Vinha da Palestra 2000 Douro, Dão Sul 2000, Portugal
I have to admit that it's high time we had some relatively inexpensive wine in this slot (apologies if you feel you have been waiting too long for it). Portugal, poor Portugal, is a fine source of keenly priced reds - even if some of the Portuguese are beginning to learn the fine art of charging the earth for their top wines.
(I have now tasted the rather sumptuous first vintage, 2000, of Chryseia several times - the new Douro red produced jointly by the Symingtons of port and Bruno Prats of Chile and once of Cos d'Estournel. Just under 3000 cases have recently been launched, many of them on the Bordeaux market, along with the 2001 clarets, and it is expected to retail at about £21 or $35 a bottle. No overripe character. No hot finish. Quite claret-like in fact, and very serious in intent, though I suspect future vintages will be even richer.)
This Douro wine has no such ambitions but is probably better value. Vinha da Palestra 2000 is also made from grapes grown in the Douro Valley, port country: a blend of roughly equal amounts of grapes from Quinta do Brasileiro near Regua where it was vinified, Quinta de Tecedeiras near Tua and from a quinta (farm) in the Douro Superior. It's a meaty and attractive blend of roughly equal parts of Touriga Franca (as Touriga Francesa is called nowadays), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and is thoroughly approachable. It has a strong damson perfume and the characteristic Portuguese spine of Atlantic acidity with really deep-flavoured fruit that carries on refreshing the palate long after it is swallowed.
Dão Sul 2000 is the same price from the same British retailer and belies the traditional image of Dão as a wine so rigidly traditional that it was impossible to drink at less than eight years old. This fruity example has a distinctively Dão character (I seem to remember Michael Broadbent describing this once as 'goaty'; I know what he means). It is produced by a joint venture between Quinta de Cabriz and the godfather of Dão, Virgilio Loureiro of Quinta dos Roques, whose Dãos are some of the very finest of the region. Both these wines are ready to drink. Each is made by the dynamic Dão Sul company, voted producer of the year 2001 by a leading Portuguese wine magazine. Most curiously for an export-minded company based so close to the world's centre of cork production, Dão Sul uses horrible little corks.
Both wines are £5.75 a bottle from Ben Ellis Wines of Brockham, Surrey on 01737 842160. I have tried to find an American stockist by using www.winealert.com but poor old Portuguese table wines aren't even acknowledged as a category on this search site. So here is Dão Sul's list of international importers: Norway: VINARIUS AS
Mr. Ivar Bentzen
PB 257, N 1377 Billingstad
Tel 47 66 776010 Fax 47 66 776009 Germany: Wein Aus Portugal
Mr. Rui Martins
Schleissheimer Str. 198
Tel 089 303734 Fax 089 3088244 USA: Aidil
Mr. José Dias
35-37 Liberty Street
Newark, NJ 07102
Tel 973 6420044 Fax 973 6420644 Brazil: Expand Group
Mr. Luiz Gastão
Rod. Raposo Tavares - Km 26,5 - Cotia - SP
Tel (11) 46133333 Fax (11) 46122179 Canada: FWP Trading
Mr. Pedro Vieira
215 Beatrice St.
Toronto ON M6G 3E9
Tel 416 4876153 Fax 416 4875337
Sportoletti Rosso 2000 Assisi, Umbria
One of the most impressive wines at a recent tasting of wines made by the Michel Rolland of Italy, Riccardo Cotarella, was Villa Fidelia 2000 made on the Sportoletti estate in the village of Spello in the province of Perugia. This glamorous blend of Merlot with the two Cabernets is definitely one to watch out for when it is released next month but in the meantime, here is a bargain made from much the same ingredients blended with local Sangiovese.
