Uncorked: wine’s ‘secret’ best buys

Our resident wine expert, Katie Gardner of Birmingham Wine School, goes in search of budget-friendly, hidden gems – and reveals seven bottles you really must try

For wine enthusiasts, the world of wine can be both captivating and overwhelming. With an array of options from different regions, grapes, and price points, it’s easy to get lost in the aisles of supermarkets, wine shops and online retailers. While big-name premium wines often steal the spotlight, there are hidden gems and budget-friendly alternatives that deserve recognition.

This month, we explore some of the best-kept secrets when buying wine, with a focus on affordable alternatives to some of the world’s top wines.

Explore Lesser-Known Regions
While Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Napa Valley may be synonymous with high-quality red wine, there are lesser-known wine regions producing exceptional bottles without the premium price tag. Consider exploring regions like Portugal’s Douro Valley, Spain’s Ribera del Duero wines, or Chile’s Colchagua Valley for excellent wines at a fraction of the cost.

Seek Out Lesser-Known Grapes
Instead of always opting for the usual suspects like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, venture into the world of lesser-known grape varieties. You might be pleasantly surprised by the unique flavours and affordability of wines made from grapes like Godello from Spain, Grillo from Sicily, or Carmenere from Chile. These wines often provide excellent value for money and get you out of your comfort zone trying new wines.

Opt for Second Labels
Many prestigious wineries produce second labels, offering wines made with the same care and attention to detail as their flagship counterparts but at a lower price point, perhaps using slightly younger vines, less concentrated grapes or using different wine-making techniques to their main wine. These wines can be an insider’s secret for those seeking exceptional quality without breaking the bank, particularly if you love Bordeaux wines.

Let’s delve into seven wine recommendations that offer tremendous value compared to their premium counterparts:

1. Alternative to Champagne – Don’t dismiss Cava from Spain, which is made using the same traditional method as Champagne. It may have garnered a negative reputation in the past, but look beyond the two main brands and you can find some gems!
Try: Vilarnau Gaudi Organic Cava Brut Reserva, Penedes, Majestic £11.99 on mix six

2. Alternative to White Burgundy – A bottle of chardonnay from the prestigious region of Burgundy in France can set you back hundreds of pounds for a bottle. Margaret River in Western Australia is known for its premium, European-style wines at a snip of the price. Forget the heavily-oaked styles of the 90s, these wines are subtle and elegant.
Try: Howard Park Miamup Chardonnay, Sainsbury’s £12

3. Alternative to Red Burgundy – Pinot Noir from Burgundy’s Cote des Nuits sub-region is some of the most expensive wine in the world. It’s an enigmatic grape that can be tricky to grow and to get right. Instead take a trip further south to the region of Beaujolais. These delicious, light-bodied and fruity reds are made from the Gamay grape. Top tip: look for one of the 10 ‘cru’ villages for the best quality, such as Morgon, Fleurie and Brouilly.
Try: Georges Duboeuf Fleurie, Tesco £13.50

4. Alternative to Bordeaux – This is a region where the second labels of top producers can show off the magic of the left bank for excellent value for money. For the wine recommended below, see if you can find any 2010 vintage – it’s a corker!
Try: Chateau Citran ‘Moulins de Citran’, Haut Medoc, Majestic £16.99 mix six

5. Alternative to Chablis – Chablis is a classic wine, but depending on the vintage it can come with a hefty price tag. If you’re in search for an elegant, mineral-driven white, try some of the other cool-climate countries of northern Europe, such as this lovely native Austrian grape.
Try: Specially Selected Gruner Veltliner, Aldi £7.29

6. Alternative to Sancerre – Sancerre is a premium sub-region of the Loire Valley, and along with Pouilly-Fume, is the spiritual home of Sauvignon Blanc. Thousands of miles away in the Leyda Valley in Chile, cooling ocean breezes from the Pacific Ocean provide the grape with the perfect home away from home and the wine drinker with fantastic value.
Try: Leyda Single Vineyard Garuma Sauvignon Blanc, Tesco £11

7. Alternative to Amarone – Amarone is one of the top wines from Northern Italy, with big, blockbuster flavours and plenty of concentrated flavours, which all-to-often also comes with a hefty price tag. Travel the length of Italy all the way to the heel of the boot and find the rich, full-bodied wines of the South. Primitivo from Puglia is a particular favourite of ours!
Try: Morrisons The Best Primitivo £8.75

Birmingham Wine School is an independent wine education company that offers fun informal wine tasting events and Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses online, in Birmingham and Warwick. For more information contact Katie Gardner: 0121 270 7359, or visit www.birminghamwineschool.com.