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  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
8 Dec 2001
 

There follow two versions of the same advice, one most suitable in terms of stockist information, etc, for British visitors and the second for Americans. Others are advised to check individual wines (and wine retailers' predilection to ship bottles to foreign destinations) on WineSearcher.

SMART WHITES FOR BRITS

Your guests may well judge your powers of wine selection most keenly, and certainly most soberly, by the first wine served at your table. And unless you are dazzlingly unconventional this is likely to be a white wine.

Here are some suggestions for distinctly superior white wines to serve at special meals over the holidays, the first group being designed to surprise and titillate, the second to comfort.

Urban chic

Italy has long been a source of super-stylish reds but whites have been catching up fast. Both of the following show the influence of gifted itinerant oenologist Riccardo Cotarella.

The single most exciting white wine in a recent tasting of 74 such tasty morsels set before wine writers by the British supermarket Waitrose was Fiano di Avellino 2000 Pietracalda (£12.99 London branches of Waitrose). Swathed in a beautifully intense floral scent, creamy texture and irrepressible personality, it just jumped off the overloaded table. Sparkling clean, this is made from Campania's best white grape Fiano di Avellino and fermented in French and Austrian (ultra-trendy) oak by the region's most dynamic producer Feudi di San Gregorio. It is so good that Italy's influential Gambero Rosso organisation have given it a three-glass award and, of course, stocks are extremely limited. Go buy it!

Palazzone's Orvieto Classico 1999 Terre Vineate (£8.50 The Winery, London W9 - tel 020 7286 6475) would be quite unrecognisable to someone whose perception of Orvieto is based on the paintstripper once shipped under that name. This stylishly labelled blend of local grape varieties with its deep layers of nuts and honey is already delicious but will age beautifully. It could also stand up to the most powerful of first courses.

Talking of first courses, should you by any chance be planning to stuff your guests' gullets with politically incorrect foie gras, then it would be difficult to imagine a better-value accompaniment than Tokay-Pinot Gris, Cuvée Alexandre 1999 Domaine Schoffit (£11.75 Adnams of Southwold - tel 01502 727222). This is made rich and full from old vines and has the sort of intensity associated with the fashionable but more expensive producer Zind-Humbrecht.

More of a shock would be Winninger Uhlen Riesling 1997 Heymann Lowenstein (£19.80 Morris & Verdin, London SE1 - tel 020 7921 5300) for it is not only in a tall, suspiciously Germanic-looking bottle but it actually comes from Germany. But this is no lightweight, floral symphony that your guests will dismiss as 'sweet'. It is has a similar structure to the fullest mature white burgundy and is every bit as dry - in fact I have enjoyed it with heavily chilli-ed fish.

An alternative if your guests are wine sophisticates is one of Austria's fashionable, sleek, full-bodied dry whites, preferably made from the country's own spicy grape variety. Grüner Veltliner Alte Reben 1999 Bründlmayer (£13.10 Transatlantic Wines of Leicester - tel 01664 565013, mail order only) is made by Kamptal's ultra-talented Willi Bründlmayer from old vines and carries its 13.5 per cent alcohol discreetly. There is absolutely no hurry to drink this satin-textured marvel from a more classical vintage than either 1998 or 2000.

Another scented, full-bodied white that could hardly fail to please is Domaine de l'Hortus Grande Cuvée Blanc 2000 Charm is not the strong point of Pouilly Fumé Pur Sang 1999 Didier Dagueneau (£20.95 H & H Bancroft, London SE1 - tel 0870 444 1702) which is the wildest of feral creatures. Sauvignon stalks the earth in this dramatically captured essence of pure, mineral-scented Sauvignon Blanc - one of the few Sauvignons that takes age in its stride.

Should your guests seek Chardonnay above all else, try one of these two particularly sophisticated specimens from the New World. Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2000 (£13.50 Harrods, Selfridges) is as fair a copy of white burgundy as is currently available from South Africa, while Saintsbury Chardonnay 1999 Carneros (£14.95 Adnams of Southwold - tel 01502 727222) has long been one of California's gentlest, most appetising specimens.

Country not-at-all-casual

Many a host and guest likes to stick to The Real Thing, however. I have trawled through oceans of white burgundy to fish out the following sure-fire recommendations from the vintages currently available for your delectation, in ascending order of price and substance.

Chablis 1999 Domaine Servin (£6.99, or £6.49 if two bottles are bought, Majestic) is inexpensive and perfectly correct from drinking now, though has less minerality than the ultra-lively Chablis 2000 Jean-Marc Brocard (£8.49 Oddbins). Either of these reminders of how cool Chardonnay is without oak could be drunk as an aperitif.

Rully Blanc Les Cloux 1999 Vincent Girardin (£9.99 Majestic) is another racy Majestic exclusivity but is selling fast. It has impressive echoes of Côte d'Or class for a Chalonnaise wine. Girardin and his new winery are on a roll.

