Is it harder to make great white wine than it is to make great red wine? Well, it’s certainly easier to pluck a cheap bottle of red off the shelf and for it to be, at the very least, drinkable. When scouring the options for whites, however, we’re in much shakier territory: there’s less room to hide for the winemaker, where skins and stems play no part in the process (unless we’re in so-called orange wine territory, where maceration with skins is involved in the same way as with red vinification), and the quality of the grapes becomes even more important. There’s less gubbins to hide poor grape juice.
That’s why, when I’m trawling the shelves of independents and supermarkets alike, I’m drawn hypnotically to one region I know is likely to outperform most on the price/quality quotient: Germany. (It’s also one of the reasons we’ve crammed the shelves at our John Dory wine shop in Kent with lots of riesling.)
The Waitrose Blueprint own-label (12%) is a great introduction to proper dry German riesling from the steep slate slopes bending around the Mosel River, and, at just £7.99, it’s well worth snaffling a couple of bottles for midweek aperitifs. Or kick things up a notch by trawling the encyclopaedic range at specialist importer The Winery, whose owner David Motion has an unrivalled selection, including Queen Victoria’s favourite from the Rheingau, and named after her, Victoriaberg from Weingut Flick (£21.99, 13%).
Whites from the southern Rhône, meanwhile, are often overlooked in favour of the region’s gutsy, flavour-packed reds, but they have plenty of heft and concentration for the price, such as the luscious 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 the roll call of varietals, but a big-impact wine.
I often find myself buying whites from the north-east corner of Italy, too, in particular from Friuli, which hugs the border with Slovenia. Everything there seems to deliver the goods, from top-level whites made by iconic producers such as Miani and Ronco del Gnemiz, all the way through to modestly priced yet creditable versions of pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc and friulano, the local indigenous grape (Italian specialist Passione Vino’s £16.99 ‘Le Pianure’ Bianco would make a great introduction to it).
And how about one of the priciest regions on the planet – where do wine-trade mavens spend their own cash when it comes to the sharper-priced side of Burgundy? I was recently charmed by one of the best-value chardonnays I’ve had for 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 by the case of 12, Lea & Sandeman, 13%) is the kind of white I’m happy always to have to hand in the fridge door. Meursault can wait until the next trade tasting.
Five of the best in-the-know whites
M&S Classics No 4 Pinot Grigio 2021 £7.50 Marks & Spencer (in store), Ocado, 12.5%. Boring grigio? This is several notches above the norm, with a whiff of red apple.
Viña Taboexa Albariño 2021 £9.99 Waitrose, 12%. Blisteringly dry own-label that over delivers in lip-smacking drinkability and zestiness.
Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Willi Haag 2021 £12.50 The Wine Society, 8%. Lushly textured Mosel gem that walks the tightrope beautifully between fruitiness and perky acidity.
Azul y Garanza Blanco 2021 £17 Modal Wines, 13%. White grenache with a splash of viura from the Basque district of Navarra.
Gavi di Gavi ‘Rovereto’ Picollo 2021 £21 Passione Vino, 13%. Pristine cortese from a winery that makes just this one wine – it converted me back to loving gavi.