And so it was with great joy I received an invitation to this year’s Aldi Christmas Wine & Spirit Event at the Sky Bar in London. This was a welcome perk of being a member of the Aldi Wine Club, an experience I would heartily recommend. Free wine, most delicious, and all sub-£10 which is worth keeping in mind when it comes to picking up your favourites around Christmas (more of which later). What’s not to like?
I have to say the event started in less than auspicious style when, on approaching the bar area, I was asked by a member of the Sky Bar’s management if I could move the coat rack further away from the entrance which I politely declined with the words “I’m here to drink.”
On entering the bar it was full of beautiful London types from Aldi, Clarion Comms PR and beyond. It was at this moment that I was secretly delighted to be mistaken for one of these beautiful young people so with a spring in my step it was on to the beverages.
After a quick chat with the wonderful welcome team I plucked a clean glass from the nearest table and set to work on the sparkling wine section.
First up was the Grand Mori Prosecco (available from16th Nov at £11.99 for 1.5l). This came in an impressive Magnum, adding to the celebratory feel of this increasingly popular drop of fizz. From Veneto in Italy it was very light and easy dinking with subtle pear fruit coming through. Not a revelation but Prosecco fans will love it and the bottle would look very grand on the table come Christmas morning. The Valdobbiadene Prosecco (£7.49) was awash with fresh orchard fruits but was crisp with a good aftertaste – classic Prosecco and brilliant with white peach puree in a classic Bellini cocktail.
Moving over to French fizz I kicked off with the Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut Rose (available form 16th Nov at £15.99) which had hints of cranberry and was very fresh. Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut (£9.97) was also crisp and tart with citric notes but the best of the bunch, particularly for the money was yet to come. At just £7.29, Philippe Michel Cremant de Jura is a total steal. Housed in a beautiful bottle this was lively and lemony with gorgeous smooth biscuit touches. Stunning value and my fizz of choice when Bollinger is just that bit too expensive. Which is pretty much always.
It was now time to make my way over to the white wine selection and what a treat I was in for. A few bowls of crisps and crackers were now finding their way out so with my appetite whetted, Old World classics were on my ‘must try’ list.
The Exquisite Collection (EC) Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie (£5.29) caught my eye straight away with its elegant bottle. As my Dad’s favourite white wine I was very interested to know how this would fare against the ones we’d got from France before. This Muscadet was not as sharp and crisp as some but was none the worse for it. It had a good, soft mouth-filling texture with more weight than most but still had plenty of zippy green fruit. Seafood of any kind will love this and it would make a great change from your usual Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay to go with smoked salmon or prawn starters on Christmas day.
The EC Gavi is a total bargain too at just £5.49. From North West Italy’s relatively cool climate this wine is packed with lemon fresh fruit and has a lovely smooth, easy drinking nature. As per the Muscadet this would be a delight with seafood too.
Two more interesting varieties were next up. The EC Clare Valley Riesling (£6.99) is a really classic example of this oft maligned but increasingly popular grape. Forget old German sweet versions, this wine has crisp lime fruit, the flavours of which made more vivid through the minerality (think wet stones – better than it sounds!) and great length of flavour. If there was a Thai green curry knocking about I would’ve been in heaven. Also great with Asian dishes would be the Freeman’s Bay Pinot Gris (£5.69). This was not as refreshing as the Riesling but was a slightly more flavoursome version of Pinot Grigio (actually the same grape) so worth a try if you like that.
The EC Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (£7.99) is a recent gold medal winner. One sip of this classic, gooseberry filled wine and I could see why. There is also a savoury note here but this adds interest to the grassy, green sprightliness. Lovely. Premium Cuvee Sancerre is a real classic French Sauvignon Blanc. Not cheap at £11.99 but you’re getting real finesse here. There’s stunning lemon, lime and grapefruit with a fine, crisp finish and flavour that just keeps on going. Great stuff for a New Year’s Eve treat with shellfish platters or simply a fine aperitif.
And finally for the whites it was off to Chardonnayville. The EC Limestone Coast Chardonnay (£5.79) is superb value and has subtle notes of pineapple and peach mingling together. Not dissimilar to the Andre Vannier Chablis (£8.99) which adds a crisp note to the tropical fruit. But the real revelation to me was the Pays d’Oc Chardonnay (£4.99). This was stacked with warm peach and melon and had a gorgeous rich mouthfeel. But don’t think this would be too rich, there was a beautiful freshness at the finish enticing you in for another sip. Fantastic stuff, so much so I’m reluctant to sing its praises too highly but I think it’s my duty to do so. Just leave some on the shelves for me please.
Yesss, it’s time to tell you about the impressive array of reds Aldi have in store. From some inexpensive party bottles to great value classics, they’re all here. Let’s dive in…
Toro Loco (£3.59) is a perennial favourite in the Rebel household. It’s a lovely, easy drinker with soft berry and cherry fruit and at this price makes a great Sangria (when it’s not horrible outside, so a Wednesday in June then) or simple midweek accompaniment to bangers and mash or a plate of cold meats and cheese on the weekend. The Toro Loco Reserva (£4.99) is also available right now and adds more spice and complexity to the fruitiness of the standard Toro Loco. Great value at less than a fiver this would go admirably with a hearty beef stew.
