wines of the week archive index | jul - sep 2002

30 Jun 2002 by JR
Chenin Blanc 2001 de Trafford, Stellenbosch

I had a good lesson in my own appalling prejudice the other day. For the first time I was forced to concentrate on the wines of the small South African family firm de Trafford. I realised that the only reason I hadn't taken much notice of them before was that 'de'. I'd subconsciously, automatically and quite wrongly assumed that the de Traffords would be pretentious.

In fact of course David Trafford turns out to be self-effacing almost to the point of reticence. An architect by training, he got the wine bug, worked at Château Soutard in St-Emilion and has planted a mere three hectares (less than eight acres) at the relatively high altitude of 400 metres on his farm just south of Stellenbosch. On this he has planted Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinot and tiny quantities of a deep-coloured South African crossing of Pontac and Cabernet Sauvignon called Roobernet (which sounds more Australian to me). His reds are extremely impressive - especially a 2000 bordeaux blend he has made especially for the Cape Winemakers Guild auction. (His British importer is hoping desperately it will not be accepted for this honour so that he can get his hands on it for the UK market.) Trafford's reds have just won an extraordinary number of awards at the South African Trophy Wine Show (details on news.wine.co.za) and are by no means overpriced, despite being available in such small quantities.

More widely available is de Trafford's Chenin Blanc, made from grapes bought in from two local farms with which he works. The 2000 and 1999 won South Africa's Chenin Blanc Challenge, as a result of which he and his artist wife were treated to their first trip to the Loire Valley, home of Chenin. This 2001 vintage is also extremely impressive. Made from vines between 15 and 29 years old - the latter dry-farmed - with no added acid, a little skin contact, American oak barrel fermentation using ambient yeasts and lees stirring, this is seriously interesting dry white wine. It has real substance and a character with something of honey, something of cooking apples about it. Perfect for seekers of Anything But Chardonnay, and no hurry at all to drink it.

An even better buy is de Trafford's sweet Chenin Blanc, sold in South Africa as Vin de Paille 1998 and made from grapes dried out of doors on netting. I gave a taste of this to Istvan Szepsy, the king of Tokaj. His natural Hungarian gloom increased when I told him the price (just £10.18 a half-litre from Bibendum Wine in London). European bureaucrats objected to the use of a French name on the label so it is having to be relabelled. David Trafford told me he was planning to call it Straw Wine but I think he should call it Vin de Pie. Either way, it should be available in Europe this coming autumn and, like the dry Chenin 2001, comes with a most attractive painting by Mrs Trafford on the label.

In the UK the Chenin Blanc 2001 is £7.56 a 75cl bottle and the Vin de Paille 1998 £10.18 a 50cl bottle from Bibendum Wine of London NW1.

See here for details of de Trafford's importers in Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and the United States (not bad for such a small producer - and all the result of people who have visited the estate rather than any determined export drive).

02/07/02



  Bourgogne Pinot Noir 1999 Cave des Vignerons Réunis à Buxy

This is by no means a great wine, but it is certainly a great buy in Britain this month, having been reduced from £5.99 to £3.99 (the usual price for this producer's much less fine Bourgogne Passetoutgrains 2000) until 20 July by the Coop. Not only sold by a cooperative, but made by one too, the ultra-dynamic Buxy coop, from fruit grown in the Côte Chalonnaise in rolling farmland well south of the Côte d'Or.

Côte Chalonnaise Pinot is always more rustic than Burgundy's best and many vintages of this wine have been just too thin to contemplate. But the combination of this price and this vintage is an extremely attractive one - just so long as you approach it as a useful light-bodied, bone-dry, fruity summer red that really does smell of Burgundian Pinot Noir with none of the rather tarty sweetness that cheap Pinot from the Americas can have.

You could chill this wine lightly and take it on a picnic. You could even drink it without food. But it's a delicate thing that should be drunk at one sitting. Its fragrance disappears fast. Don't expect the remains of an opened bottle to charm you the next day.

You can also order it from www.co-opdrinks2u.com for home delivery within the UK.

