cru bourgeois, under the same ownership as Léoville Las Cases, is tannic when young, but not especially oaky. It needs a few years to show its complexity. (SB) £10 approx (2003); Aly, BBR, Evy, F&R, Rol, Sec, VgH

BURGUNDY

Nicolas Potel, Cuvée Gérard Potel, Bourgogne Vieilles Vignes

Potel makes this true, pure and intensely flavoured Burgundy from vines over 50 years old across Volnay and the Côte de Nuits. (SS) £8.43 (2004); Gdh

Domaine Tollot Beaut, Chorey-Lès-Beaune

Tollot Beaut produces delicious, supple, fruity wine year after year. This wine is my benchmark for reliable, great-value Burgundy. (BB) £10 IB (2004); Bib, Loe

RHONE

Alain Graillot, Crozes-Hermitage

Alain Graillot is the best producer in Crozes-Hermitage because of his patience, attention to detail – and modesty. This wine is lush and explosive when young, and a Hermitage lookalike at five years. (SS)

Graillot sets the benchmark not just for quality but for reasonable pricing too; his Crozes displays classic aromas and a sumptuous palate combining tarry, blackberry fruitiness with an elegant freshness. (AR) £13.50 (2004); Yap

Domaine de Thalabert, Crozes-Hermitage

Most Crozes-Hermitage is good value, but Jaboulet’s Domaine de Thalabert is outstanding, punching well above its weight. With its dark, brooding and plummy fruit, top vintages can age for a decade or two. (SB) £13.90 (2003); F&R

Domaine le Sang des Cailloux, Cuvée Lopy, Vacqueyras

This outstanding Vacqueyras domaine produces the kind of scented, savoury wine that makes greater Provence such a mouth-watering prospect. Cuvée Lopy reaches highest, but all are good. (AJ)

£14 (2003); Pip

Domaines Perrin, Coudoulet de Beaucastel, Côtes du Rhône

The Coudoulet vineyard itself is adjacent to the Perrin’s famous Château de Beaucastel, planted to 60% Grenache and Mourvèdre, 40% Syrah and Cinsault, all old vines, the final blend benefiting from some declassified Beaucastel. (SS) £9.51 (2002); Far

Domaines Perrin, Les Christins, Vacqueyras

Fifty-five-year-old vines supply the Perrins of Beaucastel fame with grapes for their Perrin & Fils négociant wines, including this peppery blend from Grenache and Syrah. (AR) £9.90-11.99 (2003); ADa, BBR, Bib, Cmb, EdS, Mis, P&S

Domaine Richaud Cairanne, Côtes du Rhône-Villages

Sometimes it’s only when things get really bad that the best producers stand out. Marcel Richaud’s grapes barely seemed to register the terrible, sodden vintage of 2002. Richaud makes consistently classy, reliable and individual wine. (BB) £12 (2003); ACh

Domaine du Cayron, Gigondas

Good Gigondas is a winter warmer, a wine for stews and game. Those from Domaine du Cayron remain utterly traditional, unfettered expressions of old-vine Grenache at its most rugged yet satisfying. (SB) £14.50 (2003); L&W

regional FRANCE

Château Bouscassé, Vieilles Vignes, Madiran

Madiran from southwest France can be as tough as boots, but Alain Brumont has mastered the art of taming the tannic Tannat variety. Of his various bottlings, this is the best and the least expensive. (SB) £15 approx (2003); ThH

Château du Cèdre, Cuvée Prestige, Cahors

The Cahors renaissance is in full swing, and it offers rich pickings for the bargain-hungry. The top wines of Cèdre may be beyond our price ceiling, but not the deliciously dark, smouldering Cuvée Prestige. (AJ) £10.15 (2003); CPy

Domaine Berthoumieu, Tradition, Madiran

These authentic, uncompromising, profoundly satisfying red wines offer magnetic value. Decant a day ahead if you can; otherwise simply enjoy its untrammelled black fire and the sombre fury. (AJ) £6.90 (2002); CPy

