Wine: Tastings

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The Independent Culture
The aroma of certain Rhones has been compared to skunks and hamster cages; that of Burgundy, to the farmyard. Cat's pee on a gooseberry bush, though, is the most enduring of bestial wine references. Coined by wine writer Jancis Robinson to express the aromatic qualities (rather than the taste) of the sauvignon blanc grape, it's guaranteed to raise a laugh at tastings. Now, in homage, Cooper's Creek from New Zealand have launched the ultimate piss artist label. The 1995 Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush, pounds 5.99, Victoria Wine Shops and Cellars, is more elderflower than feline, with a clean- cut grassiness on the palate - you get the idea.

Cat's Pee is from Gisborne, which, presumably to the annoyance of Hawkes Bay and other Kiwi producers, likes to call itself "the chardonnay capital of New Zealand". In contrast to Marlborough, where it rained cats and dogs in 1995, chardonnay fared pretty well in what is one of the warmer regions of the North Island. A good example is the 1995 Kaituna Hills Gisborne Chardonnay, pounds 4.99, Marks & Spencer. This piercingly fresh chardonnay has a light veneer of oak spiciness complemented by a peachy, full-bodied ripeness.

Charles Back of Fairview Estate in the Paarl region is almost as well known in the Cape for his herd of goats and the delicious goats' cheeses he makes as for his wines. There is nothing goaty about his 1994 Fairview Cabernet Sauvignon, pounds 5.95, Sainsbury's. It's a typical example of new- wave South African cabernet, with the generous mint and blackcurrant fruit flavours of Paarl accentuated by the sweetness of new oak maturation.

The 1992 Rouge Homme Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, pounds 6.99, Oddbins, is a rather different beast. Here, the stylish bouquet of smoky, vanilla oak is backed by blackcurrant sweetness, which is beginning to soften nicely with four years' mellow maturity. And speaking of different animals, the 1989 Chateau Beau-Site, pounds 10.99, a bin-end at Oddbins, is a classic St Estephe cru bourgeois claret with an enticing bouquet, the richness of mature cassis flavours and an elegant a point texture.

New World pinot noir accentuates the aromatic fruitiness of the grape. An affordable example of the red burgundy style of this juicy, cherryish red is the 1995 Cono Sur Pinot Noir, pounds 4.49, Safeway, pounds 4.69, Oddbins, made by California's Ed Flaherty. It's young, and still a bit dry, but will soften nicely over the months.

Among fine wine offers this month from independent and mail order merchants, Tanners of Shrewsbury (01743-232 2007) and Freddy Price (0181-997 7889) are offering mouthwatering German estate rieslings from the 1994 and 1995 vintages. Lay & Wheeler (01206-764446) combine an assortment of New World wines with some stunning traditional wines such as the wonderfully rich and honeyed 1990 Chablis 1er cru Les Lys, pounds 15.75, from Etienne and Daniel Defaix. And the Australian Wine Club's pre-shipment offer of the sumptuous 1993 Old Block Shiraz (at a discount of pounds 125 per dozen, call 0800-7168930), runs to the end of the month.

Meanwhile readers will no doubt be agog to hear news of the much-vaunted 1995 Bordeaux vintage. Our advice is to keep your powder and plastic dry for now. We aim to taste and report back next month