Those who wouldn't touch such a humble wine with a bargepole should return next week when I shall be recommending a Gaja wine.

The following are importers of red wine from Buxy coop:

Finland - ALKO stores
Norway - Vinmonopolet stores
Holland - Goessens / Bart Wijnimport
US

M & J Personal Selection, Alabama
William Harrison Import, Washington DC


    Canada - SAQ Monopoly / Vin Conseil, Montreal
    Mexico - Vinos Y Vino
    Japan - La Tâche, Nagoya / Izumi Trading, Tokyo
    Taiwan - Trustwell Company

      09/07/02



        Conteisa 1998 Gaja, Langhe Nebbiolo

      I don't usually enter the pricing stratosphere in this part of the site but I was terribly impressed by this particular wine when I tasted it couple of months ago. As it happens, I had spent the earlier part of the morning tasting a wide range of Piemontese reds, including not a few highly reputable Barolos, and this wine knocked spots off them all.

      You may remember that Angelo Gaja (based in Barbaresco but now with operations in Montalcino and the Maremma too) has deliberately decided to foreswear the restrictions of DOCG Barolo for the Sperss and Conteisa wines he grows in Barolo vineyards, presumably to give himself more flexibility in their varietal make-up and winemaking. (Conteisa contains about seven per cent Barbera, for example.) This means they qualify only as Nebbiolo grown in the Langhe region - but at these prices you are right to suspect something extra special.

      Conteisa is named after the Piemontese word for a quarrel, a reference to a dispute between the communes of La Morra and Barolo for possession of the site known as Cerequio, within which the Conteisa vineyard, acquired by Gaja in 1995, is located. (The dispute was settled in 1275 when La Morra prevailed, so surely things have calmed down a bit by now.) With this third vintage, a superlative one, from this prime, south-facing site Gaja has managed that trick of making a wine that is thoroughly convincing in its potential longevity but already so delicious that it could even be drunk now - quite a feat with what is effectively a Barolo. The wine insinuates itself amazingly gently on to the palate and is then somehow both explosive and ultra-sophisticated in the super-suave way. (Winemaking detail for techies: three-week fermentation in stainless steel, 12 months in barriques, 12 months in large botti.)

      A look at WineSearcher reveals an impressive array of stockists worldwide and an extraordinary range of prices, from $84 to $155 a bottle when I last looked.

      In the UK the wine is currently on offer from John Armit Wines of London W11 (tel 020 7908 0600) at £320 per six-bottle case in bond. Halves, magnums and impériales are also available.

      16/07/02



        Abbaye de Sylva Plana 2001 Faugères rosé

      This is rosé time of the year, is it not? And I am not alone in detecting a distinct whiff of modishness about this once-spurned wine style. I think the thing is that in the heat of summer, all of us red wine drinkers yearn for something as like a red wine as possible but that can be chilled to just above freezing.

      A wine like this fits the bill. It is extremely fruity, being made substantially from Cinsault and Grenache (with a bit of Syrah), so that even at 5 deg C/40 deg F or in a Force 8 gale it has some flavour - and that is fruit (plus 13.5 per cent alcohol) not sickly sweetness. It is straightforward and obvious rather than super-subtle like the very pale rosé I recommended back in February for Valentine's Day, but I was impressed by the amount of work that had obviously been put into ensuring a similar note of satin in its texture. (So many rosés taste too sweet and too astringent to me.) This one is a sort of pink geranium colour.

      Monsieur Deshenrys (who makes a Coteaux du Languedoc under the name Domaine Deshenrys) also makes a supple but deep-flavoured red La Closeriae Faugères under the Abbaye de Sylva Plana label which Majestic Wine Warehouses sell for £6.49 in the UK. The quintessentially festival rosé version is just £4.99 and, with its breeze-proof intensity of flavour, is made for drinking out of doors.

      23/07/02



        Fermoy Estate Semillon 2001 and 2000 Margaret River

      Margaret River in Western Australia is one of the few places in the world that can lay claim to producing world class Cabernet, particularly in its heartland, the Willyabrup district where, in a tight little cluster, such names as Moss Wood, Cullens, Gralyn, Vasse Felix, Ribbon Vale, Pierro and now Howard Park can be found.