Perhaps best value of all is the slightly lean but impressive Santenay Clos de la Comme Dessus 1999 Laurent Borgeot (£10.99 Oddbins). La Réserve (see below) is offering the same canalside producer's premier cru Gravières at £9.95 a half which is a bit more substantial, as well it might be.

Particularly characteristic of the early charm of this vintage for white burgundy is St Aubin La Princée 1999 Domaine Olivier et Hubert Lamy (£12.95 H & H Bancroft, London SE1 - tel 0870 444 1702). This well made, lightly oaked wine manages to be both delicate and flattering.

Monthélie Blanc 1999 Château de Puligny-Montrachet (£14.95 La Réserve of London SW3, SW6, NW3, W2 and SW11 - tel 020 7589 2020) is another bargain from a particularly competent cellar with a lovely spicy fragrance and real savour. La Réserve may not be cheap but, like Haynes Hanson & Clark and Justerini & Brooks, both of London SW1, is a particularly good retailer of burgundy.

Auxey-Duresses, Les Hautes 1999 Jean-Marc Vincent (£19.99 The Winery, London W9 - tel 020 7286 6475) is the second vintage from a new producer, nothing to do with the underperforming J J Vincent of Pouilly-Fuissé. Made from vines on the border with Meursault, with an alluringly creamy perfume, this wine is slightly less generous than a fine Meursault but much weightier than most Auxeys.

Contrasting with Meursault's opulence is the discreetly savoury, lemon-scented Puligny-Montrachet 1998 Louis Carillon (£19.95 Berry Bros & Rudd, London SW1 and Basingstoke - tel 0870 900 4301) which should please any time over the next two years.

Mature white burgundy is rare in commercial circulation and even rarer on a supermarket shelf but Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses 1996 (£22.95 Waitrose Inner Cellar stores) comes from the admirable La Chablisienne cooperative which has also kept back some Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles 1995 (£23 top Marks & Spencer stores). The 1996 is classic mature Chablis but could be cellared for at least another decade. The 1995 is more plodding.

On the other hand the big, open Puligny Montrachet La Garenne 1999 Château de Puligny-Montrachet (£25.95 La Réserve of London SW3, SW6, NW3, W2 and SW11 - tel 020 7589 2020) proves that white burgundy does not have to be old to be hugely enjoyable.

For those who like their white burgundy to be really flamboyant Meursault-Perrières 1998 Domaine J-M Gaunoux (£28.95 Berry Bros & Rudd, London SW1 and Basingstoke - tel 0870 900 4301) would be just the job. This is so rich and nutty it is almost decadent.

And finally my verbatim tasting note on Meursault Grands Charrons 1999 Jean-Marc Morey (£31 La Réserve of London SW3, SW6, NW3, W2 and SW11 - tel 020 7589 2020) which would certainly not pass muster in a wine exam but is, I hope, sufficiently expressive: "electric toast, 300 volts, very White Cube Gallery. Swallow!"

Have fun.

SMART WHITES FOR AMERICANS

It is good to share good wines. It is you who may suffer most if you share bad ones. Your guests will judge your powers of wine selection most keenly, and certainly most soberly, by the first wine served at your table. And unless you are dazzlingly unconventional this is likely to be a white wine.

Here are some suggestions for distinctly superior white wines to serve at special meals over the holidays, the first group being designed to surprise and titillate, the second to comfort.

For titillation

Italy has long been a source of super-stylish reds but whites have been catching up fast. Both of the following show the influence of gifted itinerant oenologist Riccardo Cotarella.

The single most exciting white wine in a recent tasting of 74 such tasty morsels set before wine writers by the British supermarket Waitrose was Fiano di Avellino 2000 Pietracalda (imported into the US by Winebow, New York - tel 1 800 445 0620). Swathed in a beautifully intense floral scent, creamy texture and irrepressible personality, it just jumped off the overloaded table. Sparkling clean, this is made from Campania's best white grape Fiano di Avellino and fermented in French and Austrian (ultra-trendy) oak by the region's most dynamic producer Feudi di San Gregorio. It is so good that Italy's influential Gambero Rosso organisation have given it a three-glass award and, of course, stocks are extremely limited. Go buy it!

Palazzone's Orvieto Classico 1999 Terre Vineate (imported by Michael Skurnik Wines of Syosset, New York - tel 516 677 9300) would be quite unrecognisable to someone whose perception of Orvieto is based on the paintstripper once shipped under that name. This stylishly labelled blend of local grape varieties with its deep layers of nuts and honey is already delicious but will age beautifully. It could also stand up to the most powerful of first courses.

Talking of first courses, should you by any chance be planning to stuff your guests' gullets with politically incorrect foie gras, then it would be difficult to imagine a better-value accompaniment than Tokay-Pinot Gris, Cuvée Alexandre 1999 Domaine Schoffit (Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville PA - tel 610 486 0800). This is made rich and full from old vines and has the sort of intensity associated with the fashionable but more expensive producer Zind-Humbrecht.

