GRAPEVINE

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The Independent Culture
AUSTRALIA'S 100 or so flying winemakers have already made their mark on Europe. Almost everywhere you look in the Old World - France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Hungary, England - peripatetic Aussies are importing their techniques and expertise. Now they are moving in on North America. Brian Crozer, famous for his vineyards near Adelaide, is repeating his success in the Pacific North-west. "Oregon," he declares, "is one of the best places in the world to make sparkling wines." And he should know: he is, most experts would agree, Australia's top guru of the art of white wine making.

Crozer's Argyle sparkling wine, made in this temperate north-western state, proves his point. This really is excellent fizz - and roughly half the price you'd pay for Champagnes of similar quality.

Brian Crozer was drawn to this part of America by two things. First, there was the weather. Like Burgundy, Oregon is at the climatic limit for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which means every vintage is different. This is unlike many New World areas,says Crozer, where you can guarantee consistency from year to year - and never a flop - but may miss out on the peaks of really stunning vintages.

The main draw, however, was Rollin Soles, a wiry, moustachioed Texan who pointed out the state's potential to Crozer. Soles studied winemaking in Texas, then - as a kind of finishing school in the late 1980s - did a couple of vintages at Crozer's winery near Adelaide (in which the Champagne firm Bollinger has shares). Crozer's Australian vineyards high in the hills have a similar climate, which is remarkably cool for Australia.

The stunning 1988 Argyle Brut (£7.99 Oddbins, £9.95 The Winery of London W9 and Les Amis du Vin of London SW10, mail order only, £ll.50 Frank Stainton of Kendal) would repay being tucked away for another six or 12 months although it is lovely now, crisp and lemony, with a gentle malty, chocolatey aftertaste. The following vintage, 1989 Argyle Brut (£9.95 The Winery and Les Amis du Vin), is a very different style, much riper but still very elegant, with lovely, rich, buttery flavours.

The Argyle winery makes mostly sparkling wines, but the still 1990 Argyle Chardonnay Reserve (£7.99 The Winery and Les Amis du Vin) is also delicious, lushly ripe but with firm acidity and lovely, toffeed, oaky flavours.

Crozer's Australian fizz is not quite a match for the Argyle, but nearly. 1991 Crozer (£9.99 Oddbins, £10.95 The Winery and Les Amis du Vin, £12.50 James Nicholson of Crossgar, Northern Ireland) is also brilliant value, elegant, creamy, gentle and subtle. It, too, will probably be better in another six months to a year, though yummy now. The still 1992 Petaluma Chardonnay, however (£9.95 The Winery and Les Amis du Vin, £9.99 Oddbins, Threshers, Bottoms Up and Wine Rack, £11.95 mail order Adnams of Southwold, £11.99 Duncairn wines of Belfast) is better - although pricier - than its Oregon mate, very toasty-oaky, with very rich, soft pine-apple and apple fruit, and firm acidity.

THE DEPTHS of winter are the time to get stuck into some warming, inexpensive Latin reds. The plummy, cedary 1990 Chianti Classico Montecchio (£3.99 selected Somerfield) is brilliant value, as rich and fleshy as many (much more expensive) Chianti Classico Riservas. 1992 Rosso Conero, Umani Ronchi (£4.15 Waitrose) also comes from central Italy, but right over on the east coast, around the port of Ancona. This is a firm, really plum-fruity red with a delicious "farmyardy" character.

Portuguese reds can be low on fruit and high on tannin, and few more so than Dao. When the big Sogrape wine company moved in to this hilly backwater a decade ago, the old man on the local tasting panel rejected their (adequate) wines as too fruity. Now that Sogrape has built a flash new winery, and the 1991 Duque de Viseu Dao, Sogrape (£4.79 Safeway) is rich and blackcurranty, official attitudes have fortunately changed. Leziria Red (£2.59 Somerfield) comes from the Ribatejo, the wide, flattish valley of the River Tagus north of Lisbon: brilliant value with its fresh, slightly savoury, curranty, grassy flavours. 1993 Safeway Falua (£2.99) is another excellent value Ribatejo red, soft and easy, with attractive strawberry fruit and a touch of tannin.

From Spain, you could try the fruity and strongly vanilla-oaky 1990 Agramont, Navarra (£3.99 Safeway) which comes from just north of Rioja; it is made from a blend of the excellent local Tempranillo grapes with Cabernet Sauvignon. More delicious still isthe oaky, savoury and blackcurranty Catalan l990 Costers del Segre, Raimat (£4.99 Marks & Spencer), which is mostly Cabernet, plus Tempranillo and Merlot.

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