El Vino is the celebrated, even revered, wine bar in Fleet Street. Lawyers and the crustier type of journalist drink there, usually selecting wines from the old reliables: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne. Château Thames Embankment is Rumpole’s soubriquet for their house claret, and very good it is too. But El Vino now has several other branches, and they attract a younger crowd, more likely to go for lively, fruity New World wines. The company now combines tradition and innovation with considerable success.
So we can start with the two house wines, the red Velvin (6) and the white Choisi de Boyier (1). They’re not allowed to say so, but I can — the postcode on the label reveals that both wines are made in the Côte d’Or, and both are overproduction of Burgundy. Strict French laws mean that only a certain amount can be sold as vin de Bourgogne, but in an overflowing year they have to do something with the rest, so they sell it to us. Obviously we’re not looking at La Tâche or Le Montrachet here, especially not at these low prices, but if you’re wanting a pair of really nice wines — Pinot Noir and Chardonnay — for summer glugging, you would go a long way to find better.
The next pair come from South Australia and they are terrific bargains. Woodstock is a company that makes some truly excellent wines, but they’ve decided to stop selling in the UK in order to concentrate on the Chinese market. So Anthony Mitchell of El Vino is clearing his stock through very generous discounts. For example, the delicious Woodstock Five Feet White 2005 (2) is now £7.75 a bottle, or £30 a case off. It’s a blend of Viognier and Riesling, and is a fine drop at a very modest price.
The same company’s Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (7) is a wonderful and mature wine, reduced by £2.30 to an astonishingly modest £6.95. I have tried it on friends, neighbours and family members, and they all had happy smiles as they sipped. It will remind you of a first-rank Côtes-du-Rhône, being spicy and herby and with that gorgeous heady perfume you associate with far more expensive wines such as Gigondas and Vacqueyras. Another, literally, unrepeatable bargain.
There is a tenner a case off the High Wire Verdelho 2005 (3) from the Hunter Valley. Verdelho is a Portuguese grape, and some pretty mediocre bottles are made from it, not least because the fruit is often picked too soon and the wines not allowed to develop. Whereas in Australia they make the wines with love, care and time. It makes a delicious change from better-known grapes, and brings lime, honeysuckle and lychees. You really should try it, if only in the sample case.
The Dancing Sun Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (4) from New Zealand is a favourite with El Vino’s customers. The vineyard is near to the greatly over-priced Cloudy Bay, and used to supply them with some of their grapes. Then they decided that with such a terrific product they should make their own wine under their own label. It is marvellous. Demand is high, so the deduction is just £6 a case.
The people I offered the Viu Manent Malbec Rosé 2006 (5) loved it. Malbec is a grape that is packed with flavour, so as a cold pink wine it manages to be delicious, rich and full — and very refreshing. Anthony has knocked off £1 a bottle — tremendous value.
Finally another huge bargain. Château Beausite 1995 (8) is a cru bourgeois (one step down below the grands crus) from St Estephe, and it’s a beauty. Anthony has knocked off £48 a case simply because the wine is now at its peak, and probably has one more year to go before it starts a slow decline. Right now it is scrumptious drinking. I don’t know where else you might find a 13-year-old Bordeaux as good as this at a remotely similar price.
Delivery, as ever, is free, and there is a sample case containing two bottles of the six pric-ier wines. There is a further £1.50 off each case if you buy three cases or more.