One of things I love about driving holidays in Europe is the opportunity to pick up some really great wines for just a few euros - in some cases from areas that do not always get good representation in the UK.
With its neat, timbered villages bedecked with hanging baskets, Alsace is an intriguing mixture of French gastronomy and German kitsch. As a rule of thumb, the further down you go on the Alsace wine route, the prettier the villages and the better the wines.
South of Colmar, Eguisheim is one of the later stops on the routes des vins; centred around a small square with a fountain, the village is essentially three very colourful concentric circles.
As you enter the village, on your right is the cellar door of 4th generation independent winemaker Vins Paul Scheider.
Gewurztraminer La Cuvée de Claire, 2016 - Vins Paul Scheneider (c. €6, cellar door) ripe yellow stone fruit, pineapple, sweet spices, florality and beeswax; fresh and mineral with hints of late-harvest character. Rich, full and savoury with excellent underpinnings. Will improve further with age.
Very Good. Match with rich Alsatian dishes, such as tarte flambée or coq au Riesling.
Sweet and strong, port is an indulgent round-off to a meal.
Ruby ports are the most affordable of all styles; full of vibrant youthful fruit, spice and eucalyptus, they are almost a dessert in themselves and will also match with chocolate-and-cherry-based desserts
Cockburn's Special Port (£12.99) sweet, red-berry fruits, spices and warming eucalyptus; substantial, harmonious and mellow. Good. Match with dark chocolate or chocolate torte.
Back in the '90s, New World Chardonnay meant ripe fruit with sweetly spicy oak; this cool-climate Californian Chardonnay is exactly what a New World chardie should be - ripe, pleasing and easy-drinking yet also sophisticated, balanced and restrained.
It's bigger and fuller than an Old World / Burgundian Chardonnay, so don't take Chablis as a reference point for "cool-climate"; but by the standards of the heavy, alcoholic monoliths the New World has produced, it is decidedly restrained.
Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Central Coast (Majestic, £13.99) supple and generous, with baked apple and ripe stone fruits; deftly oaked with freshness and good underpinnings.
A versatile food wine, it will match with creamy pasta dishes, chicken and mushrooms or meaty white fish.
The best meals, like great films, have a brilliant begining and ending, as well as being good in the middle.
My go-to for turning a meal into an occasion is to start with fizz and end with something sweet.
There are occasions and there are occasions; it's not always a significant birthday or anniversary. So if you have a mixed group of people, or your reason for celebrating is simply that it's the weekend and the sun is shining, then a good Prosecco to kick off and a decent ruby port to finish will keep even the most discerning palates satisfied.
With more fruit and ripeness than Champagne, Prosecco is a crowd-pleaser with bubbles - and what's not to like about sweet cherry fruit, warming spices and minty eucalyptus as you kick back at the end of a meal.
Both these wines from the Co-op are well-made, enjoyable and affordable. And don't just take my word for it - both have a Decanter World Wine Award Silver Medal
- Co-op Irresistible Prosecco Special Cuvée Brut (£7.99) - Cockburn's Special Port (£12.99)
A enjoyable and sophisticated cool-climate Californian white
When you name a wine Pinot Gris, as opposed to Pinot Grigio, you are immediately suggesting the big, full and ripe-yet-dry style of Alsace as your reference point (as opposed to the lighter, crisper Pinot Grigio style).
This Californian Pinot Gris has all the hallmarks of an Alsace wine - perfumed and floral, yet dry and balanced.
It's not stereotypically brash in a US sort of way, but it is Big and Expressive with lots of fruit - Vin Diesel rather than Vincent Van Gogh.
MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Gris 2016, Russian River Valley (Great Western Wine, £17.95) expressive, perfumed and floral with white flowers, ripe pear and sweetly-spiced baked apple and ginger fruit. Fresh and rounded.
Substantial and well-made; ready for drinking now but will improve with age.
Match with big foods, such a seared scallops with pancetta, Thai fishcakes or gravadlax.
If Californian wines make you think of big, oaky, monolithic, more-is-better pantechnicons, the good news is that the New World is also learning the value of subtlety, elegance and freshness.
There's still plenty of easy-drinking fruit, but it now comes with a more sophisticated and restrained freshness.
Not so much Die Hard, more The Fifth Element.
These three Californian whites are easy to enjoy, but also accomplished and adept; priced in the mid-teens, they represent reasonable value.
From left to right:
- Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Central Coast (Majestic £13.99) - Frei Brothers Chardonnay 2016, Russian River Valley (Waitrose, £17.99) - MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Gris 2016, Russian River Valley (Great Western Wine, £17.95)