Food & Drink: Wines of the Month

SOUTH AFRICA is under the spotlight this month with Oddbins sticking its seal of approval on the Cape, thanks to what it calls the "stunning vintages of 1997 and 1998". Oddbins has come up with a mouthwatering range, including fine reds such as the 1997 Kumala Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, pounds 7.99, and truly great ones in the shape of the superb 1996 Veenwouden Merlot, pounds 12.99, and one of the Cape's best Bordeaux blends, the 1995 Kanonkop Paul Sauer, pounds 13.99.

Whites look exciting, too, from the affordable everyday 1999 Scholtzenhof Petit Chenin, pounds 3.69, to the super sleek 1998 Radford Dale Chardonnay, pounds 8.99.

Until 22 August, Oddbins have a 15 per cent discount on two mixed cases: the Everyday Drinking Case (pounds 51.66) and the Cream of the Cape Case (pounds 84.90). Meanwhile, Sainsbury's is getting in on the act with a batch of monster reds newly released under the Spice Route label.

RED

1998 Bin 252 Shiraz Malbec, pounds 4.99, Marks & Spencer. The engine room of Australia's mass-market wine production, Australia's Riverland region is home to a number of wineries, such as Angoves, in the forefront of a quality revolution. Produced from their Nanya vineyards at Renmark in South Australia, this warm climate Rhone-style blend of shiraz with malbec is redolent of plums and damsons with a soft, succulent texture that helps it slip down all too easily.

1997 Tyrrell's Eclipse Hunter Valley Pinot Noir, pounds 9.75-pounds 9.99, J C Karn (01242 513265), Charles Steevenson (01822 616272), Dartmouth Vintners (01803 832602), S H Jones (01295 251179). Couldn't resist this one, even if the Eclipse in question was the mail boat which plied its trade from Sydney to Maitland in the 1920s. With red Burgundy's pinot noir grape, the trend in Australia is towards cooler vineyard areas, but the outspoken Murray Tyrrell, pinot pioneer in the hot and humid Hunter Valley, resolutely refuses to budge. Eclipse is a smooth Burgundian-style red with a jammy red fruits character, strong spicy French oak and gamey nuances which will develop given time. You have five days.

1998 Vacqueyras Montirius, pounds 9.99, Tesco wine adviser stores. This is a blend of the southern Rhone grapes grenache, syrah and mourvedre made with no synthetic chemical fertilisers or pesticides. It's a deep ruby, purple-hued red with smoothly rich and powerful blackberry fruitiness and spicy aromatics: a youthful, robust, summer barbecue red.

WHITE

1998 Lindemans Cawarra Unoaked Chardonnay, pounds 4.49-pounds 4.99, Sainsbury's (3 for pounds 10 offer), Asda, Co-op, Somerfield, Majestic, Oddbins, Wine Cellar. This is the alter ego to Lindemans' hugely popular Bin 65 Chardonnay. Where Bin 65 is oaked, the Cawarra is unoaked to maximise freshness and Australia's ripe sunshine fruitiness. At the moment it's showing at its best with a tropical fruit salad of both melon and peach flavours.

1998 L'Enclos Domeque Barrel-fermented Marsanne/Roussanne, Vin de Pays d'Oc, pounds 5.49, Waitrose. Marsanne and Roussanne, the northern Rhone grape varieties that go into white Cotes du Rhone and the rare white Hermitage, are on the increase in the south of France, whose climate seems to suit the varieties well. This fresh, oak-fermented Languedoc white is a heady concoction of highly perfumed fruit with exotic, ripe and apricoty flavours.

1998 Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc, pounds 6.99, Oddbins. Cool ocean breezes blow into Constantia making it one of the best districts for dry whites. Appearing relatively restrained for New World sauvignon blanc, the full impact of this aromatic dry white is retained for the texture and flavour which is richly full-bodied with green pepper undertones and a zesty crispness that ends up closer to Sancerre than the screaming green New World sauvignon style. Try it with white fish or chicken.

FIZZ OF THE MONTH

1995 Pirie, pounds 17.99-pounds 20, D Byrne & Co, Clitheroe (01200 423152), Holland Park Wines (0171-221 9614).

This is the first release of a stylish Tasmanian sparkling wine from Dr Andrew Pirie, who, at Piper's Brook outside Launceston, has established one of Australia's foremost premium wineries.

It's rich and mouthfilling in the Bollinger style, with honey, vanilla and biscuity notes underscored by a lemony freshness. Watch out for it when it hits Tesco's top stores.

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