Here’s the round-up of my favourite drinks from Sainsbury’s that I tasted in January. From a genuinely exceptional Roussanne to a superb, value-for-money red from north-east Italy.

What to drink when you’re locked down and the weather’s crap? Well, in my case, a fair bit. I am always an advocate for shopping with your independent wine retailers, not in supermarkets. However, as most of us still buy our booze with our weekly food replenishment, wine writers can hardly ignore the elephant in the room.

So if you’re going to drink supermarket booze, you might as well try drinks that taste good.

Here’s my top finds from Sainsbury’s in January:

A genuine surprise: Bellingham ‘The Bernard Series’ Whole Bunch Roussanne, Limited Release, 2020

This white wine is part of Bellingham’s tribute to its founder, Bernard Podlashuk, who established the winery in 1693. Podlashuk was one of the men who shaped the South African wine industry in its toddler days. Today its overseen by head winemaker Richard Duckitt and assistant winemaker Mario Damon, with their estate based in the region of Franschhoek.

The rather attractive Bellingham ‘The Bernard Series’ Whole Bunch Roussanne from Sainsbury’s. The text reads: “To coax the juice from the russet Roussanne grapes requires the gentlest of treatment. To achieve this, our winemaker uses the traditional method of whole bunch pressing.” And continues: “Soft handling of the grapes and delicate extraction of the juice ensure that the true characteristics of this rarely single bottled varietal is articulated in the finest of detail.”

I chose this wine because I love Roussanne. It’s a grape variety that gives you all the richness of top Chardonnay but without the price tag. The issue is it’s hard to find a good one. At £10.25 a bottle, it’s arguably at the pricey end for supermarket wine but for good Roussanne it felt cheap, so I wasn’t expecting much.

2020, Bellingham ‘The Bernard Series’ Roussanne ★★☆ To my surprise, this is gorgeous. Made from fruit harvested in Paarl Paardeberg in the W.O. Coastal Region, the wine leads with a nose of orchard fruits and peach over cream. The texture is oily, filled with green mango, nectarine and pear to begin with, before herbaceous, fresh flavours and dabbles of spice come into play. Full bodied but still lean.

A good Pinot Noir example for the price: Sancerre Rouge Les Champs Clos 2019

Pinot Noir, as anyone who drinks it well knows, is a very difficult grape variety to master. However, if a winemaker manages it – and the vintage is favourable – Pinot Noir can convey a sense of ‘place’ more than most grapes. Light or medium bodied by its nature, there’s little space to hide, and so Pinot Noir from the Loire, Languedoc and Burgundy can taste worlds apart. Let alone the fab Pinot Noir wines coming out of the New World.

The very French-looking Sancerre Rouge Les Champs Clos Pinot Noir from the Loire Valley in Northern France. Not a bad Pinot Noir for the price!

Loire-grown Pinot Noir is at its finest in the sub region of Sancerre. The wines can be aged, as all good Pinot Noir deserves, but the style in Sancerre is generally more attractive in its youth than its Burgundy neighbours. Even better, you don’t have to get a second mortgage to afford a good one.

Having said that, finding great Pinot Noir in a supermarket is an enduring challenge. The Pinot Noir I tasted, Les Champs Clos, comes in at £13.00. That’s a very cost effective Pinot – if it’s good.

And it is, for the price.

2019 Sancerre Rouge, Les Champs Clos Pinot Noir ★☆☆ Aromas of bruised strawberries and a hint of pepper. Very juicy, almost “tooty-fruity” on the palate. Bright raspberries round into a clean finish; a little floral with tight acidity and some grape skin astringency. Have some lamb and it’s a winner.

Absolutely superb: Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Marzemino Trentino DOC 2019

Marzemino is one of Italy’s many indigenous grape varieties. It is grown all around Trentino-Alto Adige and produces wines generally with a deep colour but a light taste, mainly notes of fleshy red plums. It is perhaps most famous in its sweet Colli di Conegliano Refrontolo passito wines, made by drying the Marzemino grapes and concentrating its sugars.

Sainsbury’s have done well with their Marzemino; it’s not just tasty but a proper Italian-looking wine, with its fashionable and vibrant artwork depicting the rolling hills of Trentino. Hard not to pick it up and have a look.

In their dry style, Marzemino wines can be among Italy’s most easy-drinking reds. There’s a catch with that, as while easy-drinking is broadly appealing, it can often be boring too.

No chance with this one. Produced for Sainsbury’s by the co-op Cantina Viticoltori Trentino from its vines in the Dolomite mountains this is a very refreshing, moreish wine. Not to mention the wine is on offer at £7.00, reduced from £9.50, so it’s an absolute steal.

2019, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Marzemino Trentino DOC Deep colour with aromas of ripe cherries. Soft tannin on the palate (can even be chilled) with lively acidity to finish. Hints of strawberries. Drink it young with pasta in tomato sauce.

Not drinking? Try the new Caleño Dark & Spicy

It may be true that low and non-alcoholic drinks have exploded in the last couple of years, but the quality can be variable. When new ground is broken successfully, it is a natural part of a free market to expect people to take advantage of it.

The beautifully-designed non-alcoholic spirit, created by Ellie Webb and inspired by her Colombian heritage. Delicious with ginger ale over ice.

Thankfully there’s also teams like Caleño, founded by Ellie Webb to put the fun into not-drinking. Her non-alcoholic ‘Light and Zesty’ was a clear winner for me, bursting with enough intensity to taste it in a long drink but also enough complexity to sip it neat.

Now she has released Dark & Spicy, a darker tropical non-alcoholic spirit made with “a rich blend of pineapple, coconut, ginger, black cardamom, vanilla, kola nut & lime”. For me, it’s a great treat for the cold nights when I don’t want to crack open a bottle of wine. Mixed with ginger ale, it’s sweet, fruity and moreish. You can buy a 50cl bottle for £18.00 here.

All prices and offers correct 20/01/2021.