Food & Drink: Wines Of The month

WITH 12 days to go, Le Beaujolais Nouveau is not quite yet arrive, but I'm not holding my breath. Time was when I used to happily glug down the first nubile fruits of the harvest, freshly bottled from the bubbling fermentation vat. But that was when it was a cause for celebration and not an excuse for rampant commercialism. What happened? Nouveau became vieux chapeau through the increasingly poor quality of the overhyped product. Then along came the New World six months early to pull the rug from underneath its complacent, wine-stained feet. No apologies then for salivating instead at the deliciously bright flavours arriving from all points south.

White

1999 Bright Brothers Mendoza Chardonnay, pounds 2.99, Somerfield (down from pounds 3.99 until 30 November)

This month's bargain-basement chardonnay is the result of a not wholly unholy alliance between Mendoza's biggest winery, Penaflor, and Australian winemakers, Peter Bright and Steve McEwen. There's plenty of tropical and stone-fruit flavours with a light touch of oak and some early-picked fruit for a clean, crisp aftertaste.

1998 Casablanca White Label Chardonnay, pounds 4.49, Sainsbury's (down from pounds 5.49 from tomorrow to 27 November)

Not the Casablanca of Bogart fame but the eponymous Chilean valley close to the Pacific which has, in a short space of time, become the foremost region for elegant white wine styles. Made by one of Chile's most intuitive winemakers, Ignacio Recabarren, the chardonnay here is fermented in stainless steel to add zip and zing to the undertones of melon and pineapple. Here's looking at you.

1998 Vergelegen Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, pounds 6.49, Fuller's

Since Andre van Rensburg joined this modern Anglo-American-owned winery in 1998, Vergelegen's wines have soared as high as the Helderberg mountain behind it. Only partially oaked to maintain a lightness of touch, this is a fresh, aromatic white burgundy-style Cape chardonnay, beautifully balanced and shot through with an opulent streak of vanilla and butterscotch flavours. Outstanding stuff at the price.

Red

1999 Argento Malbec, pounds 4.99, Sainsbury's, Thresher Wine Shops, Victoria Wine, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up

When the package is striking, the wine inside doesn't always live up to the presentation. Despite the pricy-looking, heavy-duty bottle, Argento Malbec exceeds expectations with a deliciously juicy and succulent berry fruit quality reminiscent of good Italian barbera. The fresh, nippy, mulberry fruitiness is made to cut through the olive oil- based richness of food like pasta and risotto.

1997 La Cuvee Mythique, Vin de Pays d'Oc, pounds 6.49, selected Co-op stores, Safeway

The general standard of wines from the giant southern French company, Val d'Orbieu, is pretty high for such a vast group. Its flagship wine, La Cuvee Mythique, with the distinctive owl on ochre label, is made using carbonic maceration for softness of texture and the southern grape varieties mourvedre, syrah and carignan, with an added dash of cabernet sauvignon. The result is a rich, robust red suffused with the flavours of angostura, spice, and Mediterranean herbs.

1996 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Cabernet Merlot, Hawkes Bay, pounds 9.99, Waitrose, Safeway selected stores

Best known for her outstand-ing whites, Villa Maria's winemaker Michelle Richardson also produces some of the best Bordeaux-style reds coming out of Hawkes Bay on the central east coast of North Island. This classic blend of mainly cabernet sauvignon with pinches of merlot and malbec and cabernet franc is aged in French oak to produce a stylishly spicy red with clean, blackcurrant lines and delicately herbal notes.

Fizz

1996 Green Point Vineyards Brut, pounds 11.99, widely available

I make no secret of the fact that Moet & Chandon's Green Point is my favourite Aussie fizz and the most recent vintage made by the drinking- woman's crumpet, Dr Tony Jordan, is no exception.

Using balanced proportions of the champagne grapes - chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier - from eight of Australia's cooler regions, it has a bit more richness than champagne at the same age, but with its hints of strawberry, it still retains the classic bottle- developed flavours of brioche and toastiness. She who thinks Australian...

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