Dönnhoff Riesling 1999 Nahe
In the hot, muggy dog days of summer German Riesling really comes into its own - with the converted. But there are millions out there who just don't get it. For them German Riesling is too sweet, too sulphury, too cheap (yes, some wine buyers are suspicious of wines that don't cost enough) or too low in alcohol and oomph to be worth considering. If you are still wary of this unique wine style (nowhere else in the world can produce Rieslings of such delicacy as Germany) the Nahe might just be the region to convince you - and if Hermann Dönnhoff can't do it, no one can. Voted winemaker of the year by both Gault Millau and the wonderfully named (for anglophones) Der Feinschmecker in 1999, his is a supertalent.
But his wines have a modern twist. They are unclouded by the veil of sulphur that can hang heavy over more traditional bottlings and express beautifully grown, concentrated fruit with great definition and layers of minerality, in some instances nuttiness. A good starting point is the open, vivacious and rather smokey 1999 basic QbA (just £7.49 from Booths supermarkets in northern and central England - American stockists as identified by WineSearcher). The Oberhäuser Leistenberg 1999 Kabinett is also charming, if definitely sweeter.
This is a domaine that can make great dry (trocken) wines as well as the sweeter, traditional styles - and a truly thrilling Eiswein in the Oberhäuser Brücke 2000. Overall the 2000 vintage was much more successful, if no more difficult, in the Nahe than in the Mosel, and Dönnhoff's green harvest concentrated things still further. The Norheimer Kirschheck Spätlese 2000 is a triumph of purity.
For stockists see WineSearcher - or just put yourself at the mercy of your local German wine enthusiast and get stuck in to any fine Riesling!
I have long been a fan of this Sonoma winery whose modest winemaker seems to have a magic touch as far as Chardonnay is concerned and whose owners seem to be relatively immune to the vanity pricing virus so prevalent in California. (The famous Helen Turley was a consultant here in the early 1990s.) The regular Overlook bottling has consistently been one of the state's best-value wines made up of beautifully melded ingredients from each of Sonoma, Santa Barbara and Monterey counties. (It is so rare for Chardonnay to express a place with any great precison that I'm prepared to indulge this anti-terroiriste approach in this case.)
Most vintages I find the top Damaris bottling, named after the the John Deere tractor heiress owner, just too much of a good thing, too sweet and rich in the way of so many Californian Chardonnays. But the 1998 Damaris, from a less opulent year than usual, really hits the spot for me. It is certainly very rich but its caressing creamy texture makes the whole impact extremely gentle rather than a punch in the cranium. But arguably it is the Overlook that is by far the better buy.
In the UK Oddbins sell the Overlook Chardonnay for £14.99 and still have a few bottles of the Damaris 1998 Reserve Chardonnay in Oddbins Fine Wine shops for £19.99. In the US the respective prices are around 25 and 45 dollars and are reasonably easy to find. See WineSearcher.
Domaine de Grangeneuve 1999 Coteaux du Tricastin
You want a house red that consistently delivers all the joys of southern France? Check this one out. I tasted the regular bottling first and was amazed how much pleasure it packed into this relatively modestly priced bottle. The sweet, fullblown blend of Syrah and Grenache is not heavy but no wimp either and tastes like that English speciality summer pudding (all the soft fruits of summer soaked up into white bread with lots of sweet purple juice) in a bottle.
But the Vieilles Vignes bottling was a revelation, and hardly more expensive. Odette and Henri Bour's oldest vines pack considerably more of a punch. The wine could be drunk now, but will be still more rewarding in a year or two. I decided that the regular bottling would be great for a summer lunch and the Vieilles Vignes for dinner.
In the UK Oddbins sell the Vieilles Vignes version for £5.99 while importers Berry Bros & Rudd knock four whole pennies off to offer it at £5.95 (they sell the regular bottling for £5.50). K & L of San Francisco, who sell a lot of the wines I like, ask a bit more for the old vine version. The domaine is at Roussas in this often-overlooked appellation just north of the Cotes du Rhône Villages area, tel no 04 75 98 50 22.