Domaine du Cros, Vieilles Vignes, Marcillac

Eighty-year-old Fer Servadou from iron-rich clay in a once-vast wine region, tamed in old oak: taste just how good the past could be. (AJ) £7.90 (2002); Cpy

Domaine La Suffrène, Bandol

Cédric Gravier’s entry level Bandol is dark, generous, close-textured and herby Mourvèdre. (AJ) £10.50 (2001); CPy

Mont Tauch, l’Exception, Fitou

This top blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan from the quality-conscious Mont Tauch coop in Languedoc-Roussillon is a sweetly robust, winter-warming red with scents of garrigue that gives great satisfaction. (AR)

£9.99 (2003); Maj, Thi

Mont Tauch, Les Quatre, Fitou

This is a superb representation of the ancient soils and grape varieties (Carignan, Grenache and Syrah) of Fitou. Les Quatre and its cheaper sibling Les Douze are helping the region gain a new audience. (MJ) £8.99 (2004); Thi

ITALY

Aldo Vajra, Dolcetto d’Alba

This is a perfumed, limpid, enchanting, basic Dolcetto, a perfect match of grape and place. (AJ)

Lush, deeply fruity, undemanding and hedonistic. (SB)

£12.91 (2004); Lib

Allegrini, La Grola

The chalky, stony vineyard of La Grola is the source of this classic food red made from Corvina with a dash of Rondinella, Syrah and Sangiovese, displaying a core of dark cherry fruit polished by lightly spicy French oak: a consistent performer. (AR) £13.95 (2001); F&M, Har, Lib, P&S, V&C

Frescobaldi, Nipozzano, Chianti Rufina Riserva

This flagship estate of the Marchesi Frescobaldi usually produces its cult 100% Sangiovese wine, Montesodi. In 2002 this was declassified into the splendidly briary and spicy Nipozzano, a Chianti quality benchmark. (SS)

£12.49, (2002); Ave, Evy, Odd

Isola e Olena, Chianti Classico

For a pure, savoury, crisp taste of Tuscany, this wine never disappoints. It manages to be supremely drinkable but always interesting. There are different nuances of flavour to enjo, and it’s a perfect food wine. (BB) £12.95 (2003); WSo

Palazzo della Torre, Valpolicella

Valpolicella often disappoints: it’s a fairly light red, but that shouldn’t mean it’s thin. Allegrini’s Palazzo della Torre is a perfect example with complexity and richness. (SB) £13 approx (2001); ACh, Ave, CCF, Evy, Hed, Imb, P&S, ScC

Planeta, La Segreta, IGT Sicilia

It’s cheap, it’s silky, it’s fresh and vigorous, which is all one can ask for from an everyday red. A blend of Nero d’Avola, Syrah and Merlot. (SB)

£7.99 (2004); EnW, WCw

Poliziano, Rosso di Montepulciano

Poliziano is one of the rare Tuscan estates that puts as much effort into its entry level wines as it does into its super cuvées. This rosso is an exact barometer of the character of the vintage, year in year out – it never lets you down. (MJ) £9.99 approx (2004); EnW, HBa

Selvapiana, Chianti Rufina

My favourite, single-vineyard Bucerchiale is justly expensive, but the basic Chianti Rufina from Selvapiana makes a lovely glass of pure, true, refreshing yet mysteriously allusive red wine. (AJ)

£11.69 (2003); Lib

PORTUGAL

Dow’s, 20-Year-Old Tawny Port

I know this is a bit of a cheat, but even if it is only a half bottle, it’s still a bargain. I adore the guaranteed pleasure and enticing aromatics of 20-year-old tawny port. If forced to pick a full bottle for under £15, I’d choose a little brother tawny, such as 10-year-old Churchills. (BB) Churchills – £14.95; L&S.

