Drink: Good things come to an end

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The Independent Culture
IN THE United States, when you want to bring something unpleasant to an end you are "seeking closure". This week I am seeking closure in two (not at all unpleasant) areas. First, the Wine Relief raffle. I received 51 cheques for pounds 5, and the one plucked from the hat came from Peter Wood of Loscoe, Derbyshire. Many thanks to all who entered, your cheques are on their way to Wine Relief.

Second, my tasting of Alsace whites. Last week it was Gewurztraminer, this week it's Pinot and Riesling, which have a lot more to offer. Riesling Clos Hauserer 1996, Zind-Humbrecht (Wine Rack/Bottoms Up, pounds 13.29) sums up what the grape can do: smoky, hauntingly mineral aromas and piercing acidity with restrained, elegant lime fruit flavours which seem to sweeten and mellow in the mouth. It is easily worth the money, and will go on improving for a good number of years, mellowing out to achieve the full set of layered flavours that Alsace Riesling can achieve.

Of my other Rieslings, Graffenreben Riesling 1996 (Tesco, pounds 6.99) has loads of elegant lime fruit and good acidity. Martin Schaetzel Cuvee Reserve Riesling 1997 (Oddbins pounds 6.49) adds some of the fine mineral character to the lime flavours, and with decent acidity and a good finish. This is a terrific buy. And Olivier Zind-Humbrecht's Pinot Blanc Vielles Vignes 1996 (Wine Rack, pounds 9.99) has faint musky perfume, superb acidity and intense citrus fruit, with biscuity notes.

Of two close-runners in the Pinot stakes, one comes from up north - northern England, that is. Tokay Pinot Gris "Clos du Vicus Romain" 1996, Grand Cru Hengst, Stentz (Booth, pounds 8.49) has massive, gorgeous aromas and flavours of tart apples, with abundant acidity in fine balance. A lovely wine, refreshing but profound, and a star buy for anyone. I also heartily commend Pinot Blanc Auxerrois Cuvee Caroline 1997, Schoffit (Oddbins, pounds 8.49), with fresh floral and mineral qualities and tons of acidity.

Lower down in price there's still pleasure to be had. First stop is Waitrose, whose Pinot Blanc 1997, Blanck Freres (pounds 4.95) adds a touch of spice to sweet, fresh fruit, pretty good acidity and nice length. Not very serious but very enjoyable, and cheap. Second stop is Majestic, for its Tokay Pinot Gris 1997, Cave de Ribeauville (pounds 5.99): less profundity and less concentration and balance, but with a lingering fruity finish.

Third, Thresher/Wine Rack/Bottoms Up/Victoria Wines, for a Tokay Pinot Gris 1997 Reserve, Cave de Turckheim (pounds 5.79), with its fresh whiff of acidity riding on the crest of a wave of lemonade fruit. These make three fine choices for an aperitif, or for drinking with smoked salmon.

Before reaching full closure (for now) on Alsace, two points on these underrated wines. First: the merchants in the First Quench group (Thresher/Wine Rack/Bottoms Up/Victoria Wines) have the most interesting high-street selection - including some of the pricier wines, which are actually the biggest bargains of all given the price/quality ratio.

Second: Asda and M&S do not sell a single Alsace wine. They figure their customers won't buy them. I can only assume that they know what they're talking about, but it's a sad state of affairs when Alsace wines only account for 1 per cent of the UK's French wine imports.

On a completely different note: whenever I've been offered Belvoir Fruit Farms Cordials I've always drunk them with pleasure. The newest flavours, Summer Berries and Lime and Lemongrass (37.5cl, pounds 2.50 and pounds 2.30), are delicious when diluted with water in the usual way, but the Lime and Lemongrass reaches greater heights when you add a splash to a good tequila and squeeze in a little lime juice.

Call it an instant margarita. Or call it nothing at all, except a good, easy cocktail, to bring full closure to the trials of the day.

To drink now

Here's an Ozzie pair from Oddbins which are worth stashing away for a while. Yarra Valley Hills Chardonnay 1997 (pounds 8.99) is big in every sense, including alcohol - a hefty 13.5 per cent - but it's subtle stuff, generous fruit well-knitted with French oak. It'll benefit from another two to three years in the bottle, but can make you feel pretty good any time, beginning right now. Yarra Valley Hills Pinot Noir 1997 (also pounds 8.99) has a smoky nose and earthy black-cherry fruit with staying power and full round tannins. A fine mouthful from a grape that doesn't always achieve great things in Australia