Haardter Mandelring Scheurebe Spätlese 1999 Müller Catoir, Pfalz
I clearly remember the first time I tasted a wine from this outstandingly innovative Pfalz estate. It was back in the 1980s when the notion of a full-bodied dry(ish) German wine labelled Spätlese Trocken seemed a revelation. Müller Catoir have gone on to win followers all over the world, especially in the US where the exotically upfront, almost overwhelming fruit in the wines is particularly appreciated. If Germany has a Californian Chardonnay style (and I'm talking Turley rather than Turning Leaf here), then perhaps the wines of Müller Catoir are it. (Rebholz's Pfalz 1999 barrel-fermented Chardonnay was pretty good when tasted the other day - and his Pinot Noir/Spätburgunder R 1997 a revelation.)
(I'm sorry to go on about German wine but am determined to encourage a few non-believers to try some of the best - especially those sweating through a hot summer. It is mostly underpriced and certainly underappreciated. And Müller Catoir wines are quite outside the norm.)
This particular wine demonstrates that German wine doesn't have to be Riesling to be interesting. Dr Scheu's crossing comes into its own in the Pfalz and this wine would be a dream in a blind tasting - all grapefruit, explosive with ripe fruit.
German (and Burgundy) UK wine specialist Howard Ripley ( HowardRipley.com tel +44 (0)20 8877 3065) has a special offer on German wines and is currently asking only £10.50 a bottle plus VAT, while MacArthurs of Washington DC are asking almost twice as much. But I urge you to try any Müller Catoir wine for something a little different.
The Angelus Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 Wirra Wirra, McLaren Vale
The internet forum of the British Circle of Wine Writers provided hours of fun recently debating (though that may be too grand a term) the proposition that Australian Wines Are Boring. Of course a heck of a lot of them are, just as a heck of a lot of Californian wines are - and if French, Italian and Spanish wines tend to be less boring it is at least partly because they are less consistent.
The difference is, I would argue, that Australian wine exporters are so well organised, act so concertedly, and are so well tuned to the dreary realities of modern commerce (regular promotions, tasting discounts, all sorts of tempting financial inducements for the buyers) that they have managed to maintain relatively high prices for the FAQ (fair average quality) stuff they have exported so successfully.
But it would be ridiculous to condemn the entire Australian wine industry as a homogenous mass. More and more producers are being inspired by the unique qualities of their vineyards - and not necessarily to produce tiny quantities of overpriced, overconcentrated wine specifically for export.
McLaren Vale just south of Adelaide is on a most delightful roll. Its glossy, ripe-but-not-overripe reds have a confidence that many wines from newer regions still lack. And although Shiraz is awfully impressive to taste, well made Cabernet Sauvignon can be much easier to drink.
The Angelus is Wirra Wirra's top Cabernet and the 1998 is particularly successful. In the UK the estimable Waitrose sell it for £14.45 a bottle - not given away but much less than many a retailer in Australia itself asks for it.
If you cannot trace a bottle of The Angelus, Tatachilla's 1998 McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon would be a fine substitute - and arguably a better buy. Majestic Wine Warehouses in the UK ask only £7.99 for it - much less than many American retailers.
Both these producers are fine exponents of McLaren Vale's sunny offerings, as are d'Arenberg (for slightly beefier wines) and Chapel Hill (for something a little sleeker).
Glen Carlou Reserve Chardonnay 1999 Paarl
South African Chardonnays when they work, as in the case of Vergelegen in Somerset West and Bouchard Finlayson in Hermanus (both closer to the sea than Glen Carlou), can be excellent value. This is true of most (though not all) fine South African wines, partly thanks to the weakness of the Rand.
The best have a streak of natural acidity that makes them more refreshing than most New World Chardonnays, and now that the Cape's winemakers are swarming all over the rest of the winemaking world, there is no shortage of skill in South Africa's cellars.
