Why wine co-ops offer excellent well-priced bottles

Cavit's spectacular vineyards high in Trentino

Cavit's spectacular vineyards high in Trentino - Credit: Cavit

In wine terms, co-ops don't always have the best of reputations. Too often the image is of massive warehouse-type structures in flat southern France, turning out lakes of boring liquid on an industrial scale.

But those are history, and it's unfair to condemn all co-operative winemaking efforts – in the past and today – so cruelly. Initially, co-ops, in Europe particularly, were the saviour of many small grape growers, notably following the late 19th century disaster of the vine-destroying phylloxera bug, and in the depressive aftermath of World War One.

Now, for most the emphasis has moved from quantity to quality, technical innovation and the revival of heritage. That's important, for they still produce a large share of Europe's wine.

Cavit's Rulendis pinot noir vineyard in Trentino

Cavit's Rulendis pinot noir vineyard in Trentino - Credit: Cavit

Let's take a couple of examples. In northern Italy, in the spectacularly scenic Trentino region, Cavit groups some 5,200 growers whose vineyards cover 6,300 hectares – two-thirds of the region's total. Its 11 modern wineries ensure economic survival of these mostly small family growers, and produce a lot of decent wine for big outlets.

Much more interestingly for wine lovers, Cavit's scale allows funding for high-level research and development, most recently resulting in PICA, an impressive digital vineyard mapping/management system. It's too complex to explain here (instead watch youtube.com/watch?v=2J097a13uuM), but essentially it has upset many conventional ideas of where to plant which grapes as well as showing growers how to achieve the best results from their vines, with sustainability always in mind.

Andrea Faustini, known as Papa PICA

Andrea Faustini, known as Papa PICA - Credit: Cavit

The wines that result can be remarkable, and keenly priced. Examples include Burgundy challengers such as Brusafer Pinot Nero and Maso Toresella Chardonnay, (both from kwoff.co.uk, around £100 a 6-bottle case, or toscanaccio.co.uk, single bottles £20.20-£20.60) or layered, textured, grown-up pinot gris like Rulendis, (£18/£92 for 6, kwoff.co.uk.)

Such wines are only a tiny percentage of Cavit's total production, but the quality effect filters down through cheaper wines such as stylish, unusual reds Bottega Vinai Langrein and Terrazze della Luna Teroldego Rotaliano (both ndjohn.co.uk, £11 and £8.50).

Now to south west France, where 800-strong Plaimont Producers sets a mission to revive long-ignored Gascon grapes and appellations alongside its quality ethos. Two examples from the Saint Mont appellation, where 98 percent of the wines are made by Plaimont, realise both aims: Les Vignes Retrouvées is a complex, delicious white combining gros manseng, petit courbu and arrufiac, and Château de Sabazan adds lots of local tannat and a little pinenc to cabernet sauvignon for a serious Bordeaux-beating red (both from thewinesociety.com, £9 and £15).

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World over, co-ops are offering excellent, well-priced wines. There's even new life for some that foundered. In one, in Roussillon, former fermenting tanks are now stylish bedrooms in a upmarket hotel.

Seven Australian Wines to Try this month

How long is it since Australian wine hit UK drinkers' palates with fruit-bomb, oaky, high-alcohol flourish? Remarkably, only a little over three decades, miniscule in wine history. Yet that short time has seen massive change. Often now Australian wines are so much more subtle and stylish – and show a sense of specific place in a continent where few thought the concept of terroir could exist.

Time and again recently I've appreciated this, in fascinating comparative tastings by Wine Australia and individual sample bottles. Here is a tiny selection among many great wines, in price-spanning pairs.

Heggies Vineyard Estate Botrytis Riesling (half-bottle £15, Waitrose).

Heggies Vineyard Estate Botrytis Riesling is sold in Waitrose price £15 for a half bottle - Credit: Courtesy of Heggies Vineyard

Starting with shiraz – or syrah as French-leaning growers prefer. Barossa Valley is a prime source, with some of the world's oldest vines. Sites and soils vary, giving superb individuality to wines such as Hentley Farm's The Beauty (£41.50, barriquefinewines.com), where power is tempered by finesse, with an ever-lingering finish. Save that, especially any recent vintage, and open now The Blind Spot Syrah 2021 (£13, thewinesociety.com) from a tempting selection made by talented Mac Forbes for the society. From the cool Grampians region further east, it has layers of fruit and savoury spice.

Hentley Farm's The Beauty

Hentley Farm's The Beauty - Credit: Courtesy of the winemaker

Forbes' homeland is Yarra Valley, where his chardonnays and pinot noirs reflect the varied vineyard locations – seek them out at thewinesociety.com and vinofandango.co.uk. Margaret River is prime cabernet sauvignon land, and pioneer Vasse Felix remains a top producer more than 50 years on: current vintage 2018 (around £30, laithwaites.co.uk, winedirect.co.uk) is a minty/blackcurranty classic. But there's loads of that same fine regional cabernet character in Ringbolt (£10, Tesco).

Vasse Felix is available from Laithwaites

Vasse Felix is available from Laithwaites - Credit: Courtesy of Vasse Felix

For riesling, seek out cool Eden Valley, where Pewsey Vale (£14-£18, ocado.com, laithwaites.co.uk, henningswine.co.uk) shows off orange/lime fruit and age-worthy character. Yalumba Y Series (£8.50, Sainsbury's) is simpler and a touch more tropical – a good value, drink-now, if more generic introduction. For utter indulgence, finish a meal with marmalade-rich sticky yet fresh Heggies Vineyard Estate Botrytis Riesling (half-bottle £15, Waitrose).

Pewsey Vale Riesling from Eden Valley Australia

Pewsey Vale Riesling from Eden Valley Australia - Credit: Courtesy of Pewsey Vale