Dow’s – £10.50 (half bottle); BBR Heathrow

Quinta de la Rosa, Douro Tinto

Year after year this wine shows the other, often much more expensive, red wines from the Douro how it’s done. The 2003 vintage is spectacular with incredible fruit expression and delicious, controlled tannins. (MJ) £11 (2003); FMV

SPAIN

Abadia Retuerta, Selección Especial, Sardón de Duero

Selección Especial is a benchmark blend of the highest quality Tempranillo, Cabernet and Merlot from the 54 different plots at this historic estate. (AR)

£12.95 (2001); Lib

Casa Castillo, Monastrell, Jumilla

If, like me, you have a passion for that wonderfully difficult variety Mourvèdre, or Monastrell, Jumilla is a happy hunting ground. Casa Castillo’s is among the best. (AJ) £8.50 (2003); BBR, HvN, Rés

Torres, Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva, Penedès

This blend of Garnacha, Cariñena and Syrah is pure Mediterranean, with an intensity and smoothness to match the firm spice from the Catalan hills. Impressive and great value for money. (SS) £6.99 (2001); Coo, Fells, Sai, Wai

ARGENTINA

Catena, Malbec

This delivers everything a good Malbec should: dense black cherry, sweet and mouthfilling fruit, round tannins and a rich, warm finish. (BB) £12; Maj, Tes

Norton, Malbec Reserve

Great Argentinian Malbec seems to me to offer the best red-wine value in the southern hemisphere. Norton’s Reserve is consistently satisfying, balanced and deep. (AJ) £8.99 approx (2003); Evy, ScC, Wai

Norton, Privada

This blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet is a meaty, smoky, smooth and richly satisfying wine – typically Argentinian, but with freshness and a long, complex finish. Lots of wine for the money. (BB) £9.99 (2003); Wai

Terrazas, Malbec Reserva

The Malbec Reserva from Terrazas is made by one of Mendoza’s top winemakers, Roberto de la Mota, from very old vines giving tremendous concentration. Brilliant value. (SB) £9.99 (2003); Eag, Evy, Sel, Tes, VtH, Wmb

AUSTRALIA

D’Arenberg, The Footbolt Shiraz, McLaren Vale

Second to none for richness, ripeness and regional character. Big and gutsy, with fresh tannins to support the slightly raisiny fruit. Always completely satisfying. (SS) £9.50 (2003); Wai

Penfolds, Bin 28, Kalimna Shiraz, Barossa Valley

Ancient, heroic and the source of many revered reds, the Kalimna vineyard is very special indeed, and it is a privilege to drink this wine. I am amazed it is still only a tenner. (MJ) £10.64 (2003); Evy

Penfolds, Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz

Penfolds’ classic Australian blend, combining sweet black fruit drinkability with cellaring potential, this regularly overdelivers on value. (AR)

£14–15 (2002); Evy, F&R, WSo

St Hallett, Blackwell Shiraz, Barossa Valley

Classic Barossa Valley Shiraz crafted from old vines at Seppeltsfield, Ebenezer and Koonunga Hill with American oak adding spice and sheen to the seamless blackberry fruit. (AR)

£13 approx (2002); Bib, Evy, Wbc

St Hallett, Gamekeepers Reserve, Barossa Valley

Australia’s most consistent, inexpensive red wine is a complex blend of Shiraz, Grenache, Touriga Nacional and Mourvèdre. It is on the one hand a cheery glugger and on the other a complex and fascinating Aussie red. (MJ) £5.99 (2004); Bib, Odd

Tim Adams, The Fergus, Clare Valley

Surely this is one of the most underrated red wines in Australia. Grenache is still regarded as a second-class citizen (to Shiraz), and yet the aroma and texture in this wine are truly heavenly. (MJ)

£9.95 (2004); OzW, Tes

Wynn’s, Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

Value and icon status rarely go together, but a recent 50-year retrospective showed just how consistent this Coonawarra classic has been over time. It is maintaining that hard-earned reputation both for quality and value. (AR)