      Fermoy Estate is also nearby and, while it produces a pretty good Cabernet, it is its white Semillon that has impressed me most. A lively blend of Semillon and Sauvignon is a bit of a Margaret River speciality (as Bordelais as its flagship reds) but Fermoy's straight Semillon is a delicious full-bodied white with just enough grassy aroma to keep it appetising. The 2001, which should reach Europe in about six weeks' time is still vibrantly youthful, the 2000 just settling down to comfortable late adolescence. Both are big, bold, lemony dry wines with lots of vaguely fig-like fruit but have enough subtlety and structure to be worth buying. I actually prefer them to the oaked, stirred Reserve Semillon of which 2000 is the first vintage. Fermoy claim that all of their Semillons have the capacity to age for many years and I have no reason to doubt them.

      The vineyard was planted in 1985 by John and Beryl Anderson and winemaker Michael Kelly joined in 1987. In 1999 the business was bought by Dutch wine nut Hans Hulsbergen (who owns wine operations in Tuscany and Switzerland as well as Holland).

      Direct from the winery (www.fermoy.com.au) the wine is 17 Australian dollars. In the UK the straight Semillon sells for around £8 at retailers such as Lea & Sandeman of London, D Byrne of Clitheroe, Great Western Wine of Bath and Sandiway Wines of Cheshire. Tessera Wine Merchants sell it in Dublin, Compendium in Northern Ireland.

      Principal European importer is Vinus Vita of Ootmarsum in the Netherlands (tel +31 546 570 567, web www.vinusvita.com).

      30/07/02



        Estate Riesling QbA 1999 Willi Haag Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

      While we decide which and how many 2001s to buy and cellar for many years (and the purple pages will be providing help with this exceptional vintage), the forward, openly fruity and flirtatious 1999s are delicious for actually drinking. You can find good 2000s but this is a much more difficult vintage to pick your way through. Purists may dismiss 1999 as a vintage for long-term cellaring but, gosh it's good to drink. And after all, isn't that what wine's there for? Enough of my rant.

      Like many of you, I like to spend as much of this time of year as possible in the sun, but the great majority of white wines are simply too full-bodied, oaky and/or, crucially, not sufficiently acid to make really refreshing drinking in warm weather.

      Aromatic, feather-light Rieslings from the Mosel valley in northern Germany can provide the chilly thrill that we need in these circumstances (apologies Victorians and New Zealanders who may be shivering in the southern hemisphere; we're yet to attract Patagonian subscribers, I believe). I have been enjoying a couple of Dr Loosen's 1999 Riesling Kabinetts but this simple QbA wine from the 400-year-old Willi Haag estate run by Inge Haag and her son Markus is very good value. Like the Fritz Haag estate, it's in Brauneberg, a village that might be said to be the Pauillac of the Mosel valley.

      In the UK Berry Bros & Rudd are offering it at just £6.95 and the current selling price in the US is generally just under $10. O W Loeb are the main UK importers, for importers elsewhere, please enquire via weingutwillihaag@gno.de. In the US, see in particular Chapin Cellars at www.chapincellars.com based in Springfield, Virginia where you can find an excellent technical fiche on this wine, plus label, telling us almost more than we need to know. The grapes were picked on 29 October, for example, and the alcohol level is just 8.83 per cent - quite a contrast to the typical modish red wine nowadays. Do wine drinkers drink any more or do they just sip?

      This fruity German white is a perfect summer aperitif. With its residual fruitiness, it could handle prawns with chilli or a light salad and cold meat but would be overwhelmed by most rich meat dishes.

      06/08/02



        Les Amis de Bouïssière 2001 Vin de Table

      The 2000 vintage of this Gigondas manqué was also awfully good but I tarried too long before recommending it and it was sold out before I had a chance to spread news of this bargain.

