There’s an obvious answer to what makes a wine useful: that it’s liquid. Alcoholic and supremely tasty are up there with the top reasons as well. We live in a really exciting time for wine drinkers, because the chances of picking up a bottle of badly-made wine have fallen dramatically. Useful is drinkable. That’s a good place to start.
But what makes a wine really useful?
Wines that could truly make a dinner party. A treat to delight and impress your guests. Something to introduce your friends to and start a conversation. A wine to bring your food to new heights of deliciousness. A cellar or refrigerator essential for the everyday and the exceptional.
Or it could just be a treat, all by itself. Some days, 5pm is a really good reason for a treat. Friday definitely is.
We put together a list of 12 wines – and a few alternatives – that we think are really useful. They cover styles for special occasions, for dinner parties, and those occasions when a friend has popped over. A useful wine to keep in the fridge.
Bordeaux is back. Yes, the top stuff is in the realms of the ridiculous, but there are brilliant buys to be found, just a little off the beaten track. And there’s a good reason to do it. Good Bordeaux (or Claret) is complex, thought-provoking and delicious with roasts.
A mature claret, Château Greysac from the Medoc is all these things and more. 2008 was a solid vintage, and while not beatified like 2005 or 2009, the wines are great value and this one is tasting fantastic now.
Dismiss New Zealand Sauvignon at your peril. Huge, tropical fruits and piercingly refreshing, these wines are perfect with friends and great conversation.
Massey Dacta captures the off-kilter spirit of New Zealand perfectly. Made by master-craftsman Ben Glover, it’s named for the childhood moniker for his dad’s Massey Ferguson tractor. Choc-full of glorious tropical fruit, gooseberry and citrus, it’s everything a New Zealand Sauvignon should be.
Rioja wines are a positive joy to drink. The reds come in four styles: Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran-Reserva. Joven – meaning young – sees the least age and these are fruity wines to enjoy young, up to Gran Reserva, which see a minimum of 24 months in barrel and another 36 in bottle before they’re released by the winery.
Ramon Bilbao’s Single Vineyard Rioja is towards the younger end, making it a great way to introduce yourself to the delights of Rioja. Gently-oaked and full of vibrant red fruits, it’s brilliant with tapas and an absolute treat with a rack of lamb.
Albariño might get compared to steely Chablis and Gavi, but it’s in a league of its own. Fresh and aromatic, albariño is the local hero of Galicia, also grown in Portugal where it is called alvarinho. Its hallmark is peachy wines with laser-fresh citrus fruit and a touch of spice.
Martín Códax Albariño not only gives me the opportunity to remember all my keyboard shortcodes for accents, acutes and tildes, but it’s a long-standing favourite of the Majestic range. Named for a legendary Galician troubadour, it’s a fantastic white wine and delicious with seafood – or just as a glass with friends.
Hey, don’t give me that look. The vegetarians out there can enjoy this wine every bit as much. For those who love a juicy, prime cut of finest Aberdeen Angus, though, there’s a really useful wine for you: Argentinian Malbec.
Marcelo Pelleriti’s eponymous Malbec comes from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, and from a rock-star pedigree. One of his 2010 vintage wines got a perfect 100-point score from Robert Parker. This Majestic exclusive is rich, full-bodied and choc-full of plum and blackcurrant fruit. Blinding with steak, beautiful on its own.
Take a sip of chilled Chablis. Feel that crisp acidity. Now do your best Blue Steel. Nowhere else in the world can make Chardonnay like this; cool climate, chalky limestone soils and kimmeridgian clay combined with a continental location.
Petit Chablis comes from a slightly broader area, and sometimes can offer great value – Jean-François Bordet is a 13th Generation winemaker with a commitment to top-quality in every wine he makes. That’s why this wine outscores many other higher grades of Chablis from other producers. It’s classic Chablis style, too – crisp, mineral, with a touch of apples and white blossom. Perfect with shellfish, but according to Jean-François it’s also very good with sausages!
You can find our 12 really useful wines, and some alternatives, online here. Look out for Part Two, where we’ll look at the final 6!