More of a shock would be Winninger Uhlen Riesling 1997 Heymann Lowenstein (Chambers amd Chambers, San Francisco, CA - tel 94124 415 642 5500) for it is not only in a tall, suspiciously Germanic-looking bottle but it actually comes from Germany. But this is no lightweight, floral symphony that your guests will dismiss as 'sweet'. It is has a similar structure to the fullest mature white burgundy and is every bit as dry - in fact I have enjoyed it with heavily chilli-ed fish.

An alternative if your guests are wine sophisticates is one of Austria's fashionable, sleek, full-bodied dry whites, preferably made from the country's own spicy grape variety. Grüner Veltliner Alte Reben 1999 Bründlmayer (Terry Thiese c/o Michael Skurnik Wines of Syosset, New York - tel 516 677 9300) is made by Kamptal's ultra-talented Willi Bründlmayer from old vines and carries its 13.5 per cent alcohol discreetly. There is absolutely no hurry to drink this satin-textured marvel from a more classical vintage than either 1998 or 2000.

Another scented, full-bodied white that could hardly fail to please is Domaine de l'Hortus Grande Cuvée Blanc 2000 Charm is not the strong point of Pouilly Fumé Pur Sang 1999 Didier Dagueneau (Beaune Imports, Berkeley CA 94702 - tel 510 841 9815) which is the wildest of feral creatures. Sauvignon stalks the earth in this dramatically captured essence of pure, mineral-scented Sauvignon Blanc - one of the few Sauvignons that takes age in its stride.

Should your guests seek Chardonnay above all else, try one of these two particularly sophisticated specimens from the New World. Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2000 (Martin Scott Wines of Lake Success, New York - tel 516 327 0808) is as fair a copy of white burgundy as is currently available from South Africa, while Saintsbury Chardonnay 1999 Carneros (widely available) has long been one of California's gentlest, most appetising specimens.

For traditionalists

Many a host and guest likes to stick to The Real Thing, white burgundy, for special occasions however. Funnily enough the one sort of white burgundy that is far too often overlooked is the purest: Chablis. That is Chablis in the unoaked, cool, nervy ferments grown on the slopes above the sleepy little town of the same name in north-east France (as opposed to a cheap blended American wine called Chablis). Well made Chablis carrying the simple village appellation can make a delicious aperitif when drunk young (just as revitalising as champagne), as a very inexpensive Chablis 1999 from Domaine Servin and a slightly more expensive Chablis 2000 from Jean-Marc Brocard, one of the masters of Chablis, proved recently.

But, unlike so many much oakier, softer and more alcoholic Chardonnays, Chablis can age beautifully. A premier cru or, better still, grand cru, may well still be improving in bottle at 20 years old if made by the likes of Dauvissat or Raveneau, or the newly rejuvenated William Fèvre. Even the grands crus from the admirable La Chablisienne cooperative such as the Preuses 1996 or Grenouilles 1995 are in fine form at the moment, having acquired that mealy depth as well as the usual savour of wet stones that is characteristic of Chablis with a bit of bottle age.

If there is classicism in spades to the north of the Côte d'Or, the classic white burgundy area, there are bargains to be had well to the south. The Maconnais just north of the rolling hills of Beaujolais is a hotbed of vinous ambition at the moment. Producers such as Daniel Barraud, Domaine Cordier, Corsin, J A Ferret, Guffens-Heynen, Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon, Roger Lassarat, Olivier Merlin, Robert-Denogent and Verget are vying with each other as to who can produce the most sophisticated wines from such appellations as Pouilly Fuissé, St Véran, the new Viré-Classé and even humble Mâcon.

And the new wave of growers-turned-wine-merchants such as Vincent Girardin are doing a fine job with some of the Côte Chalonnaise appellations too.

With standards of growing and, especially, winemaking rising throughout Burgundy (though arguably not fast enough), there is no need nowadays to stick solely to the classic white wine appellations of Corton Charlemagne, Meursault and anything with the word Montrachet in it. My extensive recent tastings have revealed some excellent wines carrying lesser names such as various 1999 Santenays from Laurent Borgeot, 1999 St Aubins from Domaine Olivier et Hubert Lamy, an Auxey-Duresses, Les Hautes 1999 from new producer Jean-Marc Vincent (nothing to do with the underperforming J J Vincent of Pouilly-Fuissé) and a wide range of dependable 1999s from the more obscure villages from Château de Puligny-Montrachet.

The easy, open 1999 white burgundies are some of the easiest to find in retail distribution at the moment, and many provide easy, nay pleasurable, drinking already. The 1998s can be a bit awkward and sullen (although Carillon's regular Puligny- Montrachet is already attractive and J-M Gaunoux's Meursault-Perrieres 1998 is already so rich and nutty it is almost decadent.

Most of the 1996s are still very high in acidity and should ideally be kept awhile. The 1997s can make attractive drinking provided they have the lift of the likes of Jean-Marc Morey's dramatically thrilling Meursault Grands Charrons, but too many of them are just plain dull.

May this be very far from true of your own holiday celebrations.