      The brothers Gilles et Thierry Faravel of the rising (risen?) Gigondas star Domaine de Bouïssière include 25 per cent Merlot in this really quite monstrous, brilliantly-priced wine as well as the Grenache (40 per cent) and Syrah (35 per cent) allowed in Gigondas. Because the vineyards are alluvial clay by the river, unclassified for Gigondas proper, the denomination is mere, if elegantly-labelled, Vin de Table.

      But if you wanted a wine that illustrated perfectly the French philosophy that wine is made in the vineyard and not in the marketing department, then taste this. It is so alive that it feels as though it will practically crawl across your tongue - yet a bottle sent by mail to me recently in the Languedoc was perfectly sound and drinkable only a day a two after arrival. And I'd guess that the 14 per cent alcohol cited on the label is no overstatement. It has not been filtered so is palpably thick as well as strong. Like all fruit from unirrigated, low yielding plants in the southern Rhône Valley, these grapes obviously had thick skins. The wine is significantly tannic - as well as showing the full, rich panoply of herbs and spices one associates with Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But, and it's a big but, the acidity is so low that the wine borders on being unbalanced.

      In fact I would choose to drink it this summer or over the coming winter, only with strongly flavoured and/or chewy foods. It was good with Donnat, a Grenache-washed soft ewe's milk cheese but that's a fairly outré recommendation, I'm afraid. I could imagine its taking on a wide range of soft, ripe cheeses.

      In the UK it costs £6.95 a bottle from La Réserve's shops in London SW3, NW3, W2 and £6.50 from Montrachet of London (tel 020 7928 1990, web www.montrachetwine.com) but you will have to buy at least 12 bottles from the latter, which charges £10 + VAT delivery for orders of fewer than 36 bottles.

      Elsewhere, a search on Google reveals the following European sites which seem to offer the Faravels' wines: in Denmark www.vinavisen.dk, in Germany www.pinard-de-picard.de and in France www.avignon-et-provence.com.

      13/08/02



        Vin de Pays du Gers 2001

      Well I promised a wine that cost next to nothing, and here it is. So downright cheap in fact, with so few pennies per bottle built in to the equation for those wholesalers and retailers who handle it along the way that, alas, it may not make its way very far from south-west France where it comes from.

      French white wine that is seriously inexpensive and has sufficient fruit and, crucially, refreshing acidity for hot weather is as common as love letters from Bush to Saddam. Sauvignon de Touraine can do the trick in a good vintage, but it never costs as little as this wine. Most really cheap French white is either fruitless and painfully tart or over-sweetened with grape concentrate and over-treated so that there is no hint of fresh fruit.

      This one's an exception. The Armagnac vineyards in Gascony have long been good hunting ground for those looking for bargain French whites, with their vast acreages of unwanted brandy grapes, the likes of Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano) and Colombard - perhaps not the most interesting characters in the world, but damned serviceable in a warm climate because of their naturally high acidity. The basic wines of the region are either Vin de Pays du Gers (pronounced 'Jairsss'), named after the département, or the slightly more specific Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne (Gascony).

      What's exceptional about this particular wine is the price and the vintage, which was particularly late in south-west France (remember how late the Bordeaux harvest was), prolonging the growing season for these simple white wines and resulting in more interesting fruit than usual. It was made at the dominant, and admirably well run, coop in the region, Plaimont (the name a contraction of its principal locations in Plaisance and St Mont) from 60 per cent Ugni Blanc and 40 per cent Colombard, the latter injecting a bit of much-needed perfume - though don't expect it to improve in bottle.

      I would say you should drink this wine immediately for maximum enjoyment as youthful vibrancy is its strongest suit (although its makers claim that they have worked so hard on identifying the characteristics of individual parcels of vines and modified their winemaking accordingly that such wines can travel all over the world and still last a couple of years). With its nervy acidity counterbalanced with well judged, pungent fruit and slight fizz, it would be ideal for lovers of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc either feeling the pinch or needing to serve bigger numbers than usual. The quintessential budget party wine, in fact.

      I have tasted a number of Vins de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne from the 2001 vintage too and they are all punchier and more satisfyingly fruity than usual. Hitaire and Pellehaute are both superior individual domaines, with Yves Grassa being one of the most dynamic producers. I was quite (in the languid British rather than enthusiastic American sense) impressed by his Côte Tariquet 2001, a 50:50 blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but at £6.99 it seemed far from a bargain.

