Bargain wines under a fiver not to be sniffed at
For the last five years at least, Asda wines have got better and better. I know this because I have tasted a wide range of the wines every year since 2008, and this year's tasting was the best ever.
The great highlight is the Extra Special range. They are the wines Philippa Carr, the Master of Wine in charge at Asda, stakes her reputation on. They are hand-picked, and many are made with the assistance (or perhaps more than that) of Philippa and her colleagues.
Starting at about £6 a bottle, these wines are consistently of inspired quality, and run other supermarket premium-wines very close indeed. The same is true of Asda's bargain wines, some well under £5.
"There are a lot of customers who enjoy wine but really cannot afford more than maybe £5 for a bottle," Philippa told me once. "Our job is to find good wines for this sort of price. It's what we do."
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And it is. There are some terrific sub-£5 wines at Asda, and I have included five of them in this selection.
Asda Sicilian Red at £3.98 is a true bargain, a wholesome, heathery party red based on sangiovese (the grape of Chianti) with perky blackberry fruit and a neat, dry finish.
Asda Beaujolais 2011 at £4.48 is one of the best "ordinary" wines from the 2011 Beaujolais vintage I have tasted this year. It is a bright, purple, raspberry-nosed glugger with masses of juicy fruit and a good grip. You get a lot of flavour for the money.
Extra Special South African Pinotage 2011 at £6.98 is an exceptionally likeable example of the Cape's indigenous grape, the pinotage – a hybrid created in 1925. You get an eager black-fruit ripeness that grabs the tastebuds with its richness, pungency and juiciness and finishes with a neat acidity. A Fairtrade wine that illustrates the grape's unique character very well.
Extra Special Old Vines Garnacha 2011 at £6.98 is a fun, juicy but substantial (14 per cent alcohol) and grippy red from Spain's Carinena region with artful oak enhancement. A good paella match.
De Bortoli Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 at £7.48 is an Australian wine of the best kind. It is intensely ripe with toasty-oaked blackcurrant richness, very much in the Aussie manner, but also finely weighted and balanced in what might be called the Bordeaux manner. Lovely special occasion wine at a good price.
Extra Special Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 at £7.98 is my ideal Chianti, darkly ripe and brimming with healthy dark savoury fruit in the traditional Tuscan juicy-grippy style with purity and natural balance mellowed by the years.
Les Estivales Rosé 2011 at £5.98 is one of the pink wines I've liked best this year. A shameless fluorescent colour, it's from the Languedoc and has wild strawberry perfume, lots of berry fruit and a very crisp edge. One of the few wines I can think of to match awkward summer dishes like salad niçoise.
Asda Marsanne 2011 at £4.47 is extraordinary. It is a humble vin de pays from a remote corner of Mediterranean France, with an old-fashioned label of the kind that can hardly inspire interest, but it's utterly delicious. The marsanne grape provides lashings of dynamic fresh fruit with intriguing tropical notes, and a keen lemony edge. It tastes twice as good as the price might lead you to expect.
Tukituki Sauvignon Blanc 2011 at £4.48 is Asda's very own budget New Zealand white, and it's a lot of wine for the money: nettly fresh, plenty of grassy sauvignon fruit, gentle acidity.
Extra Special Soave Classico 2011 at £5.98 has an attractive lemon-gold colour and a neat balance of blanched-almond richness and herbaceous white fruit. A really good example of this popular Verona dry white.
Extra Special Falanghina 2011 at £6.48 from Puglia in Italy's far south has sunny ripeness with a lick of nutty sweetness and a lemon twang.
Villa Ludy Albariño 2011 at £7.48 is from the Rias Baixas in the Spanish Atlantic province of Galicia. It's a vivid dry white with generous colour and a healthy cabbage-patch whiff with long, seaside-fresh white-fruit flavours.
Garden Route Chenin Blanc 2011 at £7.98 from South Africa has an approporiately floral aroma, followed up by rich but brisk fruit. A cunning contrivance of a breezy freshness and honeyed plumpness, finishing perfectly dry.
Asda Cava Rosada at £4.63 from Spain is smoked salmon in colour, eagerly fizzy and powerfully scented with strawberry. Amazing value.