Wines of the Month

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The Independent Online

What, wines of the month without a chardonnay in sight? No, I haven't lost my marbles or become a secret member of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) sect, which pooh-poohs the world's most popular grape variety as vulgar. There may be too much boring oaked chardonnay around, or what the Americans call blah-blah chardonnay, but there's no arguing with its potential class in the right hands.

What, wines of the month without a chardonnay in sight? No, I haven't lost my marbles or become a secret member of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) sect, which pooh-poohs the world's most popular grape variety as vulgar. There may be too much boring oaked chardonnay around, or what the Americans call blah-blah chardonnay, but there's no arguing with its potential class in the right hands.

So it's not chardonnay fatigue but rather blind optimism for a brighter August that brings me to a selection of slightly more unusual, and admittedly trendy, dry white styles. As for reds, I'm looking for summery wines with a bit of spice and more than a bit of character, some of which at least can be drunk with fish, or that elusive barbecue. Bring on the hickory chips.

White

1999 Clos Petite Bellane, Cÿtes du Rhÿne, £5.49, Oddbins Your common-or-garden Cÿtes du Rhÿne fails to set the pulse racing, but this super-ripe example from Thierry Sansot of Domaine de la Grande Bellane in Valréas is an honourable exception. It's a clean, dry white blend of the roussanne and viognier grapes, with a hint of angelica spiciness; ripe, peachy fruitiness and enough acidity to complement trout-and-almonds or smoked mackerel.

1999 Firesteed Oregon Pinot Gris, approx £9.95, Noel Young Wines, Cambridge (01223 844744); Valvona & Crolla, Edinburgh (0131 556 6066); Philglas & Swiggott, Battersea, London (0207 9244494); Bennett's Wine Merchants, Chipping Camp-den (01386 840974); Tanners Wines, Shrewsbury (01743 234501) Pinot gris, aka pinot grigio in Italy, is becoming trendy, particularly in the cooler regions of New Zealand and the Pacific North-west. Lightly oaked with aromatic touches of woodsmoke and vanilla, this is a full-bodied, rich dry white with fresh, pear-like flavours and just a touch of sweetness which, with matching body and richness, brings dishes such as Malaysian and Thai curry to mind.

1998 Condrieu, Guigal, £16.99, Majestic Wine Warehouses The popularity of the viognier grape is rapidly spreading from Condrieu in the northern Rhÿne. But Condrieu itself still represents the epitome of the style, and the best, like this one, is unbeatable. Next time you're at Majestic, see what the fuss is about and make up your dozen with a bottle of Marcel Guigal's unctuously rich, apricoty dry white, tinged with floral aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle. It's a wine that will suit fish or white meat equally, and it's currently on offer at £2 less than the normal asking price.

Red

1998 Inycon Syrah, £4.99, Sainsbury's Carlo Corino, the celebrated Italian wine-maker who spent more than a decade working at Montrose in New South Wales, is a firm believer in the syrah grape's potential in Sicily. As evidence of his experience in warm-climate wine-making, this rosso di Sicilia from Corino is extremely well-crafted, with its well-proportioned veneer of oak setting off the wine's ripe blackberry fruit flavours and peppery spice. All that and very good value, too. One for the barbie.

1999 Clos Malverne Basket Pressed Pinotage, £7.99, Waitrose Like a number of unusual native grape varieties, South Africa's pinotage, a cross between pinot noir and cinsault, is an acquired taste. It's certainly one I've acquired. If you've always wanted to know about pinotage but were afraid to taste it, this is as good a starting point as any - a youthful Cape red tinged with spicy oak, with hints of mulberry and blackberry and plenty of juicy fruitiness, on the lookout for grilled lamb steaks or spicy sausages.

1998 Martinborough Pinot Noir, £14.99, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up At the southern tip of New Zealand's North Island, Martinborough's gravel terraces have been found to produce some of the country's finest pinot noir. Witness this succulent example from Martinborough Vineyard, with flavours of soft red fruits such as raspberry and loganberry, and enough structure to go with game or a meaty salmon, either poached or grilled.

Fizz

Safeway Albert Etienne Brut, £10.99, Safeway The trade might not like it, but there's no reason why we consumers shouldn't reap the benefits of champagne price-cutting while it lasts. This Safeway stalwart from the house of Massé has £3 lopped off the asking price until 20 August, and with its crisply refreshing, biscuity fruit, it makes a fine aperitif to put dinner guests in the mood.

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