Is my bottle of Blue Nun a fine wine?

Is my bottle of Blue Nun a fine wine?

8th Oct 2010

How to cheat at buying fine wine.

The question thewineremedy team is most often asked, especially about expensive wines, is ‘is it really worth it?’ So called ‘premium fine wine’, the Lafite’s of this world, use a mixture of shrewd marketing and established reputation to justify their ludicrous price tag. Time to remortgage the house for this apparently divine wine? The answer, when it comes to wines costing thousands of pounds a bottle, is no way! At least not for us.

Saying that, if you are so super wealthy that you can afford £3,600 for a good bottle of Chateau Petrus (an uber expensive wine from Bordeaux) as easily as the rest of us stump up for a glass of Pinot Grigio, then it is worth it. Not least because you have the intense pleasure and satisfaction of knowing you can afford it. If, by contrast, we were loopy enough to sell our car in order to buy the same bottle, it’s likely we would be ‘slightly’ disappointed. It’s lovely we might think, but not that incredibly lovely that it’s worth a holiday for two in the Maldives. No wine is that heavenly!

It begs the question; if we are asked to pay this much because Chateau Petrus is a so called ‘fine wine’, then what exactly is fine wine. Can Jacobs Creek be classified as fine wine? What are the criteria? How do we distinguish fine wine from ordinary plonk, is it just the price tag? It’s a conundrum that foxed several journalists and winemakers at a fine wine conference we attended in April.

During the conference, the panel was asked by the audience to define what exactly constitutes fine wine. I have never seen a group of people find it so difficult to reach a concise global definition. Perhaps it is impossible to give one. Serge Hochar of the famous Lebanese wine Chateau Musar said that fine wine was a wine that would improve with age and continue to develop and fascinate.  He believes that a fine wine is never fine to start with. The others gave varying definitions, but no one could give a concrete definition of what fine wine is. The only thing everyone agreed on was that fine wine does need to be expensive.

Yes, fine wine does not need to cost the earth. Everyone present on the panel agreed with that statement. Very few of us would consider spending over 20-30 pounds on a bottle no matter how special it supposedly was.  For our part, we believe that fine wine is any wine that stays locked in your memory. You see it a month later at a wine merchant and buy it without hesitating; remembering how much pleasure it gave you. Anything instantly forgettable is not fine.  It’s a wine with complex, varied flavours and a delicious taste. It’s a wine that immediately makes you want to buy more, or maybe the entire vineyard. It does not have to improve with age and can often be ready to drink when you buy it.  If it does improve and you can be patient, then so much the better.

Wine is, of course, a matter of personal taste.  People sometimes tell us that they are content with the mass-produced wines sold in supermarkets – Jacob’s Creek, Blossom Hill or Blue Nun. If you like those then you’ll save a lot of money.  But we suspect that most people when asked to compare even a New Zealand Sauvignon with Blossom equivalent will not only tell the difference but prefer first. It’s a zillion times nicer to drink.  Blue Nun a fine wine? Definitely not, there is little real flavour and taste, just sugary sweetness. Can Beaujolais be a fine wine? Absolutely, if it’s well made. Lovely flavours and it’s unique in the wine world.

So what’s the difference between fine wine and plonk? We believe it’s the pleasure the wine will give you. Well made wines with love and care taste better and are more pleasant to drink.  These are the fine wines of the world, unique, carefully crafted wines with fantastic flavours and a lasting impression. We happen not to like most of the big, mass-produced branded wines – not out of snobbery, but because they taste mass produced and pretty much of nothing at all.  For us, a bottle of Blue Nun wouldn’t be ‘worth it’, simply because we would not enjoy drinking it. We’d prefer a coffee.

In essence, whether a wine is ‘worth it’ depends on juggling so many different factors and occasions.  Expensive wine at an Indian restaurant is not worth it, as most Indian food overwhelms wine flavours.  Stick to beer we say. If you are celebrating a special birthday or you got that promotion you wanted, then a moorish bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc seems a snip at £15.

The good news is that it’s perfectly possible to ‘cheat’ at fine wine buying and purchase great wines that don’t cost a bomb.  Far from it.  It would be fair to say that we have tasted plenty of super expensive disappointments. We have chosen 5 wines which are, in their entirely different ways delicious. They are wines that made us happy. They are mostly under £15.  They have that almost indefinable quality, the distinction which makes them stand out from the crowd. They were chosen from 100’s of wines we have tasted in the last 6 months.  It was an agonising choice, but after long and painful thoughts, here are our top five fine wines. Our personal favourites are the Saint–Veran and GSM.  We hope they give you as much pleasure as they gave us!


2008 Domaine Jacques & Nathalie Saumaize, Saint-Véran 'En Creches', Saint-Veran, Burgundy, France, £11.95

Mention Burgundy to most people and their first thought often is:  'oh yeah that very expensive wine region.’  Well this wonderful Saint-Veran (Chardonnay) from the Mâconnais in southern Burgundy disproves the rule. Winemakers in this region have to try that bit harder as they don’t have the prestige of the more famous regions further north. It offers superb value - vanilla, citrus and toast on the nose with ripe apple and citrus on the palate. We really like the lovely plumpness which flows from this popular appellation, a perfect wine for white fish or chicken. Exceptionally good value!

2009 Esporao, White Reserva, Alentejo, Portugal, Charles Hawkins and Partners Ltd, (0)1572 823030 £10.95

Esporao is one of the leading estates in Alentejo, increasingly the place to look for fine red and whites wines in Portugal.  We like the reds from Esporao but our favourite is the white Reserva, a rich full bodied dry white wine with depth and complexity resulting from fermentation in new French oak. The wine is a blend of indigenous Portuguese grape varieties, Antão Vaz, Roupeiro and the usefully lemony and high in acidity Arinto. A rich and creamy palate is balanced by good acidity; there is a wonderful zesty character and notes of lime and vanilla on the finish. Impossible to dislike, easy to love, we would drink it with bqq white fish.


2008 Whistler Wines, The Black Piper GSM, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia, £18.95

Thewineremedy team had never sampled Whistler Wines until June this year, when we tried their entire range at our local wine merchants. We remember being really impressed as their wines are uniformly excellent, but the Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend stood out as being top of the class. These varieties are native to Southern France and the Rhone valley. The first thing that hits you when tasting is the texture, incredibly soft and silky with an underlying sweetness. Raspberry, damson and spice dominate the nose giving way to a very rich but structured palate.  Perfectly ripe tannins and exceptional length. Try it with roast duck.  

2006 Le Riche, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch, South Africa,  £23.99

Cabernet Sauvignon, the great grape of the Medoc region in Bordeaux is grown round the world. We have tasted many examples from South Africa, and this came out top. This full bodied, elegant wine is very powerful on the nose and full of intense ripe fruit. The palate is rich but structured, this wine will definitely age. But then who could bear to wait? Lovely blackcurrant, cassis and dark chocolate on the palate with a distinct vanilla and spice finish. The wine deserves roast lamb.

2008 Sacred Hill, Syrah, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, Sainsbury’s £8.99

Hawkes Bay in New Zealand is increasingly renowned as producing some of the best red and white wines in the country today. It’s a region that offers fine wines are affordable prices. This Syrah from the world class winemaker Sacred Hill is exceptionally fine. Intense and concentrated with beautiful raspberry, blackcurrant fruit on the palate and a touch of black pepper. Very silky texture and long finish. Perfect with beef and venison.


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