Is it more difficult to make a great white wine than to make a great red wine? Well, it certainly is easier to get a cheap bottle of red off the shelf and make it at least drinkable. However, when we look at the options for the whites, we find ourselves in much more shaky territory: there is less room for the winemaker to hide, where the skins and stems play no part in the process (unless we’re in the so-called orange wine territory, where maceration with the skins intervenes in the same way as in red vinification), and the quality of the grape becomes even more important. There are fewer gubbins to hide the poor grape juice.
Which is why, when I’m browsing the shelves of independent stores and supermarkets alike, I’m hypnotically drawn to a region that I know is likely to beat most on the price/quality ratio: Germany. (It’s also one of the reasons we stock the shelves at our John Dory wine shop in Kent with lots of Riesling.)
Own brand Waitrose Blueprint (12%) is a great introduction to dry German riesling from the steep slate slopes that line the River Mosel and, at just £7.99, it’s worth grabbing a couple of bottles for an aperitif between week. Or kick things up a notch by browsing the encyclopedic range of specialist importer The Winery, whose owner, David Motion, has an unrivaled selection, including Queen Victoria of the Rheingau’s favourite, named after her, Victoriaberg de Weingut Flick (£21.99 , 13%). .
Meanwhile, whites from the southern Rhône are often overlooked in favor of the region’s bold, full-flavoured reds, but they pack plenty of weight and concentration for the price, such as the delicious Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet (£14.95 Yapp Brothers, 13.5%), a richly textured blend of viognier, bourboulenc, clairette, roussanne and grenache blanc – phew, quite a list of varietals, but a wine with a big impact.
I also often find myself buying whites from the northeast corner of Italy, particularly from Friuli, which borders the border with Slovenia. Everything there seems to deliver the goods, from top-tier whites made by iconic producers like Miani and Ronco del Gnemiz, to modestly priced but creditable versions of pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, and friulano, the local (Italian) native grape. The £16.99 ‘Le Pianure’ Bianco from specialist Passione Vino would make an excellent introduction).
And how about one of the most expensive regions on the planet: where do wine trade experts spend their own money when it comes to the pricier side of Burgundy? I was recently wowed by one of the best value for money Chardonnays I’ve tasted in a long time, a Mâcon-Villages from father and son Robert and Damien Martin on a small estate in the village of Davayé: Domaine de la Denante (14 £.95). or £13.50 per case of 12, Lea & Sandeman, 13%) is the kind of white I’m glad to always have on hand on the fridge door. Meursault can wait until the next commercial tasting.
Five of the best known whites
M&S Classics No. 4 Pinot Grigio 2021 £7.50 Marks & Spencer (in store), Ocado, 12.5%. Boring gray? This is several notches above the norm, with a hint of red apple.
Taboexa Albariño Vineyard 2021 £9.99 Waitrose, 12%. Scorchingly dry own label offering delicious drink and taste.
Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Willi Haag 2021 £12.50 The Wine Society, 8%. Lushly textured Mosel gem that beautifully walks the tightrope between fruit and joyous acidity.
Blue and Garanza White 2021 €17 Modal Wines, 13%. White Garnacha with a touch of viura from the Basque District of Navarra.
Gavi di Gavi ‘Rovereto’ Picollo 2021 £21 Passione Wine, 13%. Pristine courtesy from a winery that makes only this wine – made me Gavi’s sweetheart all over again.