A ‘feast from the East’: my picks from Lidl’s summer crop
You probably already know that both the German discounters offer some seriously good wines from time to time, at very special prices.
It’s how they’ve won the hearts of some of those shoppers who would normally turn their noses up at the random selection of bargain bratwurst, inflatable step-ladders and solar-powered breadknives.
Both Aldi and Lidl operate in different ways. Aldi still tends to have the better core wine selection, although Lidl is catching up, but the latter definitely trumps its rival for special promotions.
Lidl calls it a ‘wine tour’, although the range is normally themed to a particular region – and it’s all the better for that. The new wines always arrive on a given day – this time it’s July 26th – and stay on the shelves (in the wooden display cases) for a month or so until it’s all sold.
A couple of months ago, there was an unusually uninspiring selection, so I chose not to write about it (although there was, in fairness, an absolutely wonderful Outlook Bay Marlborough Pinot Noir, which I noticed is still on sale and may even be discounted now, if they are trying to make room for the new selection).
… perfectly priced for languid summer sipping …
This time, it’s a different story. There was a really impressive line up of wines, perfectly priced for languid summer sipping.
Lidl has a strong presence in Hungary, which also happens to be a brilliant place to find great value, well made wines. Their Hungarian buying team are advised by a British ‘Master of Wine’, Caroline Gilby, who’s also an accomplished plant-scientist and garden expert. In fact, she could probably make a decent fist of world peace, if only she had the time. At the press tasting, she was on hand to advise on some of the unusual Hungarian wines offered up this time around.
… enough character to take a serious fridge-chill …
My absolute favourite is pictured above, looking other-worldy. The UFO theme hints at the fun to be had in the bottle. Bolyki Egri Csillag (£6.99) is from a producer I met last year: Jani is a gentle giant, who appears largely self-taught and makes his wines in an old quarry that he inherited from his father. He also hosts a popular music festival and his artist friend designs the labels, which are some of the best I have seen. Caroline is a big champion of Jani’s wines and I can see why.
This wine is a blend of Hárslevelu, which is a really appealing, spicy, aromatic indigenous grape; Kiralylenyka, a relatively rare perfumed variety; Sauvignon Blanc and Rajnai Rizling, which is the Hungarian name for proper Riesling. That’s the detail you didn’t need. Now for the useful bit. It’s a relatively rich, textured, gently spicy blend of orchard blossom, pears and peach. There’s enough character to take a serious fridge-chill, so it’s perfect for the heatwave, and it’s properly versatile for summer salads, or barbecued chicken skewers. The Sauvignon element in the mix will satisfy lovers of that particular grape too.
… a guilt-free summer refresher …
Carpinus Tokaji Hárslevelu (£7.99) is another one to try. It’s unusual for two reasons: firstly, we tend to associate Tokaji with sweet wines, but dry whites are really making a name for themselves and, secondly, those dry wines tend to be Furmint, but this one is 100% Hárslevelu. It has a lovely, delicate, orange blossom and peach character, and it’s low in alcohol at 11%, making it a nice option for a guilt-free refresher.
If you’re feeling curious, I’d also try Tornai Juhfark (£6.99), which is a very obscure grape variety whose name has something to do with a ewe’s tail (sorry Caroline, I lost you at this point). Apparently, legend has it that newlyweds would drink it to ensure they got a boy rather than a girl. I’m not planning for either, but I did enjoy the wine’s minerality, and its slightly savoury feel. This is definitely a food wine and would work well with a fish dish.
Great quality Grüner Veltliner is a bit like buses at Lidl. One minute, there isn’t any. Next, two come along at once.
Domaine Wachau Grüner Veltliner Granit (£8.99) is a classic Grüner, with citrus and green apple crispness and a steely character that’s made for food. Ideal with oily fish, or a rich sauced chicken dish, it tastes like it should cost a fiver more than it does.
Although the Wachau Granit might be the better wine, I marginally preferred Pfaffl Neubern Grüner Veltliner (£8.99), which is a little bit friendlier and certainly a better option for drinking on its own. Riper citrus and lemon sherbet character, slightly peppery, this is a reasonably ‘big’ Grüner, that feels like a proper crowd-pleaser.
Turning to the reds, Pfaffl Granat St Laurent (£7.99) from Austria’s Niederösterreich, offered a nice light, bright, chillable, summer wine with ripe red cherry charm from a relatively unusual grape variety that feels very modish.
And for barbecued meats, I really liked another Hungarian option: Gál Tibor Ti Ti (8.99) is a big blend of Kékfrankos (otherwise known as Blaufränkisch), Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and another obscure indigenous variety, Kadarka. If it sounds like they couldn’t decide what to use, the opposite is true – it’s a beguiling blend. Rich, ripe, spicy black fruit, with a wholesome earthiness and smooth tannins make it a great match for a steak, or just a burger.
Finally, something French. It’s become quite tricky to get good Picpoul de Pinet. I’m not sure why, but a lot of it lacks character and the cheap ones are normally best avoided. Les Figuerettes Picpoul de Pinet (£5.99) is an exception. Fresh, lively, lemon zest and crisp green apple abound in this bargain charmer. It’s absolutely perfect for a summer seafood platter by the beach, or just a prawn sandwich in front of a bargain blow-up unicorn paddling pool (£4.99, I imagine …).