A serious wine merchant stands or falls by the quality of its own-label or house wines. When I worked at Berry Bros & Rudd over 20 years ago, doing shamefully little to help make it the award-winning success it is today, my boss, Simon Berry, used to stress that any fool could source, market and sell a bottle of 1982 Ch. Lafite but it took real skill to do that with an own-label wine. This has to be pitch perfect both in terms of quality and of price and can’t rely on simply being a famous name.
We had a decent, if small, range in those days, headed then as now by the fabled Good Ordinary Claret (of which more below). It was nothing like as imposing as the current Own Selection, though, relaunched last month with more than 50 bright, shiny new wines, and each one a belter.
Buying director Mark Pardoe MW, stresses that the range is about authenticity, drinkability and value and, having tasted it, I cannot disagree. The wines are wonderfully well priced, too, but this hasn’t stopped Mark insisting on serious Spectator-only discounts, over 20 per cent in some cases.
The 2013 Good Ordinary White is a crisp, zesty, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux, made especially by Dourthe, one of the region’s top producers. Although not madly complex, it’s gratifyingly refreshing and pretty much hits the bullseye as an invigorating aperitif. And thanks to Mark Pardoe’s discount, it’s seriously good value. £7.50 down from £8.85.
The 2014 Sancerre, Domaine David Sauterau, is absolutely spot on and I’d be amazed to find a better example anywhere else at this price. I mean, quality Sancerre for less than 12 quid! Having been there for nine generations, this domaine knows its stuff. The wine is cold fermented (partly with wild yeast), spends three months on the lees and is bottled at six months old. I fair lapped it up. £11.65 down from £14.95.
The 2013 Chablis, Domaine du Colombier is deliciously expressive and yet another perfect example of both grape and region. With green apple, peach stone, faint whispers of honey and a keen minerality, this unoaked Chardonnay is everything Chablis AC should be. £11.75 down from £13.95.
Berrys’ greatest coup was to create its fabled Good Ordinary Claret in 1973. It has remained the company’s bestselling wine ever since and, as can be seen by the latest vintage, gets better with each incarnation. Bizarrely, Berrys’ failed to patent the name and Waitrose also boasts a Good Ordinary Claret. But accept no pale imitations. I’ve tried both wines side by side and the Waitrose GOC is a completely different beast, more ordinary than good, and not even close to the same league.
The current 2012 Good Ordinary Claret is a classic Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend also from Dourthe, crammed with all the blackcurrant, blackberry, cedarwood and tobacco notes one would expect from a claret twice the price. It is joyous stuff indeed and I drink buckets of it, especially at £7.50, down from £9.00.
The 2010 Rioja Crianza, Torre Demont-albo, made by sisters Maria and Cristina Amézola, is determinedly traditional with sweet, soft oak, gentle oxidative ageing and none of the over-the-top, bright primary fruit of some more modern examples. It’s very moreish. £9.95 down from £11.95.
Finally, there’s the 2011 Chianti Classico, Badia a Coltibuono, a typically Tuscan Sangiovese with added splashes of Canailo, Colorino and Cillegiolo. 2011 was a fine, warm vintage and there’s plenty of fleshy ripe fruit to enjoy here along with a tiny touch of spice and firm but subtle tannins. £11.65 down from £14.95.
The mixed case of two bottles of each costs £120, saving almost £30 off the list price. Thank you Mark! And delivery, as ever, is free.
Delivery, as ever, is free to mainland Britain, and there's a sample case containing two bottles of each wine. To view all other offers click here.