Below are some stunning dry white wines for entertaining your friends, family and, most importantly, yourself over the festive season.
I have assumed that white burgundy is still regarded as the classic dry white wine and have listed below some of the easiest to source in Britain today. There are many more suggestions from recent vintages in the extensive tasting notes on purple pages such as on my surveys of German 2002s and white burgundy 2001 and 2000 (purple pages 2002). Readers outside Britain should consult WineSearcher for international stockists of any wine.
Fine white burgundies are to be found from all three currently available vintages 2000, 2001 and 2002 (on the last of which I shall be reporting in detail next month). Chablis was particularly good in 2002 and prices for basic Chablis, which is already drinking well, are quite fair. In my opinion only the very finest white burgundies, the best Grands Crus and their counterparts, are worth keeping for many years in a cellar.
This is in marked contrast to good quality Riesling which can be kept for years and occasionally decades, slowly deepening in flavour in bottle. These more aromatic wines, many of them quite dry, are generally more food-friendly than standard issue Chardonnay (including many white burgundies) and also make more appetising, and less heady, aperitifs for serving without food.
Germany's 2002s are already deliciously open and gulpable, in stark contrast to the 2001s. There are many more specific recommendations on purple pages.
Chablis 2002 Cave des Vignerons
Very good value and a testament to this vintage. Powerful nose. Very fresh, punchy and characteristic Chablis. Not for keeping though.
St Véran 2002 Blason de Bourgogne
£5.99 (reduced from £7.99 this month) Waitrose
Very good price for this winning combination of vintage and appellation.
Chablis 2002 Vocoret
£8.99 (£7.99 if two are bought) Majestic
Very cool, true and well defined but don't hang on to this one.
St Véran, Terroirs de Davayé 2002 Verget
£9.49 Bon Coeur Fine Wines of London SW8, £11.95 Roberson of London W8
Rich, creamy, flattering and open though with masses of zesty acidity, the hallmark of both vintage and producer in this case.
Pouilly Fuissé, Vigne Blanche 2000 Domaine Thibert
£11.95 Stone, Vine & Sun
Big, very full and sweet with notes of lemon and liquorice.
Rully Premier Cru 2001 Vincent Girardin
£11.99 (£10.99 if two are bought) Majestic
Very correct winemaking. Tense, dense, long and great for now.
Pouilly-Loché 2002 Domaine Cordier
Full, a bit loose, lemon-scented and very explosive on the finish. This style defines French structure: the opposite of upfront. Downback? You can find many cheaper southern white burgundies but Cordier is one of the top names and this wine will still be good next Christmas.
St Aubin Premier Cru 2001 Domaine du Pimont
£12.99 top 50 Marks & Spencer stores
Proper, domaine-bottled, finely oaked white burgundy. Very appetising.
Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2000 Domaine William Fèvre
Northern outpost of Bouchard Père et Fils nowadays has a rock solid track record in recent vintages (look out for the 2002s too). This example is already very drinkable and lively but could easily be cellared for another five years.
Bourgogne Blanc 2001 Domaine de la Galopière
£14.99 selected Thresher/Wine Rack stores
On paper this looks a rather high price for a basic white burgundy but I actually preferred this utterly correct, open, lemon-scented wine to the same producer's Meursault 2001 at twice the price.
St Aubin Premier Cru Les Frionnes 2001 Domaine Hubert Lamy
£16.95 Berry Bros
Lamy does a fine job and this wine is beautifully creamy in texture.
Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Folatières 2000 Joseph Drouhin
£25 top 58 Waitrose stores
White burgundy at its purest - so much so it is almost austere, but infinitely preferable to yet another fat, pineapple-chunk, barrel-fermented Chardonnay.
Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru Vergers 2001 Domaine Marc Morey
£28.15 Haynes Hanson & Clark
Very fine, pure, well-delineated white burgundy. Could be drunk any time over the next four years.
Bouchard Finlayson, Crocodile's Lair Chardonnay 2001 Overberg, South Africa
Very fine, lean, delicate - burgundian in fact. And a distinctly unburgundian price.
Picardy Chardonnay 2001 Pemberton, Western Australia
This wine seems very fine to me for the price, made by some of Margaret River's pioneers who have moved to this new, cooler, more southerly wine region.
Cru Jarosa Chardonnay 2001 Lis Neris, Friuli, Italy
£12.95 Berry Bros
Alvaro Pecorari has a magic touch, whether it is Pinot Grigio or this extremely fruity yet very lively single-vineyard Chardonnay. For those who are tired of Chardonnay low-life.
Gravitas Oaked Chardonnay 2002 Marlborough, New Zealand
About £14 OW Loeb, Swig, Uncorked, Wattisfield Wines of East Anglia
Definitively superior, and much-garlanded, producer giving us New Zealand Chardonnay (and Sauvignon Blanc) with some real depth and savour for a change. Could the low yields have anything to do with this, perchance? Run by a London-based MBA, wines made by Brian Bicknell, late of Errazuriz in Chile et al.
More Aromatic Whites
Pheasant Gully Gewürztraminer/Riesling Bin 492 2003 South Eastern Australia
£4.99 Marks & Spencer
Most holiday households harbour at least one palate which favours easy, perfumed whites that are not defiantly dry. This is that wine - a grapey blend of cooler-climate grapes, including nine per cent Muscat, without even a whiff of oak. The Nackenheimer below would be more than three times as delicious though...
Gewürztraminer 2002 Cave de Turckheim, Alsace
£5.49 (reduced from £6.49 this month) Waitrose
I was very impressed by this dramatic, risk-taking wine from one of Alsace's best cooperatives. It finishes dry even though there is almost 10g/l residual sugar. Definitely not for keeping but it could be great with smoked salmon now.
Leiwener Laurentiuslay Spätlese 2002 Carl Loewen
£7.50 Howard Ripley of London SW18
Very rich and already quite open, like so many of the 2002s, with some honeyed overlay. Gorgeous, luscious and quite a bit of stuffing.
Peter Lehmann Reserve Riesling 1997 Eden Valley
Great toasty mature Australian dry Riesling. Needs food but costs hardly more than a good 2003 and you have the benefit of six years' bottle age. Quite a bargain.
Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 1996 Markus Molitor
£14.95 Berry Bros
Lively, zippy middle-maturing Mosel with hints of lime and just off dry with masses of acidity and some development on the nose.
Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling Heiligenstein 2001 Kamptal
£15.99 Philglas & Swiggot of London SW11 and Richmond, £16.50 Pont de la Tour of London SE1, £13.95 The Wine Department of Wilmslow (tel 01625 540123)
Mineral then fruity, all the dry-yet-full intensity of Austria's wonderfully reliable fine dry whites from an impeccable source. Take any Riesling or Grüner Veltliner from Wachau, Kamptal or Kremstal seriously.
Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling Spätlese 2002 Gunderloch
£16 Berry Bros, Raeburn of Edinburgh
Very broad and ripe and exciting. Pears, blossom and some green hedgerow notes from this outstanding Rheinhessen producer (now joined by organic young Wittmann whose wines can be found at The Wine Barn of Winchester).
Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Spätlese 2002 Josef Leitz
About £18 James Nicholson of Ireland, Four Walls Wine of Chilgrove, Goedhuis of London, Handford Wines, Raeburn Fine Wine of Edinburgh and Seckford Wines
Just about any Leitz wine will give pleasure but this is already gorgeous and particularly intense. You can find its slightly less dramatic Magdalenenkreuz sister at Oddbins for just £9.99 - a great buy.
Next week - sweet and strong wines.