Cotarella has a magic touch with Merlot, turning out wines of almost outrageous ripeness and appeal, and here we have the satisfaction of knowing the wine is not just made from importer grape varieties, but has the rigorous framework of a local vine too. The depth of healthy colour is extremely impressive for a wine at this price and the rich, dark fruit flavours on the nose positively demand that one drinks, rather than swallows it. I was determined to finish the bottle rather than consign it to stack of dozens, sometimes hundreds of rejects, wines that I taste but cannot sincerely recommend. It held up remarkably well to being opened and stoppered then opened and re-stoppered over several days. (I'm not usually so moderate a wine drinker.) Very versatile, appetising, well-balanced stuff without being over the top.
Like most of Cotarella's wine, this Assisi red is imported into the US by Winebow. According to WineSearcher, Zachy's of Scarsdale, NY list it at $15.99 a bottle.
UK importers are Lea & Sandeman of London SW10, W8, NW3 and SW13 (tel 020 7244 0522) who sell it for £8.95 a bottle.
Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2001 Walker Bay, South Africa
Glen Carlou Chardonnay 2000 Paarl, South Africa
When South African winemakers get their white wines right, they are very good indeed. I still have fond memories of Haute Provence Chardonnay 1996, made before that winery was forced to change its name (to Agusta) by European bureaucrats worried that someone would think it came from France (perish the thought!). And they are generally pretty good value, thanks to the poor old languishing South African Rand.
In a country apparently sprouting new wineries and labels every minute, Hamilton Russell is a relative dinosaur, although it is run by the youthful Anthony Hamilton Russell, son of founder Tim who pioneered this cool, Atlantic-influenced south-eastern corner of the Cape winelands. They make only a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay and, for the moment at least, the latter is streets ahead of the former - perhaps partly because so much work has been done on soils and the precise quality of the oak imported from Burgundy.
This wine (and indeed its predecessor) should impress any white burgundy enthusiast, so long as they can tolerate a little oak, piercing acidity and are not looking for obvious sweetness.
Limited quantities are currently on sale at Oddbins' quirky stores in Britain at £12.99 and they are also offering the much milder but no less refreshing and reputable Glen Carlou Chardonnay 2000 at just £6.99 (reduced from the regular price of £7.99 until the end of June). This, the talented David Finlayson's regular bottling, available in substantial quantity, has also seen French oak barrels (though only for the end of fermentation and six months; lees contact) and is a steal. The Hamilton Russell wine demands attention and food. The lively, satin-textured Glen Carlou could be sipped with great pleasure even as an aperitif - but is far from bland.
The very creditable Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2000 seems to be the current vintage in the US where Table and Vine of Northampton, MA were advertising it at just $15.99 in mid March.
In the US you can find the Glen Carlou for just $9.99 at the Wine Exchange, Orange County, CA but prices according to WineSearcher go as high as $18.99 a bottle at eVineyard Inc of Portland, OR. In South Africa, Cybercellar Pty sell it for 58 Rand, next to nothing if you're paying in dollars or pounds.
Collioure 2000 Domaine de la Rectorie, La Coume Pascole
Admittedly Grenache/Syrah fans are rather spoilt for choice with all those delicious 2000s in the southern Rhône, but here is another absolutely stunning wine - one of those that already tastes so gorgeous now that it is almost irresistible, except that you know when tasting it that it will develop into something even more wonderful.
Collioure is the table wine of the Banyuls region just north of the Spanish border in Roussillon, Catalan France. Here ancient vines cling to terraces on steep hillsides producing tiny quantities of very concentrated wine. This can result in unbalanced, over-alcoholic, sometimes rather dry red Collioure (15 per cent is common) but this particular wine, stiffened by 40 per cent Syrah, exhibits none of these faults. The label lays claim to just 13.5 per cent and the word I repeated most in my tasting notes was 'subtle'. There are myriad flavours in here that already seem miraculously welded (this is a contraction of 'well melded') together. There are considerable tannins but they are so ripe that you become aware of them only at the very end of the tasting experience, which provides you with a sort of warm blanket of spicy southern French pleasure.
I tasted the 1991 vintage of this wine soon after encountering the 2000 and it was still in good shape - perhaps slightly past its peak but these are wines that can age extremely well, and I'm sure the 2000 has another 10 years in it at the very least.
