I go to up to 10 wine tastings a week, taste scores of wines at home, and only rarely devote an article to any of these experiences for they tend to provide background rather than foreground. Here's an exception however.
Mark Savage is a fellow Master of Wine with a particularly fine and distinctive taste in wine. The result is the Savage Selection, a range of wines sold from his base in Gloucestershire, England, that is seriously stimulating in the way that all too few are. I tasted wines from 18 of his growers recently and found it a much more satisfying experience than the average tasting that predictably doffs its hat at conventional wine styles.
With such an idiosyncratic selection, it's hardly surprisingly that I didn't love everything. Mark has a longstanding but somewhat enigmatic relationship with the state of Idaho. Indian Creek Pinot Noir 1998 and Vickers Vineyard Chardonnay 1996 may well be some of the finest wines produced in the state, but my guess is that they may rest awhile on the Savage Selection list.
On the other hand, Mark Savage has taken on the fine, hand-crafted wines of Bloodwood in Orange, New South Wales, where it is so cool that its owners Stephen and Rhonda Doyle had to drive through snowdrifts to get the plane from Sydney to the London tasting. Bloodwood Shiraz 2000 is looking a particularly good buy at £9.60.
Perhaps the bargain of the tasting was Hidalgo's Canciller 2000, a fruity-yet-savoury Monastrell (Mourvèdre) from Alicante in Spain, made with help from itinerant Telmo Rodriguez and sold by Savage at just £4.95 a bottle.
A real find for me was the Austrian producer Juris of Gols in the far east of the country in red wine country. I got very excited when I saw Juris Pinot Noir 2000 at £9.69 on the list. It turned out to be a misprint, but even at £16.25 it's worth considering, though not as much as the seriously fine Hungarian producer who still grows the ancient Hungarian Kéknyelü, or blue-stalked, grape. Szeremley Estate Kéknyelü 2000 from the shores of Lake Balaton is a very fine, subtle white wine indeed - pure Savage. It's clean and interesting with lots of body, a certain lightly fiery peachiness but quite enough fine-grained acidity too. The Szeremley Estate Szürkebarat 2000 (Pinot Gris) is even better value at just £5.80 - again marked by great purity, and an interesting smoked sausage character. Really.
Needless to say, Savage (the British merchant who discovered François Mitjavile of Ch Tertre Roteboeuf well over 20 years ago) has some superior French selections too. I had not come across Ch Martet from that obscure appellation beyond Entre deux Mers, Ste Foy Bordeaux, before but was most impressed by Ch Martet 1999, made beautifully by François's son Louis Mitjavile. A wine with extraordinary depth and interest for a 1999 at £14.49 a bottle, I thought.
And then there was Jean-Paul Brun of Charnay-en-Beaujolais, so proud of his Burgundian limestone that he has risked the ire of the authorities and planted Pinot Noir there. The Chardonnay has already produced a Beaujolais Blanc en futs 2000 Domaine des Terres Dorées that would put many a wine at twice its price (£8.62) to shame, and his straightforward Beaujolais Cuvée Première 2001 Domaine des Terres Dorées at £5.31 would make a lovely drink for summer lunches - very true and pretty.
Savage is a much better taster than businessman. Some of these wines may already be sold out. Others, as I say, may hang around on that list for years. I mention these wines - and the stunning Douro wines and ports of Casa de Santa Eufêmia of which more later - simply to highlight the Savage Selection in general, and to urge you to encourage the likes of Mark Savage who add spice to the world of wine.
Savage Selections, The Ox House, Market Place, Northleach, Gloucestershire GL54 3EG
(tel 01451 860896 / 860680, email email@example.com).