      Vin de Pays du Gers is routinely less expensive than the better established (and usually better quality) Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne whose basic UK selling price is £3.49 or £3.99. This means, in the pricing matrix of British supermarkets, that it must sell at £2.99. (I note that the owners of the dubious French brand Piat d'Or make their dry white out of Vin de Pays du Gers - except that all that gold on the label is obviously very expensive as its regular selling price is £3.99.)

      Marks & Spencer's Vin de Pays du Gers is an extremely competent wine sold in Britain at just £2.99 a bottle - and they routinely sell 12 bottles for the price of 11 (which can be mixed).

      WineSearcher is unable to come up with any stockists outside Britain, although Plaimont claim to export their wares widely - even if the dominant product on the American market is their Combebelle, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. Head for the 2001.

      20/08/02



        Ici/La-Bas 'Philippine' Chardonnay 1999 Dennison Vineyard, Anderson Valley, California

      California Chardonnays that are refined, distinctive, delicious and under 50 dollars a bottle are rare indeed. Here's one that sells for about half that.

      It's made by Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat under a rather complicated label jointly owned and managed with barrel broker Mel Knox of San Francisco and his principal supplier Jean François of the fine Burgundian coopers François Frères. Ici/la-bas, translating roughly as 'here/down there', is presumably a reference to the fact that the fruit for this label comes way to the north of the winery in Santa Maria in California's Central Coast where the wines are made. (Others in the series include a seriously impressive Pinot Noirs from Oregon and another from Anderson Valley.) This is only the second vintage of the Chardonnay.

      The Anderson Valley in Mendocino is cool and misty enough to produce California's most consistently impressive fizz in the form of Roederer Estate's offerings. Hence this densely flavoured Chardonnay with only 12.5 per cent alcohol. The grapes have a conveniently long time to develop flavour without amassing inconveniently high sugars. Knox is more pragmatic on this: 'What we like about the Anderson Valley is that one gets the cool climate of Oregon but the rains arrive a month later so one has a better chance of getting ripe grapes.' The oak this wine was matured in was certainly not under-wined and yet there is really burgundian balance. Very savoury and, I can vouch, delicious with grilled turbot.

      In Europe the wine is available from Boucherville in Zurich (tel +41 1 299 4030); Vins du Monde in France (tel +33 02 40 01 64 01); and supposedly from Germany's dynamic wine importer K & U (www.weinhalle.de) though I could find no trace of it online.

      In Japan Ici/La-Bas wines are imported by Nakagawa Wine and Spirits.

      In the US it should be available in Oregon, California, Arizona, Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, Colorado and Texas. Try retailers who stock Au Bon Climat's wines.

      It is not imported into the UK, though Morris & Verdin of London, SE1 offer the dramatic Oregon Pinot Noir 1999 from Ici/La-Bas, which still needs a year or two for the oak to subside, at £90 for six bottles.

      More red wine next week.

      27/08/02



        Jean Marc Vincent's red burgundies

      Here's a very promising new producer based in Santenay of interest to those of us who seek that all-too-elusive combination of terroir expression, grace and ageing ability in our red burgundy.

      Anne-Marie and Jean-Marc Vincent took over his (not hers, as I wrote when recommending their 1999 Auxey-Duresses Blanc, Les Hautes last December) grandfather's five hectares in Santenay and Auxey-Duresses only in five years ago. I didn't taste their first vintage, 1998, but have tasted their 1999s and 2000s and the omens are extremely promising, with growing confidence evident in the more recent year. Zubair Mohamed of Raeburn Fine Wines in Edinburgh has tasted their 2001s and says they are very fine indeed - but then as exclusive British importer, he would say that, wouldn't he? Anyway, the fact that Kermit Lynch of Berkeley has taken them on is certainly a compliment.

      Most of their (quite mature) Pinot Noir vines are in Santenay premiers crus, the relatively long-lived Beaugravières, a nearby slice of Passetemps and the rather more calcareous and elegant Beaurepaires. They also have a hectare and half for both red and white wine in neighouring Auxey-Duresses.