Transatlantic Wines of Melton Mowbray (tel 01664 565013) have it for £13.98 including VAT and delivery, provided six bottles are ordered, which is a very fair price considering that the wine sells for more than 16 euros in France.
My old friend WineSearcher can locate many a retailer of older vintages of this wine in the UK and one retailer of its slightly lighter stablemate from the Séris vineyard rather than the older Coume Pascole parcels in the US. Those wishing to find out more could try the producer whose fax number is +33 04 68 88 18 55.
Full tasting notes on 50 Languedoc-Roussillon wines from the promising 2000 vintage will be on purple pages soon.
Schioppettino 1999 Moschioni, Colli Orientali del Friuli
This was a completely unexpected treasure served to us in the unusually good Venetian restaurant Alle Testiere (Calle del Mondo Novo 5801, Castello, tel 041 522 7220 - see nick's food news). The co-owner and sommelier urged us to try it. As a perfect match for the spanking fresh fish that is the restaurant's speciality, it has its shortcomings, he warned us, but as a wine, it's a must-try. Certainly when the bottle arrived, confessing its 15.5 per cent alcohol on the label, my heart sank. But this wine carried its heavy charge of alcohol, partly due to semi-dried grapes according to Gambero Rosso's Italian Wines 2002 (firstname.lastname@example.org), with amazing grace. It certainly tasted concentrated but was neither heavy nor hot.
Schioppettino is a local Friulian red wine grape which is said to take its name from scoppiettare, to crackle. And crackle with life the wine certainly does, which is perhaps how it manages to counteract the weight. Son Michele Moschioni has apparently taken over the family enterprise in Cividale del Friuli (tel +39 0432 730 210) only quite recently and is obviously injecting real passion and expertise, for the wine has the most admirable velvety texture and a lovely spiciness and depth. You could sip this one contemplatively over several hours. (I noted on one restaurant wine list , incidentally, that the strong red wines such as Amarones which many Italians call vini da meditazione were instead listed under the heading vini da seduzione.)
This seductive red costs from about 40 dollars a bottle from Sams Wine & Spirits in Chicago, but is also available from Wine Exchange in Orange, California and in Japan (see WineSearcher).
It can be bought in the UK from a new importer specialising in some unusual wines from the Veneto, La Caneva (meaning basement storeroom) of New Barnet, EN5 1PH (tel 020 8441 3335). They are asking £21.25 a bottle for this delight.
Peter Lehmann Semillon 2001 Barossa Valley
Peter and Margaret Lehmann are the uncrowned king and queen of the Barossa Valley, their rambling house all year round and the winery weigh-station at vintage-time centres of local gossip and hospitality. When the big companies invaded the Valley and threatened to cancel their contracts with the fourth- and fifth-generation Germanic grape growers and turn every truckload of then-unfashionable Shiraz into cheap sherry or fizz, he rescued his neighbours and the Valley's wine tradition by taking the risk of setting up on his own.
I've heard one or two politically deeply incorrect jokes from Lehmann, but I have yet to taste an unbalanced or overpriced wine carrying his label. He has consistently steered clear of exaggerated acidity, alcohol or tannin and his Stonewell Shiraz is one of the Valley's few classics.
But Barossa is not just Shiraz. Semillon thrives there, just as it does in the equally warm climate of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. And the wines can age well too, evolving from a citrus-dominated youth to a rich, toasty old age. The 2001, the product of quite a hot growing season, has flavours of fat, ripe figs over a sort of lime marmalade base and no obvious oak. It cries out for food and, being relatively full-bodied, could be drunk with even quite meaty main courses, even if Lehmann himself suggests Asian foods, seafood and white meat dishes.
This wine is made in large quantities (unlike my usual Wines of the Week) and normally sells in Britain for £5.49 at Safeway, Oddbins and Unwins. Sainsbury's have it on special offer at £4.49 from 15 May until 28 May. At that price it's a steal. Drink some and cellar some.
