ALDI’S CHRISTMAS 2018 WINE SELECTION:
MY PICK OF THE CROP

It’s the start of December so it’s time that I attempt to make my selection of favourites from the Aldi Christmas range of wines (pausing, for a moment, to mention that I’m Aldi’s wine ambassador). It’s a tough task in that I can’t think of a single one of these seasonal wines that – hand on heart – I would struggle to recommend.

Starting at the fizzy end of the spectrum, anyone who has followed my recommendations (and those of many of my wine writing colleagues) will know that Champagne Veuve Monsigny No. 3 NV (€19.99) offers the best value in Ireland (mainly Pinot, broad, biscuit), so I’ll skip to the 2011 vintage Blanc de Blancs (€27.99) from the same producer. This Champagne is 100% Chardonnay, with all of the delicacy that this suggests, but also with real intensity and complexity. Very dry, very stylish and less than half the price you would expect to pay for something at this level. Is it worth the extra? Yes, and more.

Having said that, don’t forget the Exquisite Collection Crèmant du Jura (€11.99) from the core range that is on the shelves all year round; it’s made from 100% Chardonnay, too, and is the best value sparkler in the land. My worry is that people will look at the price and think “that can’t be very good”, because they would be utterly wrong. It’s brilliant. (This is the only wine on the Irish market that has featured in John Wilson’s Wilson on Wine in all three editions to date; so it’s not just me!)
The same price challenge applies to so many Aldi wines. At our recent press tasting, virtually all of the wine writers expressed disbelief at how the Castellore Soave Superiore Classico could taste so good (dry, fresh, minerally) at €6.49. Similar sentiments greeted the Grillo-Sauvignon Blanc (€6.99) from Sicily, a crisp, dry, mildly spicy white without the usual Sauvignon pungency; these are two grapes that enhance each other.

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However, the wine that rendered most of them virtually speechless was the Exquisite Collection Dry Amontillado sherry (€7.99/50cl), made the by the estimable Bodegas Barbadillo in Sanlucar de Barrameda. Bone dry, nutty, deep and long, it may be a bit too austere for some people, but it’s simply heaven with salted almonds. A stunner at a ludicrously low price.

One red wine that leaps out, for me, is the Lirac (€9.99). By my calculations, it’s grown and made about 2km from Chateauneuf-du-Pape and, frankly, it’s not far away in style. A meaty, fleshy, dark, rich, spicy red wine for a tenner. (The Cairanne, with a similar label and at the same price, is only a little leaner, with a more herbaceous style; I love that word when applied to wine: it means a hint of leafiness, greenness, herbiness).

The New World scored two sensational goals with the Lot XI wines at €13.99, a gloriously old-fashioned Clare Valley Shiraz-Cabernet with more super-ripe blackcurrants, mint and eucalyptus than you could shake a stick at, crying out for a rare steak; and the remarkable blend of Chardonnay from Margaret River in Western Australia and Clare Valley in South Australia (just over 2,700km apart). Subtly oaked, ripe (that’s Clare) with racy acidity (that’s Margaret), it’s simply brilliant, almost Burgundian in character and, perhaps surprisingly, a neat match with roast turkey.

The Barone Bruni Chianti Classico Riserva (€11.99), by contrast, is a Euroclassic at a knockdown price and it has enough bottle age to have really opened up, the kind of red that appeals to traditionalists (and to me) for its ability to work so well with meats. The other Italian star, the Exquisite Collection Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso (€9.99), made with semi-dried grapes in the Veneto, hits the pasta and pizza spot. I tasted the market leader Ripasso recently and I have to say I prefer the Aldi one for its greater concentration and drier style.

Christmas is a time when a lot of rather dubious Sancerre hits the market at “half price” but our Exquisite Collection Haut-Poitou Sauvignon Blanc (€9.99) is in a different league altogether: very clean, quite dry, pungent with green gooseberry, green peppers, crushed nettles (honestly!) and absolutely perfect with Aldi’s Emporium French Goat’s Cheese

If Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t float your boat, try the Exquisite Collection Mâcon-Villages (€9.99), a Chardonnay from southern Burgundy and streets ahead of so much of the output from this region. Unoaked, floral, lemony, very dry (less than 2g per litre of residual sugar), it’s a multi-purpose white wine and pretty good on its own as an aperitif.

Limestone German Riesling (€9.99) will be a revelation for anyone who thinks German=sweet. Light in alcohol at 12% abv, it’s perfectly dry, delicate and fresh with a touch of citrus zest. This is one for smoked salmon, I reckon.

Two wines that are not bone dry stand out for me and make me wonder why people tend to shy away from sweetness. The Exquisite Collection Alsace Pinot Gris (€9.99) is golden, slightly grapefruity, tart but with a little honeyed sweetness on the finish. It’s perfect with moderately spicy dishes. (The same grape appears under a slightly different name as the Premium Italian Pinot Grigio (€7.99), this time light and very dry).

The other slightly sweet white is the Exquisite Collection Vouvray (€9.99) made from Chenin Blanc in the Loire. Fresh flowers and new-mown grass on the nose, rapier-like acidity on the palate and gentle sweetness on the finish. Again, it’s made for spicy foods or, thanks to the acidity, smoked salmon.

Too many people think that Riesling is always sweet. The antidote to this view lies in one of Aldi’s core whites, the Exquisite Collection Clare Valley Riesling (€9.99), vinified completely dry and with lime/citrus notes. It’s made by Taylor’s (known as Wakefield in Europe), one of the top producers.

Of course, we perceive sweetness differently when it comes to dessert and the Maynard’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port (€13.99) is not just sweet but also nutty, figgy, raisiny and downright delicious! (And rated “outstanding” by Decanter magazine). While it’s great with plum pudding, mince pieces and Christmas cake it’s even better, for me at any rate, with walnuts and blue cheese, especially Roquefort.

If this hits the spot for you, you might consider Maynard’s 30 Year Old Tawny Port (€39.99) which is, without question, the best value port by far this Christmas, nationwide. Slightly drier than the 10 Year Old, it’s magisterially long, complex and seductive, a wine that repays drinking slowly and contemplatively.

Finally, I just want to welcome back an old favourite, Venturer Costières de Nîmes (€7.49) which is my idea of a solid, moreish, very French, very versatile red wine at an incredibly keen price.

I recommended it to the manager of my local Aldi store and when I saw him next he said he had a bone to pick with me.

It turns out that his wife normally only has only one glass of wine, but when he produced this, she had two.

Now, there’s an endorsement!

Don’t forget that Aldi’s own Boyle’s Irish Gin, made by the clever people at the Blackwater Distillery, is undoubtedly the best value gin on the market (in my view, anyway) at €24.99 for the full 70cl. There are gins at twice that price that are, frankly, underwhelming.