Wines for casual drinking are a must. Wines we must have. Wines to live by. In metaphorical terms, the straight-trotting, post-work-horses we routinely dismount at the Relaxation Ranch without pondering too much over what's just galloped from palate to gullet. Wines to be had for fewer guineas. Wines we really do drink.
Wines white, red, rosé and bubbly. And while the options are many, the criteria for what makes an ideal wine for casual drinking remain conveniently modest. As they must be. After all (and indeed an exasperating day in the office), who's got time for criteria when feverishly drilling through cork?
Casual Drinking Criteria
Still, the criteria for best casual drinking wines is this: simplicity, authenticity, pleasure, price. You smell it, you taste it, you feel it, and all for gratifyingly less. One of Life's Simple Pleasures in a vinous state. Therefore, the following factors will determine how easily you'll meet the criteria and achieve your desired state (which is to say a state markdly better than the one you were in before you pulled the cork).
Fruity, fruitier, fruitiest. Fresh, floral aromas, and in some cases a nice little lick of sweet oak spice – that's it. No complexities, no nuances, no ‘mature, evolved tertiary aromas of soy and tomato leaf' here. Purity of varietal expression and expression of place is all that is required.
Overripe, over-extracted reds in particular can leave your palate shot to pieces after only a couple of glasses; when your tongue looks and feels like blue-ink-sodden carpet. Avoid.
Allied closely with the above. Best keep this shy of 13.5% abv. Wines for casual drinking are best when they're ones you can also drink standing up. And remain that way. Moreover, wines with higher levels of alcohol tend to be weightier, fuller-bodied wines (whites, too), which usually means less quaffability, less refreshment, and a greater need for an equally heavy culinary complement.
You don't want much oak in a wine suited for casual drinking. If any. Too much overwhelms a white wine's charming floral characteristics and has it forgo any youthful fruitiness that may remain. Similarly in reds does over-oaking become overbearing when quaffing casually.
The grippy stuff present primarily in red wines. Tannins come from grape skins and seeds and are what make your gums feel grainy; what make the insides of your upper lip cling to those gums. They make you pucker. Which can be pukka when combined with the fatty proteins in a t-bone or leg of lamb, but for casual drinking? Too much.
Wines good for casual drinking need a good level of acidity to give shape, dimension and freshness. Acidity is the ‘zip'-- the mouth-watering finish. Without it, a wine has no energy, is ‘flabby' and especially uninspiring when pairing with food.
Authenticity of varietal expression
This is where ‘authenticity' comes into play. Where complex flavours are not a prerequisite, where, instead we appreciate authenticity, vibrancy and abundance in fruit profile. ‘Varietal typicity' is another welcome term and attribute. When a wine shows the classic characteristics of the grapes that constitute it at their ideal level of ripeness.
Sense of place
Closely related to the above, this when the casual-drinking wine expresses the place where it was made. Or, its sense of terroir, as the French call it. This is why there are appellation systems: to define and delineate the uniqueness of a wine's origin.
White wines for casual drinking tend to be aromatic, fruity, crisp and refreshing, with good levels of acidity. Wines with minimal amounts of oak (if any); rather, white wines that will have been fermented in stainless steel tanks for retaining freshness and purity of fruit.
The following represent the most popular of these, along with some ideal examples from our range.
Over the last decade or so, few white varieties have enjoyed such a resurgence, which in this case has primarily owed to the explosion in popularity of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand - from the Marlborough region more specifically. Otherwise, its heartland is in France's Loire Valley, where Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé represent the apogee of expression – though at a premium price point. However, for ideal casual drinking for less, few can replace a good Touraine (central Loire), few of which being as good as Domaine Bellevue's: classic Sancerre flavours without the Sancerre price tag:
"Terrific Touraine Sauvignon, all smoky, minerally, greengage fruit and glorious greenery-yallery pea shoot pizzazz that makes it the sort of summery thirst-quencher everyone needs in their wine rack, at an infinitely more appetising price than Sancerre."
Jane MacQuitty, The Times
Picpoul de Pinet
From the Languedoc-Roussillon's Picpoul de Pinet AOC in southern France, a crisp, refreshing white wine made exclusively from the ancient Picpoul grape variety, and one often complemented by citrus, green fruit and white blossom characters, and a distinct saline, iodine quality.
Typically unoaked, it has become hugely popular with UK drinkers looking for something a bit different, yet still with all the dry, fruity and invigorating characteristics typical of casual-drinking whites.
Check out our 2022 ‘Racine' Picpoul de Pinet as a superb option, superbly refreshing.
The ever-popular, ubiquitous Italian white that is actually of French origin. However, when called by its Italian alias, it indicates its style: crisp, vibrant, with floral and pear drop aromatics that lead to fresh pear, apple and grapefruit on the palate. Simple and simply refreshing. Lots can drink lots of pinot grigio in summer. Ever more so when it's Mr.Wheeler's 2022 Amori Pinot Grigio from the Veneto:
Not only the most widely planted white varietal in the world, but probably the most over-oaked at that. Again, more purity in fruit is perhaps preferable and for this Mr. Wheeler offers a wonderful option from the Haut Vallée in the Languedoc, where cooler microclimates make for Domaine d'O's ridiculously easy-to-drink chardonnay that is sleek, pure and full of freshness.
Classic chardonnay stone and tropical fruit characteristics are here: peach, apricot, a hint of honeydew melon, wonderful creaminess and minerality on the palate, with only the subtlest hint of oak. For under £13 a bottle, this promises endless casual drinking pleasure.
