RICHARD EHRLICH'S BEVERAGE REPORT: REASONS TO BELIEVE

There are some great wines that won't elicit nasty letters from your bank
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The Independent Culture
THERE ARE numerous reasons to doubt the existence of God, but two that often occur to me are: (1) cheese is cruelly fattening and (2) white Burgundy is hideously expensive. Great Burgundy, despite the wealth of New World talent, is the best Chardonnay on the planet. But who can afford to spend pounds 30 or more, except maybe on state occasions?

The tragedy is compounded by the fact that in Burgundy, more than any other great wine region, you may not get what you pay for. A good St Veran such as Domaine des Deux Roches 1996 (pounds 6.49, Asda) can be worth every penny and a few more on top, with a fine balance of lemony fruit against lively acidity; real character from nose to finish. A betterknown wine with price tag to match, can cost three times as much and look pale next to the best of Australia or California.

These thoughts are preoccupying me at the moment because, well, they're never very far from my mind. But they're especially troubling just now because the tasting season has started in earnest, and the Safeway extravaganza threw up an interesting trio from this Chardonnay Paradise-At-A-Price. Two wines capable of greatness, a Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles 1993 and a Meursault 1993, achieved mere goodness at the respective prices of pounds 14.99 and pounds 16.99.

They were put to shame by Mercurey "Les Mauvarennes" 1994 from the house of Faiveley. Sweet, fat fruit with just the right amount of wood (30 per cent oak fermented), and acidity to see it through another few years in bottle. This wine, which will not be in store until 18 May, costs pounds 9.99. Not a cheap wine, but a very good one. It gives an idea of what Burgundy can achieve without eliciting a nasty letter from your bank manager.

Happily, some of the most impressive wines at the Safeway tasting fell well under the pounds 10 mark and will come in even cheaper if bought during the Safeway's May Wine Fair (which ends on the 23rd). I would take note of two everyday reds of quality: Domaine des Boriettes Syrah 1995, Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 3.49 from pounds 3.99) and their own-label South African Cinsaut 1997 (pounds 3.29 from pounds 3.99), both easy drinkers with good concentration of fruit and colour.

And no one needs a price cut on Early Release Chenin Blanc 1998, Stellenbosch, a fine, fresh production from Kym Milne (maker of the Cinsaut), or on two curious but outstanding whites from Hungary: Safeway Irsai Oliver 1997 and Woodcutter's White 1997. Both cost a ridiculous pounds 2.99; both are made by a real star named Akos Kamocsay; and both possess distinctly different kinds of fragrant fruit whose unfamiliarity is part of its charm. The grape variety for Woodcutter's, incidentally, is an indigenous one called Cserszergi Fuszeres; I don't know how to pronounce it, but that won't stop me cracking a bottle for the next al fresco meal-occasion (as they say in the market research biz).

With the money you save buying those Safeway bottles, trade up for three superior wines from Chile. The first two cost pounds 5.99 and come from Lurton- owned Castillo de Molina: a Reserva Semillon 1997 which will knock your socks off with its rich, ripe exoticism, and a Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 1996 of good cassis fruit and slightly rasping tannins. Those tannins make this a bottle to keep for a year or so, while the Semillon is aching to be drunk now.

The third wine (also not available until 18 May), Casa Lapostelle "Cuvee Alex- andre" Chardonnay 1996 (pounds 8.99), is in a different class altogether: sweet oakiness to begin with, followed by subtle, citrus flavours which linger on the palate almost indecently. Drunk now or kept a while, this wine will help mollify any irreligious feelings about God, money, and the white wines of the Cote d'Or.

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