It would probably be fair to say that a high proportion of that skill and attention is currently focused on making red wines because there is a shortage of red grapes in South Africa and, particularly, healthy vines producing them - and what you can't have always seems particularly desirable.
Glen Carlou, an estate run by Finlaysons related to Peter of Bouchard Finlayson, has an admirable track record with Chardonnay, a growing one with Pinot Noir (though their vineyards are in a relatively warm area) and have produced a pretty nifty maiden vintage of slightly heavily oaked Syrah.
Glen Carlou's finest wine however is its Reserve Chardonnay which has proven ageing ability. In fact the 1999 should ideally be cellared at least another year to allow its initial sweetness to fade more into the background and integrate with a good level of acidity and oak that is by no means overdone.
In the UK Oddbins Fine Wine Stores should still have some of this wine for the relative giveaway price of £10.99. According to WineSearcher many retailers offer the regular bottling for much less - half the price in fact in South Africa itself.
Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese 1999 Willi Scaefer, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Okay, this is my final attempt this season to convince you that a low-alcohol, fruity Riesling is just the thing for summer drinking (apologies to southern hemispherists).
What can I say that I haven't said a million times before? Of course this wine is delicious. It's for sipping on its own, with just a little morsel of goat's cheese perhaps (something salty to counteract the racy sweetness) while contemplating the bounty of life. Ignore the dire label. But enjoy the fact that in the Mosel the 1999 vintage may not have produced the magically tortuous valley's longest-lived wines but it has yielded a miraculous amount of wine like this that is gulpably ready to enjoy even at this relatively early (for fine German wine) stage in its life. Transparency is the key. Think of the steeply sloping, almost scree-like vineyard just along the river from the famous sundial of Wehlen that produced this wine - and how lucky you are not have to work in it.
In Britain the German and Burgundian specialist Howard Ripley has this wine in its current offer at just £8.15 plus VAT whereas WineSearcher's other listed stockists in New Zealand and the US ask, respectively, the equivalent of £11 and £18 plus taxes. I have no connection with Howard Ripley whom I have recommended twice recently, but their prices strike me as interesting to those who seek value as well as quality.
Torcolato 1998 Maculan, Breganze, Veneto
Italians may only recently have managed to produce a wide range of dry white wines with fruit as well as zest, but they have been making truly great sweet whites, often from part- or fully dried grapes, for decades, centuries, probably even millennia. There is rarely a struggle to achieve sufficient natural sugar in the grapes (unlike many a Sauternes, Barsac and Loire sweet white which relies on sugar added in the winery) and they tend to have a delicious tang of dried fruit - whether apple peel in the case of fine Recioto di Soave or a cassata-like mixture of citrus peel and spice as in the many southern Italian amber nectars. Tuscany's Vino Santo is often distinctly nutty.
Dried apricot backed by a certain nuttiness is characteristic of Torcolato, Maculan's superbly reliable sweet, liquid gold from Breganze, north-east of the land of Soave and Valpolicella - for long famous almost solely for the efforts of Fausto Maculan. Vespaiolo and Tocai grapes are deliberately dried to concentrate the sugar and botrytis/noble rot is encouraged. Acininobili is the fully rotten version and arguably Italy's most serious sweet white. The beauty of Torcolato, which is also aged in small oak, is that it is delicious both young and a few years old and is not excessively expensive. Nor is it difficult to find.
See WineSearcher for your most convenient stockist. In the UK Oddbins offer the 1998 at £12.99 a half and also have full bottles. Divine with strawberries, lightly spiced poached peaches or moonlight.
Languedoc reds, Patrick Lesec Sélections
Patrick Lesec is an energetic French vinifier who travels around France, mainly southern France, putting his own rather luscious spin on the produce of certain parcels of vines from hand-picked small domaines. The difference between his produce and that of his average neighbour is more marked in the Languedoc than in the southern Rhône where he also practises, for the average Languedoc wine producer is still an under-equipped, relatively unsophisticated practitioner - however eager to improve.