US stockists of Lehmann wines seem still to be selling the 2000 vintage which is also well worth seeking out. Prices are all over the place according to WineSearcher - from $9.99 to $14.99, with the best price from the Southern Hemisphere Wine Centre in Huntington Beach, CA and Sam's Wines and Spirits, Chicago. The wine is available at even better prices in Singapore and, of course, Australia.
Pinot Noir Clayvin Vineyard, La Strada 2000 Marlborough, New Zealand
There is a great deal of talk about New Zealand's Pinot Noirs (see my report Feb 2001) but not quite as much delivery. You certainly can't pluck any old NZ PN off a shelf and be certain of delight. This wine, however, is a dead cert in terms of how it tastes, even if the nomenclature and ownership is slightly complicated. Clayvin is a vineyard in Marlborough (the famous Sauvignon Blanc region in the north of the South Island) bought by the British wine merchants Lay & Wheeler. La Strada is the name adopted on labels by the Swiss family Fromm for their winery operation which produces some really excellent Pinot and Chardonnay for relatively long ageing (by New Zealand standards). I visited Fromm years and years ago and was extremely impressed by the decidedly off-mainstream winemaker Hatch Kalberer and his fanatical devotion to organic farming and extremely pure winemaking.
The fruit for this deliciously plump, deep-coloured wine was cropped at just two tonnes per acre from relatively young vines and has both charm and structure so it can be drunk now but will probably be at its best from next year until about 2008. It is also available in handsome magnums.
Lay & Wheeler (and several other retailers around the world, notably in Australia, the US and of course New Zealand - see WineSearcher) are also selling the more forward and charmingly fragrant Pinot Noir La Strada 2000 Marlborough which is probably best drunk over the next year or two. (American retailers still seem to be on the 1998 which is worth a punt.)
The Clayvin is £15.95 and regular La Strada £12.75 from Lay & Wheeler of Colchester, including the VAT of 17.5 per cent that prevails if you buy the wine in the UK. Having bought The Bin Club which specialises in laying down wine for ex-patriate Brits, notably in Hong Kong, this family firm is currently restyling itself as Lay & Wheeler International Wine Group, so they should be amenable to some orders from outside Britain from which that VAT can be deducted.
Xerolithia 2001 Crete
Here is a real bargain, a white wine with lots of ripe fruit and character that is seriously underpriced, mainly because the UK off-licence chain Oddbins is doing its usual trick of forcing new suppliers to offer them wines at silly prices. Of course this wine, being made from dry-farmed grapes ripened fully in a relatively warm climate (picked in the second half of September and transported carefully in small plastic containers), is a little low on acidity. The winemaker has made up for this by leaving a refreshing whack of carbon dioxide in the wine - not that the wine is actively fizzy, but if you analyse it, you will how it has come about its refreshment value. If you are one of those tasters who object to this technique, avoid Xerolithia at all costs.
As soon as I tasted this quite respectably-packaged wine, I asked Nico Manessis, author of The Greek Wine Guide (www.greekwineguide.gr), about it. He knew and admired the wine and was amazed at Oddbins' low retail price in the UK. Here's some of the background he kindly supplied (I may have put a lot of work in to the latest edition of the World Atlas of Wine but certainly cannot claim intimate acquaintance with the viticulture of each Greek island).
'Creta-Olympias [the producer] is a well managed company. Their wine making team has done tremendous research to unlock the potential of the Cretan speciality Vilana grape. The vineyards lie in the middle of the island above the port town of Heraklio not far from the ruins Minoan Palace city of Knossos. The soils have a high percentage of active limestone and lie on a plateau with cooling breezes blowing in from the Aegean. I tasted Xerolithia 2001 (stonewall boundaries, as in clos in Burgundy) this March. My notes include kumquat! Very good value. The 01 is the most complete wine to date from this going-places winery which was in the 1960s one of the largest in volume and a success story in post war tourism fuelling the fragile Greek economy. Management infighting brought it to its knees and finally to bankruptcy. In 1999 it was purchased by a hugely successful olive oil exporter Mihalis Casfikis. It has since been generously capitalised and more importantly staffed and managed by some of the brightest young talent available. To date, a determined quest-commitment to quality wine making has been impressive. The turn around is not yet completed.
