GRAPEVINE

KATHRYN MCWHIRTER ON WINES FROM EASTERN EUROPE
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The Independent Culture
FOREIGN wine gurus sent to Eastern Europe to turn boring white plonk into decent wine leapt first upon the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Now, some characterful local white grape varieties are squeezing in alongside. Crisp, tangy, musky Furmint is one, from the hilly Tokay region of Hungary, up by the Czech border, home of the famous sweet Tokay wines. Among the best are 1993 Tokaji Furmint, Chateau Megyer (pounds 4.99 Wine Cellar) and 1993 Disznoko Tokaji Furmint (pounds 4.99 Findlater Mackie Todd, the wine mail-order service of Waitrose: 0181-543 0966). The extraordinary 1993 Disznoko Tokaji Ore-mus (pounds 4.99 Findlater Mackie Todd) is made from Bouvier and Furmint grapes; it smells almost like Sauternes, but is dry and crisp, with salty tang and savoury concentration. "Rousse" is the region of Bulgaria, "Rikat" the grape in 1994 Rousse Rikat, Special Reserve (pounds 2.99 selected Sainsbury's), a smoky, attractive white reminiscent of Lapsang Souchong tea. It is less interesting, perhaps, than the Furmint wines - but still represents very good value at this price.

THE 1994 Chardonnays and Sauvignons have just arrived, some of them much better than others. Safeway is an excellent source. Hungarian 1994 Matra Mountain Nagyrede Oaked Chardonnay (pounds 3.49 Safeway) is gently oaked, crisp, ripe and peachy, and 1994 Nagyrede Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 3.99 Safeway) tastes like a cross between a good, tangy Muscadet sur Lie and a grassy Loire Sauvignon, but slightly riper and more tropical fruity. Honeyed, soft 1994 Czech Pinot Blanc, Moravia (pounds 3.49 Safeway) is more interesting than many Pinot Blancs from smarter wine regions. Pay a little more for a really superb 1994 Chapel Hill Barrique-fermented Chardonnay (pounds 4.99 Safeway): nice now, though it will soften and be even more delicious if you keep it a few months in your rack. There are also a few bargains among the leftovers of the 1993 vintage, though many are now dying; 1993 Moldova Sauvignon Blanc, Hincesti, HDR/Penfolds (pounds l.99 Morrisons) is simple, crisp and still attractive, and 1993 Moldova Chardonnay, Hincesti, HDR/ Penfolds (pounds 2.49 Morrisons) has slightly apricotty fruit, crisp acidity and a gentle butterscotchy complexity.

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