      They pick in small boxes, believe in natural methods and long, slow fermentations, and have been experimenting with proportions of stems and new oak. Although these proportions are almost unfashionably high in several of the 2000s, the wines are far from oaky or stalky. It's possible to drink both their 1999s and their 2000s now, although the Santenays will clearly improve over the next five years or so. The wines have no easy sweetness or toasty oak but instead seem to have geographical integrity and great balance.

      The silky Passetemps 2000 is perhaps my favourite so far and just £132 a dozen in bond from Raeburn.

      You may wonder why I'm bothering to focus on one Burgundy domaine when there are so many (and an increasing number of good ones). It's simply that this one is too new to be very well known or very expensive. Gather their rosebuds while ye may. UK
      Raeburn Fine Wines of Edinburgh
      The Winery of London, W9 US
      Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, CA
      Augustan Wine Imports, Hollywood, FL
      Winebow, NY and NJ
      Pacific Coast Wine Marketing, Mountain Valley, CA
      Best Brands, Nashville, TN
      Missouri Beverage Co, St Louis, MO
      S N Heinz & Associates, Denver, CO
      Vintage House, Portland, OR
      H Denner Dist Corp, Cincinnati, OH
      Premier Cru Direct Import, Emeryville, CA
      Denmark
      Theis Vine, Rinje

      03/09/02



        Fairview Pegleg Carignan 2001

      Charles Back of Fairview is South Africa's most consistently innovative wine producer, as well as being an early exponent of social reforms. He could be said to be the Randall Grahm (of Bonny Doon in California) for his constant array of new wines which manage to inject a bit of fun into a the often over-solemn world of wine. His bright and breezy Goats do Roam brand of full-bodied reds, whites and pinks made in the image of Côtes du Rhône is one of the country's best-value exports - and the 2002 white (£4.99 Sainsbury's and Somerfield in the UK) made from a weird and wonderful mix of warm climate grapes is of particularly serious interest. Goat Roti 2001 has, perhaps inevitably, now joined the wide range of varietals and blends that he exports. Made from Syrah, Viognier and Mourvèdre, it's a fair stab at traditional style Côte Rôtie. (The goats do actually roam on the farm at Fairview.)

      But the wine that has sparked most enthusiasm from me recently is this, South Africa's first varietal Carignan. Now this red grape, hideously widely planted in the Languedoc, is far from being one of my favourites. As far as I'm concerned it is thinkable, and possibly drinkable, only if made from very old vines with yields so low that the fruit is concentrated enough to disguise the grape's inherent rank acidity. Domaine d'Aupilhac in the Coteaux du Languedoc makes Carignan that I can appreciate, and Ch de Lastours in Corbières has access to some very fine old Carignan vines too.

      Outside France the only all-Carignan wines I have been impressed by have been the odd Sardinian and Marqués de Murrieta's special, one-off Mazuelo bottling and this one. The Mazuelo is very skilfully made, and bottled exclusively in magnums, but costs £50. Pegleg is just £7.50. The name comes from the local nickname for Cobus Basson who lost a leg at 17 when a tractor fell on top of him while he was helping his father plant vines. The Bassons were some of the first in the country to plant Carignan here on the granite slopes of the Pedeberg in Paarl. The product of eight months in barrel and unfiltered, it's a massive wine. Almost port-purple and redolent of its 14.9 per cent alcohol, it is so voluptuous, with masses of insistent personality - all dark berries with a kick of spice - that there is only the faintest suggestion of excess acidity at the very end of the palate. This is a wine for cool nights, hearty dishes and gargantuan appetites.

      It's £7.50 from The Wine Society of Stevenage in the UK (www.thewinesociety.com) of which you have to own a £40 lifetime share to buy. A little also reaches the US via Vineyard Brands (see below).