Further to Xerolithia white, the red Mirabelo is juicy and a good drink. Sourced from the Kotsifali and Mandelari grapes which tastes like no other red Greek wine. The top of the range, cask aged Creta Nobile label, white and red, are underperforming, inherited stock by the ancienne regime. They are aware of it and have comprehensive upgrading plans for future flagship labels to be joined by all-new labels such as the Nea Gi, a "funky" varietal Vilana, lighter and not as complete wine as Xerolithia at a slightly lower price [gosh!]. All this happening in Crete, the last region to join the quality revolution. The ramifications of this effort will be far-reaching for the whole island. Their lab, for a modest fee, is offering/encouraging growers and aspiring winemakers analysis and guidance to improve vineyard and wine making practices. Modern Greek wine would move even faster forward with more of such open-minded ventures. My first trip to Crete in 1992 painted a very sorry state of wine affairs, but that is another story.'
The British stockist is Oddbins who are offering it at just £3.99 initially. According to producers Creta-Olympias, this lively white is available in 17 countries: most of the European countries (apart from Italy and Portugal), in Japan, in Canada (where it is called Mirambelo white), and in the US where the importer is Fantis Foods (tel 201 933 6200, email email@example.com).
Current Marques de Casa Concha range, Concha y Toro, Chile
I must say that one of the most impressive series of wines I tasted during my whirlwind tour of Chilean bodegas and vineyards last February was at Concha y Toro, one of the country's biggest wine producers. At their headquarters just south of Santiago they showed me, in ascending order of price, their Trio, Marques de Casa Concha and Terrunyo ranges, together with the most recent vintages of their top Chardonnay and Cabernet, Amelia and Don Melchor respectively. There was hardly a dud wine among them but probably the best value range is the one they call simply Marques (no accent, I note, even though in Spain you would encounter one on the e) made with sensitive French oak ageing by the able Marcelo Papa. (And this is not to say that Ignacio Recabarren's Trio and Terrunyo ranges are at all shabby.) In the US these vineyard-designated wines from Concha y Toro's various holdings retail for $12-$15; in Britain for around £8 a bottle.
I haven't written about them before because they have only just been released for export. Indeed the 1999 reds and 2000 whites have not yet reached most American retailers and are only just hitting shelves in Britain - but they are seriously worth seeking out, however difficult that may be. In Chile the 1999 vintage for reds was very much better than 1998, the year of El Niño, but much smaller too.
Probably the best of the three Marques wines I tasted is the Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 from the Puente Alto vineyard in Maipo grown in basically the same conditions as the £30/$50 Almaviva, their famous joint venture with Mouton Rothschild. Many of the vines are 25 years old and my tasting notes contain the reassuring phrase 'Cabernet belongs here'. It's very full and gentle before the tannins kick in, with an impressively long finish too. The way these things work, this is the only one of the trio which does not have national distribution in the UK (yet), but good old Tanners of Shrewsbury (tel 01743 234500) list it at £7.70 a bottle. The specialist retailers who bought the 1998 and should be moving on to the 1999 if they can get their hands on it are listed below.
The Merlot 1999 comes from further south, Peumo in Rapel, basically the same vineyard as the truly excellent Terrunyo Carmenère 1999 (£11.95 from The Wine Society of Stevenage (tel 01438 761167, web www.thewinesociety.com). In fact this Merlot has a whiff of that ripe tomato-and-grassy smell of Carmenère and it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that it was a blend of these two Bordeaux varieties [Have just re-read my notes; it is.]. But this is another wine that must make French winemaking knees tremble, serious competition for the hearts and pockets of Pomerol lovers but at a fraction of the price. Of course it doesn't have the earthiness of a fine Pomerol - but then (a) newer consumers don't necessarily like earthiness and (b) nor do the new-style Pomerols (more's the pity, but that's another story). This wine, a full-bodied, deep-coloured blend of chocolate and coffee flavours, could do with a little more time in bottle but from 5 June at the latest should be in Bottoms Up and Wine Rack shops in Britain at £7.99.
