House wines have earned a reputation over the years of being somewhat uninspiring, simply offering the more frugal customer the chance to wash down their meal with some well-meaning plonk that will neither disappoint or delight.
A few weeks ago, however, I was invited to the Berry Bros. & Rudd Sussex Cellar to try their new Own Selection range, which now includes 60 individual wines as well as Madeiras, Ports and Sherries. The motivation behind their Own Selection? To offer benchmark examples of the world’s best wine that are both good quality and value.
Sourced from individual growers, great emphasis is placed on the producers who are name-checked on the label, as well as the buyers, to underline the close connections between buyer and supplier. These wines are not bound by price-pointing; they are just really good examples of what the wines should represent, from the more humble to the esteemed.
My favourite wines for winter 2015:
Russell and I are a sucker for a good Chilean Merlot, and this was no exception. A little bit too easy to drink, this soft red smells of plum and damson. Prepare for big flavours and a smokey finish with hints of blackberry. It makes the perfect partner for mid-week suppers, especially red meat.
Chilean Sauvignon Blanc
If you're a Sauvignon Blanc fan, you'll fall in love with this wine. With refreshing notes of green fruit and grass, it's perfect for pairing with fish. The wine will also cut through rich flavours, so try with goat's cheese to give the illusion of a light dish.
Sicilian Nero d'Avola
Reflecting the increasing interest in Italian wine, this organic option is made by a small cooperative on the northern part of the island. With aromas of pepper and plum and a silky texture containing refreshing cherry flavours, it's ideal with antipasti dishes.
The star of the show. I'm a sucker for dessert wine, and this Hungarian variety is deliciously sweet. With overtones of ripe pineapple to give a sharp twist and a honeyed peach aftertaste, this wine would works just as well with dessert as it does with rich plates of pate, duck and blue cheese. Serve slightly chilled for best results.
United Kingdom Cuvée
Containing a classic blend of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, this sparkling wine smells of freshly baked brioche and blooming flowers with an elegant palate of lemon grass, gingerbread and honeysuckle. Drink chilled as it is, on its own.
20-Year-Old, Tawny Port
This wonderfully rich port has been aged for over twenty years in wooden barrels before bottling, giving it a complex nutty flavour. Don't wait until Christmas - this port is perfect for lazy Sundays sitting in front of the fire.