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Grapevine with Liz Sagues

PUBLISHED: 15:14 23 April 2009 | UPDATED: 16:08 07 September 2010

Three extra letters have joined the regular abbreviations in the notes I write at wine tastings. The principle they represent isn t new, but it s one which is even more important in these cash-strapped days. So raise a glass of VFM – value for money – win

Three extra letters have joined the regular abbreviations in the notes I write at wine tastings. The principle they represent isn't new, but it's one which is even more important in these cash-strapped days. So raise a glass of VFM - value for money - wines.

One important point to remember before we move into recommendations is that VFM doesn't necessarily mean wines right at the bottom of the price pile. Those letters identify quality and pleasure, money well spent.

This time of year sees all the major high street retailers showing off to the wine press what they'll be putting on their shelves in months to come, which means there will be plenty of opportunities to return to this theme, among more specifically-directed columns. So I'll start with just a selection of some of the best VFMs I've encountered so far.

First stop, Marks & Spencer. Its wine choice continues to be both impressive and interesting, and the 95 pages of my copy of its spring tasting booklet are generously littered with the magic letters. Two of the best new wines, particularly in VFM terms, are the Tierra y Hombre sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from Chile's Casablanca Valley, both £5.50. They should be in most M&S stores this month.

The sauvignon has splendid varietal style, bursting with scent and Kiwi-like tropicality but also plenty of green fruit crispness - very, very pleasurable. The pinot (there's a tiny touch of merlot and chardonnay adding complexity) shows how well Chile can now handle this tricky grape: not a burgundy taste-alike but with attractive aromatics, pure and balanced despite its hefty - though not obvious - 14.5 per cent alcohol level.

Better suited to lunchtime drinking are two 12 per cent French reds, the fresh, juicy gamay vin de pays de l'Ardeche (£4), which has an attractive touch of black pepper among the long-lasting fruit, and the Cotes de Gascogne (£5), a vibrant, velvety purple-red wine with crunchy perfumed fruit and a hint of almonds.

For two whites which punch above their price, go for Vinalta chardonnay from Argentina (£5), creamy, fresh and pure, and Saint Bris suvingnon blanc (£8), stylish, crisp and minerally - a wine which makes your mouth water in anticipation of more.

But just to confirm that VFM needn't mean cheap, I wrote those letters against the most expensive wine (other than fizz) in the tasting - a glorious 2005 Hermitage from Alain Bourgeois at the Cave de Tain l'Hermitage (£24), a wine whose rich ripe fruit, elegance and maturity persistently whisper Rhone. With 10 per cent off if you buy any six bottles, all these wines are very tempting indeed.

But don't worry if M&S isn't on your usual shopping route. The letters appeared on lots of wines at the tastings run by Majestic, Oddbins, Tesco and Waitrose. And the recommendations will follow in future Grapevines.


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