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On the Bottle: Better quality doesn't have to be much more expensive

Helen encourages wine lovers to look that little bit harder for something that's good as well as cheap

Valpolicella vineyards
Valpolicella vineyards

I ordered a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo in an Italian restaurant the other day, the cheapest red on the list. It washed down our pizzas just fine, but beyond the fact that it wasn’t especially acidic or tannic and had a vaguely fruity smell that’s I can say about it.

I got what I paid for; but if you know where to look and are willing to pay a little more, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be much more interesting.

Contesa, Vina Corvino Montepulcino d’Abruzzo 2013 (£7.50 from the Wine Society) is a perfect example. A vivid purple instead of the dull ruby of the restaurant wine, it bursts with sweet and sour cherry fruit, has a satisfyingly full body and depth of flavour, but is still as cheap as the proverbial chips.

The main reason for the difference between the two wines is that Montepuliciano, a grape variety native to central Italy, crops heavily. Unchecked, it’ll produce a lot of fruit, but its wine won’t have much flavour or concentration. Rein it in a bit and all its fruit and fun emerges.

It’s a choice that faces winemakers the world over: go for bulk and lose flavour or make a smaller quantity of something more flavoursome. The bottom line, as ever, is what the consumer is prepared to pay for something a wee bit better, yet as the Wine Society’s Montepulciano shows, that extra premium needn’t be very much more at all.

Soave - an impressive walled town and increasingly good white wine
Soave - an impressive walled town and increasingly good white wine

Pinot Grigio is an even better example of a wine that is produced at the lowest possible cost in the greatest possible quantity, but is capable of far finer things with a touch of restraint. If I owned a hat I’d take it off to my colleagues in the industry who buy Pinot Grigio in bulk for the pub trade and somehow manage to ensure that it’s worth drinking (just).

Italy has more than its fair share of wines that have sullied their reputations by growers who’ve chosen quantity over quality. Taste the real thing and the difference can be quite a revelation: Soave Valpolicella and Chianti all shown what I mean.

A couple of Soaves sold by Majestic have real character. Fattori’s Soave 2013 (£8.99) is crisp, and refreshing with the slightly smoky pear aromas typical of Garganega, the main grape variety in Soave. Inama Soave Classico 2013 (£14.99) is altogether more concentrated, intense and lingering, and while lacking nothing in freshness, has a richer, more mouth-filling texture too. It’s a grand wine.

Majestic is also the place to look for real Valpolicella. Valpolicella Classico 2013 from the excellent

Cantina di Negrar co-op (£9.99 at Majestic) has all the vivid bitter cherry fruit of Valpolicella at its best, combined with juicy acidity and just enough tannin to make it perfect with a huge range of savoury dishes.

My final wine this month is from Portugal and is another remarkable Wine Society bargain. Moscatel de Setubal, Adega de Pegões is made in an area just south of Lisbon from late-harvested, intensely sweet Muscat grapes.

What sets it apart from other wines in a similar way in France and Spain is that after fermentation, the juice is left for a long time with the spent skins and picks up a slight but unmistakably tannic, bitter taste, which is just enough to offset the intense sweetness of the wine, allowing it to finish dry in the mouth.

Time in French and American oak casks adds to its complexity. This fabulous, grapey, raisiny, baked-apple treat, has just enough acidity to be refreshing and is stunning with cheese. It costs just £8.50.

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