Still in Spain it’s time to take the flavour up a notch. Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserva (£5.49) is ridiculously good value for a Reserva. Aged for a year in oak and two in bottle, this has classic raisiny dried fruit, red berries and a lick of spice. Superb with roast lamb. The EC Ribera del Duero (£5.99) had grippy tannins and decent fruit but I think needed a rib of beef with all the trimmings to tame it. I made do with some delicious Aldi smoked meats which helped tame it a bit. But the pick was The EC Rioja Reserva which is a fabulous classic, rich Rioja chock full of plums and figs wrapped up in a blanket of Christmas spices. Oh yes.
Next up was a trio of Pinot Noirs. This grape makes some hauntingly beautiful wines in Burgundy but unless you’re Simon Cowell the prices are usually out of reach. Thankfully the three pinots here can be had for the price of a London pint (ok, and a bag of pork scratchings in the case of the NZ one). They may not have the complexity of the Cotes de Nuit but are delicious nonetheless. Vignobles Roussellet (VR) Pinot Noir (£4.39) is soft, supple and easy drinking with strawberry flavours to the fore, very nice. Oh yes the VR Malbec also at £4.39 is another top buy with its blueberry fruit dancing across the mouth. Estevez Pinot from Chile (£4.99) had bigger fruit and a green pepper tang and a long, dry finish. I think a duck breast in cherry sauce would be blinding with this wine, which tastes far more expensive than it is. Finally the EC New Zealand Pinot Noir (£6.99) has lots of brambly fruit and that green pepper edge again but was slightly fruitier. A really classic example of Kiwi Pinot at far less than the usual £10-£15.
EC Malbec (£5.99) was a big hit with my new found wine friends from the Aldi Wine Club with warming blue and black fruits and spice. Andara Merlot (£3.99) and Estevez Cabernet Carmenere (£4.99) were both well balanced and easy to drink with blackberries and raspberries prominent respectively.
Off to Antipodean climes the EC S. E. Australian Shiraz (£5.99) was a bit thinner than I expected but still had sprightly raspberry fruit whereas the EC Limestone Coast Cabernet (£6.49) was loaded with big blackcurrant layers and eucalyptus balancing out the richness. A total classic of this type and stupidly cheap too. Showing the French that a thing or two, the EC Hawke’s Bay Bordeaux Blend (£6.99) had good tannic structure but perhaps more fruit than its Gallic cousin.
And so we have a seamless (ahem) link to the French big hitters on the table. The EC Fleurie (£6.49) will please lovers of light, elegant wines no end. This has nice touches of redcurrant and strawberry and can be served lightly chilled if wanted. Great with a roast chicken dinner but equally at home washing down a pork pie. The EC Plan de Dieu (£5.79) is a much stronger beast with big tannins but still oodles of red fruit but the real heavyweight here is the Domaine la Pere Papite Chateauneuf du Pape (£14.99). Although these Grenache dominated wines can be a big clunky, this one was really soft and fruity with smooth tannins and all round great balance. A real pleasure and worth the price especially for the big day or any time you’re whipping up a classic roast of any kind.
The final two are true Italian classics. The EC Valpolicella Ripasso (£7.99) is a beauty. Fresh red fruits abound with spice and a mellow finish. This wine NEEDS lasagna. You know what to do. La Altelana Barolo (£9.99) is just what you’d expect from the Nebbiolo grape. Very dry in the mouth, this wants a big beef and mushroom casserole to calm it down but the roses, red fruits and streak of tar are representative of this crowd-dividing grape. Great value for a Barolo, if you’ve not tried it you should. You might hate it or it might change your life. Now isn’t that a gamble worth taking?
After a much needed water and dry cracker break the final leg was on. The EC Muscat de St jean Minervois (£4.99 for 50cl) arrives on 16th November and had very rich, grapey flavours and is a bargain for such an excellent sweet wine. Berton Vineyards Botrytis Semillon (£5.99) from the brilliant Bob Berton had sweet tropical fruit but a streak of acidity to keep things eminently drinkable. For something a bit different Evinor Tokaji Aszu 5* (£16.99) had marmalade and a sweet ‘n’ sour edge which kept it the right side of cloying. Interesting stuff and I think would be ace with Crepes Suzette.
Four Maynard’s Ports completed the list. From the lovely spicy raspberry and cherry fruit of Maynard’s LBV (£8.99) to the big and soft hug in a glass courtesy of the 1989 Vintage (£19.99) it was all good. Maynard’s 10 year old Tawny (£9.99) was awash with rich raisin and caramel coated fig fruit whereas the 40 year old Tawny (£29.99) was even more sumptuous and rich. Utterly stunning. Whatever your taste and budget you really should get at least one of these for the festive season. And some Stilton.
There’s also a huge range of spirits and beers coming to a store near you soon but by then it was time for me to bid farewell to my new found friends and start making the kind of Christmas list I can get on board with.