Côtes du Rhône Blanc
Although somewhat overshadowed by the reputation and volume of reds produced in the Rhône Valley, Côtes du Rhône whites can be wonderful casual drinking wines.Typically blended, they can include viognier, grenache blanc, rousanne, marsanne and clairette, imparting aromas and flavours of peach, apricot, guava and melon, along with a certain, slight honeyed nuttiness lifted by orange-blossom florals.
Often weightier than crisply styled whites, they're substantial enough to stand deliciously well on their own. So, go for Domaine Mourchon's substantial ‘La Source' - the source of much white Rhône drinking pleasure.
The great thing about riesling from a casual-drinking point of view, is that they so often come in at lighter ABV percentages, with even 11% not being uncommon. And with less alcohol tends to be lots of youthful, aromatic apple and stone fruit, and slight off-dryness to make its casual drinking all the easier.
As specialists in French wines, however, we tend toward rieslings of Alsace, which, although slightly richer in style, are dry, often offering lots of crisp, green/red apple fruit, vibrant citrus and go down with remarkable ease.
Côtes de Provence Rosé
Undoubtedly the most popular rosé style on the UK market today, and one drunk endlessly - especially when the sun is out. These are crisp, elegant, delicate rosés, typically blended with grenache as a main component.
Other varietals may include syrah, cinsault, mourvdre and carignan, making for cuvées showing wild strawberry, red currant, pomegranate and melon fruit with hints of white pepper, creamy minerality, mouthwatering acidity and clean, crisp finishing. As casual as it gets.
Which is why we strongly recommend you go casual with our 2022 Maison Ravoire ‘Costeval' (Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence).
In red wines for casual drinking, we look for purity of fruit (above all), softer tannins, a restrained use of oak and medium to medium-plus body.
As with the whites, the following represent the most popular of these, along with some ideal examples from our range.
It's hard to think of a more popular, versatile, expressive, downright gluggable varietal. The ultimate ‘smooth red wine.' No wonder it's grown around the world. With flavours ranging from plum, black cherry and cocoa to blackberry, herbs and graphite, often with notes of clove, cedar and vanilla when oak-aged, merlot delivers appealing fruit, texture and body, making itself an easy all-rounder. Of which our 2018 Ronan from Bordeaux is a supreme example.
As with merlot, pinot noir is very much an ‘international varietal' and one many consider to be the most ‘noble' of all reds. It's also among the easiest-drinking.
Easiest because pinot noir tends to be medium-bodied whilst offering lots of tangy, juicy, red/black cherry and currant fruit, bright acidity, gentle tannins and good fruit and length on the finish. Qualities to make it an ideal food-pairing wine, also perfect for casual drinking.
And despite a capacity for soaring complexity and sophistication (with prices to match), pinot noir in simpler form – Maison Jaffelin's simple, deliciously authentic Pinot Noir (Vin de France), for example – remains difficult to beat when you need something seriously quaffable.
Typically from the Beaujolais region in southern Burgundy. With characteristics very similar to pinot noir, the gamay varietal makes for some of the more scrumptious, deliciously fruit-driven reds for casual drinking. This means bags of juicy, sweet and savoury cherry fruit, medium body, brisk acidity, mineral zip, a certain earthy nuance and refreshing, red fruit finish. Which means Domaine Loron. Slightly chilled, a good Beaujolais on a summer's evening is the perfect red and one incredibly versatile with seasonal fare.
Côtes du Rhône Red
Typically a blend of grenache, syrah and mourvdre for a fuller-bodied red, but one that in the right hands can also give wonderful freshness and floral/spice aromatics whilst providing much sumptuous, casual drinking pleasure.
Try Château Courac, then. Who, sitting on the western side of the Rhône, have been producing superb, fully flavoured, 'modern' styles for over 20 years. Heralded throughout the team at Mr Wheeler as our mini Châteauneuf, it's our number one choice for value in the region. Grenache is of course at the heart of the blend, but when joined with a bit of syrah and mourvdre, it's a blend whose overall character is enhanced considerably.
Lovely, easy-drinking, lighter-bodied freshness originating from the Loire Valley, with wonderful options coming from Argentina and elsewhere. Should good Beaujolais casually touch the edges when going down then you'll quite enjoy a good cab franc: youthful red/black sweet/bitter cherry fruit, red fruit, leafy freshness and mouth-watering acidity make this a red many a casual-drinking occasion.
This can be tricky as a red wine for casual drinking. Tannins can be big (and cry out for red meat), so can oakiness and extraction. Therefore, go for plush, softer, fruitier options from Argentina, for example (Penedo Borges being a prime one), where cabernet's more robust features take a back seat.
This means flavours of sweet cassis, blackberry, black currant and baking spice, finishing long. And although you most likely won't be able to quaff cab sauvignon as you would a Beaujolais or pinot noir, cabernet's full bodiedness and sheer depth of flavour make for gratifying casual drinking all the same.
Drinking What You Like, Casually
Of course, the options don't end here. The trick is to whittle it down to the bare bones of what stylistic elements you like in a wine; and always consider whether food pairing will be involved. Light bodied, floral, fruity whites with lower alcohol or more robust, darker fruited, velvety reds when the outdoor buffet is laid on?
Either, quite possibly. Once you've determined your parameters, you can begin to explore alternatives to your all-time favourites and thus expand your repertoire. If, for example, you're partial to the more aromatic, ethereal qualities in a German or Austrian riesling, there's every chance that you'll be drawn to a casual glass of gruner veltliner. Or, should your penchant for fresh, fruity merlot, you may easily be diverted to sumptuous glass or three of carmenre.
The choice is yours, and remember: you don't have to spend too much. What's more, you might even find as much pleasure in the choosing!