He turns out two basic ranges, the unoaked 'Nuance' range and the oaked 'Tonneaux' one, and it says much for his skills that in general I preferred the latter (so many Languedoc producers are only slowly emerging from the overoaked evolutionary stage). Of a geographical spread of Patrick Lesec Languedoc reds tasted recently the most impressive was St Chinian 'Tonneaux' 1999 Domaine T Navarre (about $17/£10.80) which is already beguiling but is also clearly a cellar candidate and should be drinking beautifully in a couple of years. Other goodies include a Pic St Loup 'Tonneaux' 1999 (about $12/£7.30) and a Faugères 'Tonneaux' 1999 Domaine du Météore ($13/£8).
In the US, Patrick Lesec Sélections are imported by Classic Wine Imports, Boston, MA (+1 617 469 5799), Fine Vines, Melrose Park, ILL (+1 708 343 5901) and Stacole Fine Wines, Boca Raton, FL (+1 561 998 0029).
UK retailers are not exactly mainstream: The Wine Corporation of Northampton (0800 028 2222) and the Rare & Fine Wine Company of Aldworth, Berkshire (01635 579702). John Armit Wines of London, W11 (020 7908 0660) also import some of his wines.
Celler de Capçanes reds, Tarragona, Catalonia
No student of Spanish wine can be unaware of the recent emergence of Priorat (Catalan), or Priorato (Castilian), as a fine wine region. Alvaro Palacios' L'Ermita from ancient Garnacha vines grown on a schistous cliff face in the hills south-west of Barcelona is already one of the world's cult reds (cult whites, alas, hardly exist). As is the way, particularly in Spain, it drags a bandwagon of overpriced imitations in its wake.
Just outside the official Priorat zone however (see the first-ever detailed map in the new edition of the World Atlas of Wine to be published next week) is this marvellous producer. The Capçanes co-operative makes far, far better wine than it needs to satisfy its members. In fact, it seems to tailor-make them for value-conscious lovers of characterful reds thousands of miles away. The nearest town is Falset, gateway to the Priorat zone, and there is strong pressure on the authorities to develop a Falset denomination to make clear the distinction between the sturdy, concentrated red wines made in the hills here and the loose, syrupy sacramental wine more characteristic of the Tarragona DO.
Think of Celler de Capçanes reds as poor man's Priorat in an unusual array of styles and none the worse for it. Best value is probably the Mas Collet, a blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo, Carineña and Cabernet with about five months in barrique. It sells for £5.99 at Majestic Wine Warehouses in the UK; the 1999 is impressive while the 1998 is even better drinking now. The beauty of this wine is that it is not like any other. Its grape mix is unusual but, more than that, it clearly comes from a very distinctive part of the world, where it hardly ever rains and the soil manages to impart a certain mineral strength. Costers del Gravet (£8.99 at Majestic and about 2200 pesetas in Spain) is Cabernet Sauvignon with Garnacha and Carineña and eight months in barrique. Again, 1998 is marginally better than 1999. Mas Donis, a blend of Garnacha and Syrah, is imported into the US by Eric Solomon of European Cellars, NY and can be found in the UK from Ballantynes of Cowbridge and at www.everywine.co.uk. The 1999 Barrica garnered 90 Parker points, despite selling for well under 10 dollars a bottle in the US, and considerably less in Spain. The Spaniards have a very different grape hierarchy to those of us in the outside world.
All these are wines to be chewed rather than gulped. No hurry to drink any of them, and don't even think of it unless armed with a substantial plateful.