      According to Fairview, Goats do Roam White is also exported to: US
      Vineyard Brands
      2000 Resource Drive
      Birmingham , AL 35242
      www.vineyardbrands.com

      Hong Kong
      Kedington (Far East)
      13A, Sunrise Industrial Building
      10 Hong Man Street
      Chai Wan
      Hong Kong
      email kedwines@netvigator.com

      Ireland
      Gilbeys Ireland
      Nangor House
      Dublin 12
      email info@guinessudv.com

      10/09/02



        Kongsgaard Napa Valley Chardonnay 1999

      I was fascinated by the 1998 Kongsgaard Chardonnay when I tasted it last year (see Assorted Californian Wines on purple pages) so when I was in the Napa Valley last June I made sure of meeting up with John K. At least I thought I had, but he is no great slave to email and word of the fact that he had just severed connections with Luna in the far south of the Valley did not reach sommelier Larry Stone and me in time to save us a needless loop down there to find him when in fact he was in St Helena where we'd just come from, sitting in the home of his ex-Christie's partner in Arietta wines, Fritz Hatton. (This rather beautiful Victorian house was once the home of Robin Lail, so presumably many a plan for what eventually became Dominus was hatched here.)

      The Kongsgaards are an old Napa Valley family (and there aren't too many of them). John Kongsgaard is basically a music nut (his last visit to London was for Rattle's 'Parsifal') who worked 14 years for Newton Vineyards. Now for his own neo-Gothick label he sources his Chardonnay mainly from the old family vineyard just east of the city of Napa on rocky, volcanic soils. The clone is the same as that which has been responsible for Stony Hill's exceptionally long-lived Chardonnays, although the Kongsgaard style is very much fuller and richer. He never adds acid. Fermentations in the leased winery in St Helena can last up to a year, with 100 per cent ambient yeast.

      The wines certainly taste wild. In fact my overriding tasting note on the 1999, the current vintage, was 'wild beast'. This is an expensive wine but one that will repay each nose- and mouthful with multiple responses. There aren't many wines that I'd describe as amazingly rich and funky but this is one of them, with layers of bananas and butterscotch but, amazingly, enough acidity not to be sickly and with a firm, dry finish. Very rewarding - even at £59.35 per single bottle from specialist fine American wine importers and retailers The Vineyard Cellars of Berkshire (www.vineyardcellars.com).

      WineSearcher reveals retail prices in the US and Singapore of between US$64.99 and US$115.

      I also had the chance to taste the 1997 Chardonnay during my visit (as well as a most impressive 1999 Syrah from the Hudson vineyard which supplies Arietta's delicious Merlot - also available from The Vineyard Cellars). It had aged well and was incredibly persistent.

      17/09/02



        Castaño Monastrell 2000 Yecla

      Spain is a treasure trove for impoverished wine drinkers seeking comfort and warmth for next to nothing. Monastrell is so commonly planted in the Levante on the Mediterranean coast that it has taken years for Spaniards themselves to be convinced that others hold this grape, the Mourvèdre of Bandol, in rather high regard.

      In fact it has taken outsiders such as energetic American wine importer Eric Solomon of European Wine Cellars to galvanise growers and bodegas into producing wines of exportable quality from it. Sometimes it is blended with a more internationally recognisable grape, Merlot for example, but the key is to ferment it with sufficient care that it retains fruit and does not fall prey to reduction (a common problem with this grape).

      These wines have so much flavour even in youth that they can beguile without expensive oak treatment. The rich, full chocolaty Castaño bottling retails widely in the US between $7.13 and $16.99 a bottle according to WineSearcher - which also suggests a spread of stockists in Spain, New Zealand, Germany and France (Château Online).

      The Castaño bodega does not unfortunately seem to export to Britain, although here we can choose from a number of similar wines such as Monasterio de Santa Ana Monastrell 2001 Jumilla (www.casadelaermita.com £4.99 Waitrose) which is also big and bold and awfully easy to like. It's sweet and dramatic but sufficiently reined in, perhaps thanks to its three months in French and American oak, to stop it falling over itself. Like the Castaño, a great buy from old vines.

Contact us | Team Jancis | Site FAQs | Join now | Terms and Conditions | Privacy policy | Site map | RSS
© Copyright 2000-2014 Jancis Robinson