GRAPEVINE

NEW CHARDONNAYS
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The Independent Culture
NEW to Oddbins, and new even to those wine buffs with a special partiality for Spanish wines, 1993 Vega Sindoa Chardonnay, Barrel-fermen- ted, Bodegas Nikeas (pounds 4.99 Oddbins) tastes as if it comes, at a rather higher price, from the New World. You don't normally get those rich, complex flavours and ripe fruit in Spanish whites, and especially not at under pounds 5.

In fact, it is one of the first wines from a new winery in the undulating hills of northern Navarra, not far from Pamplona. Half a century ago, the Spanish government forced wine growers here to uproot their vines and plant cereals to help provide the nation's bread in the wake of the Civil War and the Second World War. Much of that part of Navarra has stuck to grain. But at the end of the Eighties, eight of these farming families, all interrelated, pooled their land and went back into wine. Their mini- co-operative qualified for grants both from the local Navarra government and from the EC. They now have 175 hectares (432 acres) of well situated vineyards planted with young Char-donnay and Cabernet Sauvignon vines as well as local Spanish varieties. Since wine quality tends to improve as vines mature, it's very impressive to produce such good stuff from infant vines.

The new, modern winery is headed by a young woman, Concha Vecino, who studied biology then winemaking at university before working for several years at Navarra's innovative wine and vine research station. Her skill also shows in the silky-textured red 1993 Vega Sindoa Cabernet Tem-pranillo Navarra Crianza, Bodegas Nikeas (likewise an under-priced pounds 4.99); it's not as stunning as the white, but it is attractively savoury and blackcurranty. Sindoa and Nikeas are names to watch, though I suspect that not many future vintages will cost as little as pounds 4.99.

A STEP up the price scale, and a little more complex, 1994 Lightly Wooded Boschendal Chardonnay (pounds 6.45 selected Sainsbury's, pounds 6.49 selected Safeway) comes from a beautiful South African estate tucked between dramatic mountains. Boschendal, 300 years old, is the largest wine estate in South Africa, making a million bottles more than the next largest. The vineyards have the country's biggest plantings of Chardonnay, spilling ever further up the cooler mountain slopes. Most goes to fizz, but some of the ripest is turned into still Chardonnay.

EQUALLY more-ish and memorable is the new vintage of the still wine from Moet & Chandon's Australian winery near Melbourne. Moet set up their Green Point Vineyards near Melbourne in 1991 to produce high quality fizz from the Champagne grape varieties, choosing the Yarra Valley for its cool climate and proximity to Melbourne's tourists. But though the Yarra is in parts as cool as Champagne, and ideal for sparkling wine, other spots are as warm as Bordeaux, producing riper grapes well suited to fine still wines. The new still wine, 1994 Green Point Vineyards Chardonnay (pounds 7.95 Enotria Wine-cellars of London SW18, pounds 8.99 selected Victoria Wine and pounds 9.50 Harvey Nichols) tastes elegant and quite delicate, with lovely, complex flavours of ripe pineapple and lemon and hints of toffee and butter.

The sparkling 1992 Green Point (pounds l0.49 Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Tesco, Oddbins, Victoria Wine, Enotria Winecellars and widely available elsewhere) is also impressive. Their best vintage yet, it is rich and savoury, with tinges of yeasty and honeyed flavours - one of the stars among Australian sparkling wines. (Oddbins are offering seven bottles for the price of six, which makes the bottle price pounds 8.99.) The rose version, attractive though it may seem for an Antipodean Valentine, is not as good as the white.

ON a tighter budget, my pick of current Chardonnays would be a pair of Vins de Pays d'Oc: the crisp, honeyed 1994 Fleur du Moulin Chardonnay (pounds 3.99 Co-op), or the richer and lusciously pineappley 1994 Chardonnay, Cave de la Cessanne (pounds 4.45 Sainsbury's). And from north Italy, Somerfield Chardonnay del Pie-monte, Araldica (pounds 3.79 ) is very attractive - peachy, honeyed and creamy. From Chile, try the attractively oaked, pineappley 1995 Andes Peaks Casablanca Chardonnay (pounds 3.99 Wine Cellar, Berkeley Wines, Cellar 5), or the more richly pineappley and more subtly oaked 1994 Calitera Casa-blanca Chardonnay (pounds 4.99 Co-op).

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