GRAPEVINE

ON THE LATEST WHITES
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The Independent Culture
SPECIAL offers of Northern Hemi-sphere wines at this time of year are usually designed to clear the shelves of the old vintage before the new one arrives. Now that the easy-drinking, inexpensive 1994s are just ready for drinking, the 1993s are up for grabs - especially the whites, which at the lowest price levels are best drunk before their second spring. Some 1993s are tired and fading, others very perky, so beware. Best value this week and until 4 April is a zingy, fresh Baden Dry (£2.45 down from £3.45 Somerfield), crisp and honeyed with minerally, savoury concentration. (But avoid Somerfield's 1993 German Pinot Blanc, also on offer but past its best.)

Now for the latest whites. 1994 was not, on the whole, a good vintage in Europe, though the Germans seem happier than most. It rained long and hard in September both in France and in northern Italy, source of most of that country's interesting whites.

The summer had been hot, and some grapes were in before the rain. But many rotted and others swelled up with water, diluting the wines. There are tales of tanker-loads of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from the South of France (Vin de Pays d'Oc) heading up north to rain-struck Burgundy and the Loire. But there are some good wines, especially from the South of France and Bordeaux, where the whites (early-picked) escaped but the later-ripening reds were drenched. Among the good 1994s here so far, Winter Hill, Vin de Pays de l'Aude, Ugni Blanc/Sauvignon (£2.99 Wait-rose) is ripely crisp and tangy, appley and lemony; La Source Sauvignon, Vin de Pays d'Oc (£3.39 Morrisons) is gooseberry-crisp; and James Herrick Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc (£4.99 Oddbins, Somerfield, Victoria Wine, EH Booth of Preston, Wine Cellar and Berkley Wines) is invitingly fresh, honeyed and apple-fruity.

The last quarter of 1994 was particularly water-logged in northern Italy. By early November, dams were at bursting point, and the electricity board opened several to "prevent damage". Several rivers overflowed as a result, and apart from great general damage and over 70 deaths, many wine cellars were flooded, barrels and bottles overturned and ruined. But some producers were lucky. Excellent value 1994s that are now available here include the crisp, honeyed and slightly musky I Mesi Pinot Grigio Trentino, Casa Girelli (£4.95 Jascots Wine Merchants of London W9, £4.99 Fullers, £5.20 Ballantynes of Cow-bridge); and a lovely dry aperitif wine, Muscate Sec, Alasia (£4.99 Winecellars, Valvona & Crolla of Edinburgh, Holts of Huddersfield and Noel Young of Trumpington), with the aroma of Earl Grey tea and a hint of orange. Ross are creeping in too. 1994 La Source Syrah Ros, Vin de Pays d'Oc (£3.15 Morrisons) is on sale but not quite ready yet - it has honeyed, rosehip flavours but still a little too much of the peardrop aroma and flavour typical of very young whites and ross. Given another couple of months for this peardrop character to fade, this will be an excellent value dry, creamy summer ros.

Also just in are the 1994 dry Rieslings from Australia, harvested this time last year - a delicious choice for spring and summer aperitifs. 1994 Riesling, Skillogalee, Clare (£7.99 Winecellars, £7.25 Philglas & Swiggot of London SW11, £7.39 Noel Young of Trumpington) is one of my favourites, intriguingly spicy, lean and elegant with delicate lime flavour. The 1994 Langi Riesling (£7.49 Winecellars of London SW18) is also quite a delicate example, reminiscent of lime and flowers, and green apples. 1994 Marks & Spencer Padthaway Riesling (£4.99) is excellent value, lime and bergamot- scented, just off-dry but near enough to please dry wine drinkers. These Rieslings are lovely now, but they can keep for years: 1993 Wolf Blass South Australian Riesling, Silver Label (£5.29 Victoria Wine) is richer, with marvellously concentrated fruit, but still crisp. The lovely 1994 Santa Monica Riesling, Rancagua (£4.99 Victoria Wine) is from Chile, but in the Australian style, lean, limey and flowery with a hint of orange.

Top choice in inexpensive red wines this week is a delicious red from central Spain, 1993 Fuente del Ritmo, Tempranillo, La Mancha (£3.99 Oddbins), a rich, oak-aged wine with lovely cherry fruit and pleasant tannin. Brilliant value at under £3 is Safeway's 1993 Chteau Montner, Ctes du Roussillon- Villages (£2.89) - ripe, plummy and smoky, quite traditional and firm but very fruity. And St Michael Sangiovese delle Marche (£3.49 Marks & Spencer) is a lovely gentle red from eastern Italy, made with the principal grape of Chianti, but lacking the sharper astringent side of inexpensive versions of that wine.

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