It took me a while to work out what the famous bon viveur André Simon's was on about when he said there are no great wines, only great bottles. Investors who depend on a wine to increase in value might point to an objective standard of greatness, but the weight of expectation is a heavy burden. Many an anticipated 'great' bottle turns out to be a disappointment, many a no-expectations a lovely surprise, all the more so when the ambiance is right and the conversation flowing. Maybe your experience of delicious bottles doesn't chime with mine, but I can confidently say that these are a few bottles that have delivered satisfaction in spades.
Ever since I bought a case of the enduring 2003 Le Soula, this nine-way fruit-salad blend from the Fénouillèdes in the Roussillon where France and Spain meet, has been a personal favourite. The 2008 Le Soula, £20.78- £23.95, Cambridge Wine Merchants (01223 568993), Roberson (020-7371 2121), Berry Bros (0870 9004300), shows complex herby aromas of basil and bayleaf while the rich, honeyed, stonefruit flavours are leavened by a refreshing saltiness that walks a tightrope between fruit and minerality. I had always been less impressed with the red until the 2008 Le Soula Rouge came along, £23.95, Berry Bros, Harrogate Fine Wine (01423 522270), Worth Bros (01543 262051), but the 2008 is a delicious drop of thyme-tinged, black-cherry fruit and damsony succulence.
One of the great advantages of southern reds is their capacity to bring a little liquid central heating into our lives. The southern Rhône packs a punch though the grenache grape in wines like the powerfully red-fruited and peppery 2010 La Bastide Saint Vincent Gigondas, £18.74 and the vibrant, blackberryish, cockle-warming concentration of the 2008 Lirac Rouge, Cuvée de la Reine des Bois, Domaine de la Mordorée, £19.95, Lea & Sandeman. The South of France is responsible for some broad-shouldered rugby types, not least the 2010 Château L'Hospitalet La Clape La Réserve, a blend from broad-shouldered ex-rugby player Gérard Bertrand that wears its heart of red fruits and garrigue herb on its muscular sleeve.
Venturing further south still, to the Iberian peninsula, Lea & Sandeman's recent, well-timed southern offering contains a vivid red from Montsant by the euphonic Acústic, Vinyes Velles, £14.75, whose strawberryish fruit and lipsmacking quality is made to accompany a robust daube of beef. Portugal is particularly good at powerful reds, both at the affordable level of the 2010 Quinta do Crasto Douro, £9.99, Majestic, a sweetly ripe and bramble-spicy Douro Valley blend, and, with greater refinement and richness, the excellent 2006 Quinta Vale D Maria, £19.99, Waitrose, all spicy, black fruitiness steeped in vanilla oak spiciness yet etched with refreshing acidity. Just great bottles.