And finally the Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2000 which is awfully good for the money (£6.99 Bottoms Up and Wine Rack but these specialists bought the 1999). (I see that I recommended the 1994 vintage at £5.99 in 1995.) It's made from fruit grown in the much cooler conditions of the Santa Isabel vineyard at 750 metres, one of the highest vineyards in the Maipo Valley. Malolactic fermentation was deliberately suppressed to keep it lively and it has a lovely texture - though should perhaps retail at slightly less than the reds. It's absolutely ready to drink.
Bargain-hunting wine lovers outside Britain are advised to try WineSearcher for local stockists of the Marques range and demand to be informed when these new vintages come in.
UK stockists of the Puente Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
The Warehouse Wine Co (tel 0800 328 2387)
S H Jones of Banbury (tel 01295 251177)
Manor House Wines of Cardiff (tel 02920 403355)
Euroworld Wines of Glasgow (tel 0141 649 3735)
UK stockists of the Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 1999
Warehouse Wine Co (tel 0800 328 2387)
Garrards Wines of Cockermouth (tel 01900 823592)
Castang Wine Shippers of Looe (tel 01503 220359)
Upton upon Severn Wines (tel 01684 592668)
Wiland Wines of Ansty, Leics (tel 0116 236 3479)
Redoma Rosé, Douro, Portugal
After last week's wines of the week, described at such length, I'll try to be a bit briefer this week. This is a wine designed for the great majority of you who live in the northern hemisphere and are looking forward to that most agreeable of summer occupations, eating outside. For this is a rosé that's really a light red, a wine that has 'Drink me chilled outside with food' plastered all over it.
Redoma comes, stylishly labelled and in red, white and pink, from Dirk Niepoort, possibly now a little too old to be known as Oporto's enfant terrible, but I'm sure you get the picture. The Niepoorts came from Holland to make port but Dirk continues to itch to do something new with the grapes of the rugged Douro Valley, which he seems to manage to do with each new vintage. Redoma Branco is by quite a stretch Portugal's most interesting white table wine. Redoma Tinto is big, warm, exciting and very long-flavoured. But Redoma Rosé is the most unusual of the trio.
Just one sniff is enough to tell that it is made from port grapes. For a rosé this wine is amazingly big and bold. Blindfold, you and your nose would take it for a red wine made from very ripe grapes. But the flavours are somehow magically summery, floral, even reminiscent of rose petals. Gosh, it cries out for a garlicky mayonnaise! Serve this wine lightly chilled (depending on ambient temperatures) over a long, long lunch.
The 2001 is about to be released and is well worth seeking out while the bloom of youth is upon it. British stockists include The Butlers Wine Cellar of Brighton (tel 01273 698724, web www.butlers-winecellar.co.uk); Raeburn Fine Wines of Edinburgh (tel 0131 343 1159) and Wattisfield Wines of Walsham-le-Willows in Suffolk (tel 01359 259159). WineSearcher throws up one keenly-priced German stockist too. Lauber Imports are listed as distributing Niepoort in New York.
Other Niepoort table wines to look out for are the extraordinary Batuta 1999 (debut vintage, about £45) like gentle, silky essence of Redoma rosé from 60-year-old vines and the tauter Quinta de Nápoles 2000 (about £25) made from younger-vine grapes trodden by foot.
