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Home Winners > Winners 2012 > HOUSE WINES: Red

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House Wines: Red

Lots of entries, lots of styles to choose from and a record number of Gold medals. This was a good year for House Reds


When you get as many wines sent in to one category as we did here, it gives you an interesting snapshot of which countries are still able to produce large amounts of cheap (well, sub-£5.50) wine. And on this evidence, Australia isn’t one of them – at least, not in any numbers.

True, the Five Foot Track Shiraz picked up a well-deserved Gold, but it was practically a lone voice. And it’s not that the wines were sent in, but rejected. With the strength of the roo-dollar, very few Aussies, it seems, are able to make wines to this kind of price point any more.

Instead, it was the vast vinous plonk factories of France, Spain and Chile that made up the majority of entries, and duly picked up most of the medals.

Interestingly, as with the House Whites, just about all the Golds were under £5. ‘The cheaper they were, the better they were,’ said Terroirs’ Emilie Courtois. ‘They just let the grapes speak for themselves.’

Further up the price scale the wines were often trying to squeeze more into the bottle than the fruit could stand – a bit like a middle-aged man trying to shoehorn himself into skinny jeans – with too much oak, and too much toasting of chips.

‘There are one or two here that taste like chip monsters,’ said consultant Peter McCombie MW, possibly creating a new children’s TV franchise in the process. ‘Inside the wine was some nice fruit, so why not save some money and let that shine through?’

One conversation that occurred across the tasting teams was ‘What exactly do you want a House Wine to do?’ Should it go with food? Drink on its own? Do both? Was it purely about value for money, or could you push the boat out a bit?

Unhelpfully, for anyone looking for a fast track to the beating heart of the on-trade, the answer to all of these questions, was ‘yes’.

Bar managers, such as Chris Weaver of The Folly, for instance were looking for ‘a softer, fruitier style, rather than something to go with food’, while restaurants, of course, tended to look for wines that were instantly appealing, but could go with a variety of dishes.

Hence, the tasters gave Gold medals to wines at ‘how do they do that’ cheap (like the Michel Servin Rouge) and ‘near the top end’ of the House Wine category’s price cut-off, like the Errázuriz Teno Block Merlot. They found simple bar-type ‘pour it cheap, drink it fast’ wines (like the Masseo Sangiovese/Merlot), and wines that had astonishing ambition for the money such as Adobe Carmenère – Emiliana following up its House White Gold with a Red here, to make a knock-out left/right combination.

‘If I was poured that for a house wine, I’d be really happy,’ said Practical Matters' Nicola Thompson. ‘You want wines with a bit of complexity – not something thin and insipid.’

That said, they weren’t looking to change the world or scare people off – it was felt important to come up with wines that were broadly within the comfort zone of potential customers. All in all, then, a balancing act between affordability and quality, drinkability and complexity, food-friendliness and gluggability. No wonder so many sommeliers look careworn.

‘House wines are tricky,’ mused Luigi Buonanno of Etrusca Restaurants with an existential angst that would have pleased Jean-Paul Sartre. ‘People think it’s just the cheapest wine, but then again it’s your business card. It has to set the tone for the rest of the list. The best wines here would be good for any wine list from top restaurants down to regular restaurants.’

‘You definitely need fruit for a house wine, but it’s good to see wines with some character and interest as well,’ agreed The French Table’s Sarah Guignard. ‘Customers need to be comfortable with house wines so you don’t want to be over-adventurous, offering anything too different.’

‘I would choose the fruitier styles and not at the very lowest prices because entry-level wines reflect your establishment.’ Mark Thornhill, The Bell, Fetcham

‘The average quality here is much higher than five years ago.’ Jan Konetski, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay