GRAPEVINE

KATHRYN McWHIRTER ON SOME FLAVOURSOME WHITES
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The Independent Culture
SAUVIGNON Blanc is often dismissed by wine buffs as lacking the gravitas to make it into the list of "great" grape varieties. "It doesn't age," they say, "so you can't really take it seriously." But that is to ignore the real pleasure of Sauvignon wines - an aroma that teeters between the grassiness of nettles and gooseberries and the ripe, exotic flavours of a basketful of fruit straight from the jungles of South-east Asia. Cooler climates like Sancerre's (and very leafy, shady vines in warm climates) create the gooseberry and grass style; warmer climates and well-trimmed vines produce the tropical fruitiness, thanks to the sun shining on the grape bunches themselves. Copious leaves block out the sunlight. Whether grassy or tropical, Sauvignon is delicious as an aperitif or with food, but usually undeservedly expensive in its classic French manifestations, Sancerre and Pouilly Fume.

Well-made alternatives from elsewhere are usually much cheaper. They often give more pleasure, too, since much Sancerre is mediocre as well as expensive. One of my favourite inexpensive ones in the tropical-fruity style is the crisp 1994 San Pedro Sauvignon Blanc from Chile (£3.49 Morrisons). New Zealand Sauvignons once upon a time were always the gooseberry type (though much fruitier than Sancerre) but the New Zealanders have recently become world leaders in training and clipping their vines for maximum sun on grapes. The very affordable Montana Sauvignon Blanc (£4.99 Tesco, Sainsbury, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up and Somerfield), once pure gooseberry, changed its style a couple of vintages ago. The 1994 is deliciously rich, ripe and tropical-fruity. For the ultimate in tropical fruit, try the stunning 1994 Paliser Estate Martinbor-ough Sauvignon Blanc (£9.95 Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up).

Somewhere in between the two styles is the crisp 1993 Waitrose Bordeaux Sauvignon (£3.25), excellent value, faintly gooseberry-flavoured and slightly pineappley; and so is the 1994 Aurelio Montes Winemaker's Reserve Sauvignon (£4.85 Safeway), crisp and lively, with gooseberry to the fore and tropical fruit hiding behind. For gooseberry-fresh versions, try the quite delicate 1993 Domaine Fon-tenelles Sauvignon Blanc (£3.59 larger Somerfields), made by Hugh Ryman's flying winemakers in the South of France; or, an Italian wine but also Australian-made, Sainsbury's Sauvig-non Blanc delle Tre Venezie (£3.99).

BONE-dry German wines can be off-puttingly thin and acid, but don't be put off them all. The best, made with really ripe grapes, can resemble the top dry wines of Alsace. One such comes from the small Rheinhessen estate of the three Schales brothers, around the walled village of Florsheim- Dalsheim. Their scrumptiously rich and honeyed 1992 Weisser Burgunder Auslese Trocken (£7.92 Tanners of Shrewsbury, shops and mail order) tastes rather like an impressive Alsace Pinot Blanc, only darker and more minerally. The Schales family, winemakers on this estate since the 18th century, sensibly label their wines simply by grape variety, rather than using the usual long mouthful of German village and vineyard names.

The same goes for Sainsbury's dry 1993 Kym Milne Riesling (£3.65), whihc is one of the few "flying winemaker" wines to have emerged from Germany so far. Really ripe, clean, healthy grapes were hard to find on the Mosel, says Milne. But he clearly found some, because his attractive Riesling is excellent value, with the steeliness of an Alsace Riesling and having overtones of honey and apple.

THE PROBLEM with inexpensive dry whites from Italy is usually lack of flavour. Largely responsible is the boring white Trebbiano grape, which grows like a weed over northern and central Italy. The answer is to blend in a little wine from more interesting grapes. The musky-flavoured Malvasia does the trick in the 1993 Casato delle Macie, Vino da Tavola di Toscana, Rocca delle Macie (£4.40 Somerfield), but it also has some Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc to boost the Trebbiano. The result is quite Chardonnay- like, ripe and "bready", but overlaid with a gentle muskiness. There's a lovely musky character as well to the soft, honeyed 1993 Lazio Bianco Pallavivini (£3.04 Somerfield), made from Trebbiano and Malvasia, and excellent value, though a step down from the Casato delle Macie. Also excellent value is the soft, rich but crisp, honeyed and savoury 1993 Ca' Pradai Pinot Grigio (£3.49 Asda).

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