Beaujolais Villages à l'Ancienne 2000 Paul Boutinot
Just in time for the tail end of the light red-drinking season comes this exceptionally sappy, vibrant Beaujolais made by a man who sounds French but is in fact a British wine merchant based just outside Manchester. According to the financial pages of the British press he is dead set on a massive expansion plan and has always worked rather on the fringe of the tight-knit London wine trade, going his own, decidedly francophile way. He has also made wines in the Loire and is not frightened of acidity when it adds vivaciousness and drinkability to a wine. This is classic youthful Beaujolais for drinking young - not one of the tired, over-chaptalised sort, nor one of the ambitious cru Beaujolais-trying-to-be-serious. I tried it alongside Georges Duboeuf's Beaujolais-Villages from this excellent vintage and preferred Boutinot's purity. The price in sterling (£4.99) looks a bargain to me, but then prices in Beaujolais are falling, especially for wines at the straight Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages level.
The wine is available from that treasure trove of wine bargains in northern England (well worth a detour) D Byrne of Clitheroe, Lancashire on 01200 423152 (featured on our second BBC2 series of Vintners' Tales), deFine Food & Wine of Cheshire on 01606 882101 and from the UK site www.bringmywine.com [Whoops! Wine warehousemen CERT pulled the plug on this online operation the day after the World Trade Center collapsed.]
Molino Real 1999 Telmo Rodriguez
This is a real curiosity, a modern throwback to traditional sweet grapy Malaga, the sort of wine known in old Christie's catalogues as Mountain. Telmo Rodriguez, the young Spanish turk (if that is not a contradiction) from Remelluri rioja, and Pablo Eguzkiza have got together to locate ancient bushes of Moscatel on steep slopes in the mountain hinterland of Malaga (gateway to the Costa del Sol). Grapes are picked bunch by bunch and the wine fermented slowly before ageing in small French oak. The result is unlike anything I have ever tasted: only 12% alcohol and pale in colour, this is very sweet with a hint of orange peel (which makes me think the variety must be Muscat of Alexandria) but also delicate and lively. I do hope they can continue, for the wines of Malaga are disappearing as real-estate values progressively eliminate the vineyards and bodegas. (For long the dark, treacly, wood-matured wines of Scholtz Hermanos were the sole exported representatives from this historic appellation, but that bodega has now disappeared.) Molino Real has to be sold as table wine as it does not conform to the rules for Malaga, to which alcohol is normally added. In fact even a reference to the town of Malaga on the back label of the first vintage, 1998, had to be blacked out to conform to EU wine law.
Molino Real is £18.95 per 50cl bottle from Adnams of Southwold, Suffolk.
Valpolicella Superiore 1998 Marion
On my travels around various of Britain's bookshops last week I chose to present wines that illustrated some of the enormous changes to the world of wine since 1994 when the last edition of The World Atlas of Wine was published (can't think why...). One of the most striking examples was the fruitiness (and in one instructive case the corkiness) of Pra's Soave Classico 2000. 'Make sure you choose a Soave from the Classico heartland of the DOC', was my message.
But here is a stunning Valpolicella which comes, like that of the modern master Romano Dal Forno, from outside the Classico zone. It was Dal Forno in fact who recommended the Campedelli brothers' estate to the buyers who found this wine from British importers Richards Walford and Raeburn Fine Wines because of his admiration for the location of the vineyards inside a large farm at San Martino Buon Albergo acquired by the family in 1988. Since 1994 they have been advised by leading local oenologist Celestino Gaspari (don't Italians have wonderful names? wouldn't you buy almost anything touched by a Celestino?).
The wines have been improving every year since major replanting about a dozen years ago and this 1998 Valpolicella is really quite exciting. Made, according to Richards Walford, from 70% Corvino, 20% Rondinella and 10% Teroldego, this is a fine, deep-flavoured, obviously oaked but obviously Valpolicella-produced red of real interest and sophistication not only to Italian wine devotees. Alas the price is likely to rise but for the moment is not unreasonable for the quality. Expect to see more of this estate, named for the Marion descendant of the Marioni family who once owned it, in one of Italy's most dynamic wine regions.
By the way, do change your bookmark for the best universal wine availability search engine from www.winesearcher.com to www.wine-searcher.com.