KATHRYN McWHIRTER ON WINE WRITERS' ODD ADJECTIVES

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GREAT Burgundy smells of horse manure, according to the Burgundy expert (and Burgundy lover, in case you wondered) Anthony Hanson in his book Burgundy. It's very often true - in my opinion, too, although I can hear many of you scoffing. Top-class, complex red Burgundy for me exudes a whole family of dungy, rotty, vegetal smells and flavours that add complexity to the raspberry- and strawberry-like fruit.

I was reminded of Hanson's words last week while my kitchen table was groaning under nearly 100 wines of all types from Marks & Spencer. Number 73 was not a Burgundy but a fine, mature claret, at its peak, and it had a distinct taste of horse manure, along with more appealing-sounding flavours such as raisin and honey. The friend who took and drank up the 1988 Chateau l'Hospitalet, Pomerol (pounds l2.99 in M&S fine wine stores) raved about it the next day, and I felt it indelicate to ask her if she'd noticed a hint of dung.

We wine writers probably put off a customer or two with our adjectives. It's not just the likes of "stables" (an even more interesting combination of leather and straw and of course dung), or tar and creo-sote (attractive aspects of the Syrah grape in the northern Rhone). Even raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries are too much for some readers. But how else do you describe tastes and smells, except by comparing then to others from your past experience? Australian winemakers would blind you with chemical names for particular smells and tastes: "pyrazines", for example (grassy, green peppery to a Pommy winewriter). The rest of us can only search the memory banks for similar experiences. No, winewriters to not chew manure for inspiration. But since all the subtleties of taste flow up the passage between nose and mouth to be detected by the nasal sensors, it is perfectly reasonable to liken a taste to an inedible smell.

M&S had on the table many dead ringers for specific tastes and smells. The producer of the crisp 1994 Cannon Road Chardonnay, Geyser Peak (pounds 5.99) probably never meant it to taste of stewed rhubarb. But it did, gently and attractively. Asparagus is a typical flavour to find in cool-vintage or maturing New Zealand Sauvignon and the 1994 Kaituna Hills, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 4.99) is very asparagussy, and excellent value. Sniff out the ripe, fresh apricots in the aromatic 1994 Viognier, Domaine de Manderville, Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 4.99), and the quince in the fine, high- acid, off-dry 1993 Vouvray, Domaine Gaudrelle (pounds 6.99), the latter the perfect partner for summer gravad- lax. If you have ever cut down nettles and noted their peculiar smell, look for it in the crisp, "nettly" 1994 Madeba Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 4.99). Grapefruit zest is for me usually the mark of German wines made from the Scheurebe grape, but the honeyed 1992 Deidesheimer Hofstuck Riesling Kabinett, St Ursula (pounds 4.99, M&S mail order only, 01925 667789) has a strong tang of the fruit, too.

One marker for a ripe style of Chardonnay is pineapple, and there's a great deal of ripe pineapple flavour in the 1994 Chardonnay, Domaine de Mandeville, Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 4.29) made in lovely part of the Aude by a California-trained winemaker. Banana is another. Think banana as you tuck into the intense and complex 1990 Chablis, Premier Cru, Grande Cuvee, La Chablisienne (pounds 11.99) - an excellent buy - or the equally scrumptious 1993 Orange Vineyard Chardonnay, Roth-bury Estate (pounds 8.99). Budget bananas come in the shape of a crisp, soft and very attractive 1994 Lontue Chardonnay, Vina San Pedro (pounds 4.99) from Chile or the oaky 1994 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, Rothbury Estate (pounds 5.99).

For fresh blackcurrants, over to reds now. Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape. 1990 Gran Calesa, Costers del Segre (pounds 4.99) is a blackcurranty Spanish version, with savoury oak; and the dark, serious but soft 1993 Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Carmen Vineyards (pounds 4.99) from Chile has wonderfully concentrated blackcurrant fruit. Some Cabernets are strongly reminiscent of Ribena. South-east Australian 1993 Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Cellar Masters (pounds 5.99) is one such, soft, rich and concentrated.

There was a rather special, nicely maturing Burgundy, too, 1989 Volnay, Louis Jadot (pounds 12.99 in fine wine stores). But I'm sorry to report that I found nothing but raspberry fruit with vegetal overtones and hints of prune. No bull.

ENDS

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