Building columnists road-test wines for Christmas
Building invited regular contributors Gus Alexander, Rudi Klein, Andrew Hemsley and Tony Bingham for a Christmas wine tasting, writes Lucia Graves. They were asked to bring along two bottles of wine each, one costing about £5 and the other about £10. Oddbins of Farringdon nominated another two bottles. The panel assembled at Gus Alexander's office near Farringdon and a bucket was placed in the centre of the room to serve as a spittoon.

The panel started on the clarets and went on a circuitous route through the bottles to finish with the white wines, trying to contrast qualities of wines from the same region. The results varied wildly: the drinkers' tastes were often very different. At the end of each test, marks out of 10 were awarded for quality and value.

It was generally agreed that the Australian Mt Benson Shiraz was the winner, for both taste and value. At £8.99, it might stretch the resources of the host, and the colourful label does not inspire confidence, but it was an unexpected success across the board, and one that the whole panel will be buying again.

Has the session changed the panel's wine-buying habits? Andrew Hemsley confessed to having been in a wine rut: "I thought claret was everything – you tend to retreat into comfortable areas and not try anything new. Now I think I would buy the Shiraz and the Rioja, which were surprisingly interesting."

All the wines we tested were from Oddbins, but chain wine merchants do not usually win the approval of the panel. Andrew Hemsley is enthusiastic about supermarket wine, pointing out:

"At my local off-licence, the temperature is about 90°C. The wine gets cooked. Supermarkets put special labels on good wine, and you can get a really good bottle for £5." Rudi Klein, on the other hand, advises going to a professional wine merchant, such as Tanners of Shrewsbury, which can offer advice on the right kind of wine for a particular occasion.

No1 Bordeaux (Dourthe) 1998, £5.99
Tony Bingham's choice (he is a claret aficionado)
Gus Alexander It has a tannin taste. Too expensive for what it is.
Andrew Hemsley Not a bad wine for a drinks' party, bearing in mind that it's only £5.99. I'd give it 6 out of 10.

Overall score 4/10

Chateau La Cardonne Cru Bourgeois 1997, £9.99
Tony Bingham's second claret
Tony Bingham Ideal for an experienced red wine drinker. It is special and different, and not to be recommended to someone unfamiliar with wines.
Gus Alexander Smoother and more mellow than the first claret.

This is the one I am going to buy again. I would happily drink this until I fell over


Overall score 8/10

Dolcetto d'alba Gianni Gagliardo 1999, £9.99
Andrew Hemsley's choice
Gus Alexander Italian wine tastes better in Italy. Having said that, I don't mind it.
Rudi Klein I usually look for Chiantis and Bardolinos, but I enjoyed this: 8/10.

Overall score 5/10

Cranswick Estate Shiraz 1999, £4.99
Oddbins of Farringdon's choice
Andrew Hemsley Good for stripping doors. You could buy the same in plastic barrels in a French hypermarket.
Tony Bingham I'd like to give it to one or two adjudicators I met this year, in the sincere hope I will not meet them again.

Overall score 1/10

Chardonnay Histonium 1998, £4.99
Andrew Hemsley's choice
Andrew Hemsley The good thing is that it is innocuous. It is made for drinking in All Bar One.
Rudi Klein I would rate this more than meths – but not much.

Overall score 2/10

Andes Peaks Merlot 2000, £4.69
Rudi Klein's choice
Andrew Hemsley Surprisingly innocuous for a Chilean red. They tend to be more aggressive. It is flat and uninteresting, like eating brown bread with nothing on it. I'd prefer some mayonnaise.
Gus Alexander I'd not find this disappointing at a party.

I used to be a meths drinker. I’ve tasted better meths than this

Rudi Klein on the St Veran vieilles vignes de roche

Overall score 5/10

Cape Jaffa Mt Benson Shiraz 1998, £8.99
Oddbins of Farringdon's choice
Tony Bingham Absolutely gorgeous and fruity, with a deep colour. This is the one I am going to buy again. I would happily drink this until I fell over.
Andrew Hemsley Too rich for me.

Overall score 8/10

Pinot Grigio La Casona 1999, £3.99
Gus Alexander's choice
Gus Alexander All of the quality of Artex, but none of the texture. If you were hot, it'd be OK, like Coca-Cola.
Tony Bingham This is the kind of wine you'd buy for £10 in a pizza parlour.

Overall score 2/10

St Veran Vieilles Vignes de Roche 1998, £10.99
Gus Alexander's choice
Tony Bingham Worth it at £10.99.
Rudi Klein I used to be a meths drinker. I've tasted better meths than this. (0/10)

Overall score 5/10

Campo Viejo Gran Reserva 1993, £10.99
Rudi Klein's choice (he recommends that you pay £12 or £13 for a good bottle of Rioja and make sure it is a gran reserva)
Tony Bingham An evocative and professional wine. If you knew your wine, you would like this. It smells of Christmas.
Andrew Hemsley Almost like mulled wine. Smoother than I thought, but I would not pay £11 a bottle for it.
Gus Alexander Big and fat.

Tips from the tasters

  • Save the label of any bottle you really enjoy, so that you can buy it again.
  • Treat yourself at Christmas: spend what you would in a restaurant for a bottle of wine from a wine shop and enjoy something really good.
  • Look out for offers in magazines. Some of the mixed cases are good value.
  • Don’t play by the rules. Choose a wine that you like, not a white wine for fish and a red for meat.