David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner Semillon, Elim, South Africa 2017 (£16.99, Waitrose) Dear old John Lewis is never knowingly underrepresented in the culture wars. Is it posh? Or – the shame of it – merely aspirational? That of course depends, depressingly, on your own class background and bank account. The retailer’s wine department certainly seems to work as a class barometer in the same way as its home furnishings division has been during the recent events involving the PM’s domestic arrangements: it seems posh to most of us, but rather more mundane if you’re more used to buying your wine by the case from a St James’s Street merchant. In reality, Waitrose’s buyers are very good at doing things at both ends of the spectrum – the very cheap and the very “fine” (AKA expensive) – and absolutely excellent at some of the pricepoints (£10 to £25) in between. David Nieuwoudt’s complex melding of leafy-greeness, minerals and ripe fruitiness from the South African ocean cool-climate enclave of Elim is very much proof of the latter.
Escarpment Pinot Noir 2017 (from £24.99, Majestic; Waitrose) The talented David Nieuwoudt is also the winemaker behind two other excellent Waitrose South Africans priced around the £10 figure that the retailer’s former managing director Mark Price once identified as the real sweet spot for wine-buying in the UK. Both the No 1 Foundation Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2020 (£9.99) and the No 1 Foundation Cederberg Syrah 2019 (£10.99) show all the elegant but vividly flavoured hallmarks of this producer’s high-altitude vineyards on Sneeuberg Mountain in the Western Cape. There’s also a feeling that Waitrose is a rather more reliable partner for its suppliers than some other retailers: so long as your wines make the grade, you’re unlikely to be ushered off the shelf at the first opportunity in favour of a sharp-elbowed rival willing to cut corners to meet a cheaper price. That’s good news for fans of New Zealand pinot of the supple, silky, luxuriously red-fruited persuasion perfected by long-running Waitrose partner Larry McKenna at Escarpment in Martinborough.
Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, France 2013 (£34.99, Waitrose) Proving that the retailer can do the everyday too, pinot lovers can get a hint of their favourite variety’s slinky lightness of touch in one of the best budget versions available in the shape of Waitrose Blueprint Romanian Pinot Noir 2019 (£5.99). And for a good value white partner, there’s an easy, subtly floral spring-time feel to the crisp dry Portuguese Waitrose Loved & Found Arinto 2019 (£7.99) from Estramadura, which is the kind of wine that might be filed under picnic. There may be no more apt sponsorship than Waitrose’s tie-in with the England cricket team. And that sort of genteel cream-tea patriotism is also in evidence in Waitrose’s longstanding support for the English wine scene, which includes planting its own vineyard in Hampshire. That’s the source of the fruit in the pleasantly racy, creamy apple-flavoured sparkling Leckford Estate Brut NV (£19.99), part of an extensive fizz range that also includes the gorgeously deep-flavoured, patisserie-rich all-chardonnay Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs.
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