This is the first time since I started writing
about wine in 1975 that wine has seemed so frivolous. But then it is
also capable of giving succour and cheer.
an era of austerity need not be austere themselves however. Here are a
few standouts from recent tastings in Britain, listed in ascending
price order within styles - although note that there is considerable
overlap between whites that could be described as Dry and Aromatic.
Many Sauvignon Blancs, for instance, are both.
that underprivileged places such as eastern Europe, South Africa and
bog standard [or 'standard issue' if you absolutely must] Bordeaux are
particularly good at supplying bargains.
to non-Brits for a high proportion of wines available only in Britain.
I have marked those worth seeking outside Britain.
Vintage Brut, Champalou £8.17 Les Caves de Pyrène of
Guildford (tel 01483 538820)
This is far more fun
to drink than any budget champagne - an irreproachably made traditional
method Chenin Blanc from the Loire with a lovely open, friendly perfume
of apples and honey, flirtatious fizz and an appetisingly dry finish.
Bordeaux Semillon 2000
Ginestet £3.99 Waitrose
looks worth well over a fiver. What is in it tastes much better than
the Calvet Sauvignon Blanc sold alongside it. Be careful not to serve
this too cold or you will not taste a thing nor, more importantly,
smell anything. A bone-dry, full-bodied wine with real character and no
rough edges is quite rare at this price. Much better value than most
Chilean Sauvignons under a fiver.
Grove Barrel Fermented Chenin 2000 South Africa £3.99 Tesco
This is stunning value, made by the ubiquitous Kym
Milne MW and his colleagues whose work in Sicily and South Africa is
particularly outstanding. Difficult to see how the barrel fermentation
squares with the price but my advice is to simply go ahead and enjoy a
lemon-scented, slightly oaky, long-flavoured wine that is not
Chardonnay but made from South Africa's most widely planted grape. Very
Hilltop Riverview Chardonnay
Pinot Grigio 2000 Hungary £3.99 Waitrose
Seventy per cent Chardonnay and a borrowed Italian
grape name would appear to justify an extra £1.20 a bottle (cf Reka
Valley below which was also made by award-winning Amos Kamocsay at
Hilltop Neszmely). The Pinot Gris adds weight to what is otherwise a
relatively neutral wine but it is well balanced and good value. It
would go with parma ham and melon rather well.
Hungarian Pinot Gris 2000 £2.79 330 Tesco stores from 8 Oct
You will need a blindfold for this one. Did they
really get the price down by skimping on the label design? Surely not.
It is just the struggle for central European wine producers to lift
themselves off the pricing floor. And their need for western currency,
presumably. This is by no means fine wine but is well made (at the
Hilltop Neszmely winery) and expressive of typical Magyar fire and
Scholtzenhof Petit Chenin 2000 South
Africa £3.99 Oddbins
sweet but well packaged (if you like lime green) and well made by Ken
Goats Do Roam White 2001 Paarl,
South Africa £4.99 Sainsburys
Back's red Rhônish blend was a huge success when it was launched two or
three years ago and this new white counterpart looks set to win as many
friends, even if for the moment it is available at only one retailer.
Based on full-bodied Grenache Blanc (the wine is 14 per cent alcohol)
and neutral Clairette, it is scented by almost 20 per cent of the
aromatic varieties Muscat Blanc and Viognier. This would go well with
vibrant flavoured pasta and vegetable dishes.
Tempranillo/Garnacha 2000 CarinTena, Spain £3.99 Sainsburys
A surprising amount of guts, vigour and personality
for the money from one of Spain's many up-and-coming regions. Same
grape mix as Rioja but much, much more concentrated and almost tough at
the end. No hurry to drink this 14 per cent-er.
Terra de Lobos 2000 Ribatejo,
Portugal £3.99 Waitrose
without chaptalisation and with Portuguese density and character. This
lively, alcoholic damson juice could easily be served chilled and/or
without food. It is fairly crisp and its importer claims it is the
archetypal TV wine (though possibly not quite concentrated enough for
some of the stuff we see on our screens at the moment). Uncomplicated
wine from the fertile banks of the Tejo made entirely from the grape we
used to call Perequita (parrot) but which the Portuguese authorities,
in their craven haste to satisfy EU demands that all grapes have only
one name, have decreed is now called Castelão.
Vin de Pays des Portes de la Mediterranée
2000 Chaume Arnaud £3.99 Great Grog of Edinburgh (tel
0131 444 2332) and Glasgow
team keep getting better and better. Even their basic Vin de Pays is
sweet, rich and charming, almost chocolaty, without losing any French
earthiness. Even better is the Côtes de Rhône 2000 which manages to
express terroir while being smooth and not too
alcoholic and Vinsobres 1999 which is denser and worth cellaring. These
two cost £4.99 and £6.99 respectively from Great Grog, a little bit
more at Booths supermarkets, even
more from London importer Morris & Verdin of London SE1 and far
more in the US.