If there has ever been a mediocre vintage of Wynn’s Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, I have yet to encounter it. Deep in flavour as well as colour, this rich blackcurranty Cabernet can be drunk young or aged 10 years. (SB) £10 approx (2001); Ave, Maj, Odd

CHILE

Casa Lapostolle, Cuvée Alexandre Merlot

There aren’t many wines from Chile offering great value at over £10, but this wine justifies its price. It delivers pure, sensual concentration of blackcurranty deliciousness every time. (BB)

£12.90 (2003); Evy, Imb, ScC, WSo

Concha y Toro, Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon

The best-value Cabernet Sauvignon on the planet, and made in staggering quantities to exacting standards. It shouldn’t work but it does. Mass-produced excellence. (MJ) £5.99 (2005); Asd, Boo, Bud, Odd, Sai, Som, Tes, Thr, Wai

Errázuriz, The Blend

Entirely from the family’s Don Maximiano estate in the Aconcagua Valley, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sangiovese and Carmenère is a new classic. (SS) £14.99 (2003); Wmb

Viña Hacienda Araucano, Gran Araucano Cabernet Sauvignon

The globetrotting Bordeaux brothers Jacques and François Lurton have ploughed a successful furrow in Chile with this consistent claret-style red. (AR) £19.98 (2001); C&B

Viñedos Orgánicos, Emiliana Coyám

Star winemaker Alvaro Espinoza makes this one of the most thrilling wines in Chile. The variable blend of Syrah, Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Mourvèdre produces a consistently complex, aromatic, robust and enjoyable wine. (BB) £9.95 (2003); VRo, WSo

NEW ZEALAND

Wither Hills, Pinot Noir, Marlborough

Brent Marris and his team spend every waking moment ensuring this wine is as good as it possibly can be. The result is not a £25 Otago gamble, but a £15 Marlborough dead cert. (MJ)

For its heady fragrance and exuberant fruitiness, this wine is a shameless, irresistible crowd-pleaser. It’s not cheap, but for my money it outclasses many pricier Kiwi Pinots. (BB) £14.99 (2004); Bib, BoC, PlG, Wai

SOUTH AFRICA

Diemersfontein, Pinotage, Wellington

Prepare to be blown away by the purity of prune, blackberry, damson and coffee bean flavours in this wine. A beacon in a morass of stinky, rubbery, feral disappointments. (MJ) £7.99 (2004); Thi

Kanonkop, Pinotage

Serious-minded wines from old bush vines with upfront fruit to seduce the wary and redefine completely the profile of South Africa’s native red grape. (SS) £13.59 (2002); Maj

US

De Loach Russian River Pinot Noir, California

From a country where overpriced Pinot Noir is the norm, this is a refreshing alternative: a wine that’s worth more than it costs. It has deliciously delicate, fragrant fruit and a gentle, understated elegance. (BB) £10.50 (2003); Bib, DBy

Ravenswood, Vintner’s Blend Zinfandel

Overseen by Joel Peterson, California’s Zin master, this blend spends 12 months in French oak to tame the lush raspberry, blueberry and blackberry flavours. A zest of tannin further lifts the fruit. (SS)

Why other smart Zin producers cannot make a wine like this is beyond me. Superbly crafted –the intensity and accuracy of fruit is gobsmacking. (MJ) £6.99 (2003); Evy, Sai, Som, Tes, Wai, WSo

Ravenswood, Lodi Zinfandel

‘Zinmeister’ Joel Peterson offers real quality and character in this spice-laden, brambly red from California’s historic Zinfandel-growing region. (AR)

£7.99 (2003); Eag, Sai, Thr, Tes

Seghesio, Zinfandel

Seghesio of Sonoma produces some marvellous single-vineyard Zinfandels, but its basic Sonoma County bottling comes close to matching such quality, since much of the fruit is from old vines. Packs a punch without being overwhelming. (SB) £15 approx (2004); ACh, Evy, Lib, Vll, You

Prices mentioned are for latest vintages.

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