Oberemmler Hütte Riesling Kabinett 1999 von Hövel, Saar, Germany
And now for a really quintessential summer wine, this featherlight Mosel Riesling from a top site and a top producer. Some German wine purists are a bit snooty about the 1999 vintage because it is already a delight to drink and may not last as long as some others. But if it hands out pleasure on a plate, and in a glass, why complain? Successful 1999s are just so heady with blossomy fruit it's impossible not to like them, unlike some 1998s for example which are still quite tight. Yet this particular example also has the sort of purity that is essence of refreshment. There is just nine per cent alcohol in this classic tall green bottle, so you can afford to gulp rather than sip.
I seriously recommend serving a wine like this instead of champagne as an aperitif - especially when temperatures are high - and although it is light bodied, it could be lovely with many a Thai- or Vietnamese-inspired dish high on chilli, sweetness, vinegar and veg.
This was the white wine, served alongside the very respectable Ch Palmer 1997, that was chosen by Edmund Penning-Rowsell's family for drinking after his funeral at his London club, The Travellers in Pall Mall. I thought the choice of red particularly appropriate because it was on the steps of this club that one of our old editors at the FT, arriving for lunch with Edmund, found his wine correspondent in a state of great agitation.
The editor was not especially interested in wine but EP-R routinely invited him for lunch at his club and, as usual, had brought up an appropriate bottle from his cellar in the country the week before. This particular lunch took place just as Edmund's eyesight was going and the cause of his dismay was that the bottle that the club's wine steward had just decanted for the two of them was that classic, Ch Palmer 1961, when the vintage Edmund had thought he'd brought to share with the editor was the infinitely more modest 1981.
In Britain The Wine Society of Stevenage (tel 01438 761167, web www.thewinesociety.com) (of which EP-R was chairman for many years) are selling this Riesling for £8.50 a bottle, while www.everywine.co.uk charge £109.22 a dozen delivered anywhere in the UK. In the US All Star Wines & Spirits of New York ask $19.99 for a bottle. Even at this price it's a bargain compared to almost all Californian Chardonnays.
Château Faîteau 2000 Minervois, La Livinière, Languedoc
This is a very impressive debut from Yves Arnaud and his son Jean-Michel who have acquired a 20 hectare/50 acre property in the finest area of the Minervois appellation, particularly high, infertile ground around the village of La Livinière - and I see from the Revue du Vin de France that their Languedoc-Roussillon scout rates the 2001 vintage too.
The wine is dominated by extremely ripe Syrah that has been dramatically vinified to produce a well balanced, rather gentle wine with enough structure to last for the next three or four years but one that can be drunk with great pleasure already.
This is the sort of wine that in my opinion only the Languedoc can offer - a hand-crafted, good-value wine that could only be French, from a part of the world where grapes can be relied upon to ripen but temperatures are not so high that they ripen too fast to gain flavour, and a wine that speaks eloquently of the place where it was made. Purple pages subscribers can find full tasting notes and scores on about 50 more Languedoc-Roussillon reds from the toothsome 2000 vintages in my tasting notes.
La Livinière produces such a high proportion of the Minervois appellation's most concentrated wines that Minervois-La Livinière has earned its own sub-appellation - the greatest form of praise in official French eyes. Minervois is typically a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre (which must be difficult to ripen this high up) and a declining proportion of Carignan.
(Carignan, by the way, can produce respectably deep if slightly rustic, wild wines if the vines are seriously old and yields are low but is responsible for the bitter, hard, rancid flavours of so much cheap French vin de table. (I do not understand why the owner of Marqués de Murrieta in Rioja is putting his name, Dalmau, to what is supposed to be a very special £50/$70 bottling of the local grape Mazuelo, aka Carignan - but obviously I should taste it with an open mind...)
British wine-drinkers can find this wine at £6.85 from Jeroboams shops around London or the associated wine company Laytons (www.laytons.co.uk) - an extremely reasonable price, especially since it comes in a handsome, heavy (but not absurdly heavy) punted bottle with a sticker showing it got a bronze medal in the main Paris agricultural show.
Those outside Britain may like to call the Arnauds on +33 4 68 91 48 28 to find out how else to track down this bargain.
See my tasting notes on purple pages for details of many more.