The Drinker

Voyage of discovery
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Indy Lifestyle Online

While travel broadens the mind, there is another kind of broadening that comes with travel, and that is the fascinating phenomenon known as WWD: Weird Wine Discoveries. This refers to the strange discovery of wines in places where they shouldn't be selling, and is often encountered in conjunction with another phenomenon, WWPA: Weird Wine Price Anomalies.

While travel broadens the mind, there is another kind of broadening that comes with travel, and that is the fascinating phenomenon known as WWD: Weird Wine Discoveries. This refers to the strange discovery of wines in places where they shouldn't be selling, and is often encountered in conjunction with another phenomenon, WWPA: Weird Wine Price Anomalies.

A recent encounter with both came in the Costa Brava, on a holiday notable for, among other things, not drinking a single bottle of Spain's most famous wines: Rioja and sherry. In the case of sherry, it was simply a matter of deploying cocktails rather than wine in the Battle of the Apéritif. In the case of Rioja, it was a case of avoiding absurdly high prices.

The acronymic epiphanies occurred with one of the best wines of Alsace: Hugel Riesling. We found two vintages on sale at our supermarket of choice, a Champion just outside Figueras. The vintages: 1995 (a very good year in Alsace) and 1992 (a lesser year). The price: 1,895 pesetas, about £7.50.

When I saw these bottles, I slavered. A bottle of the current releases, 1996 or 1998, will set you back £8.49 at Oddbins. Buy a case? No, better to be cautious. I bought a single bottle of the 1992 and we found, that evening, that it had tautened to a lean, quiveringly clear quintessence of pure Riesling. Next time we were there, I bought three more of both vintages.

Life is never perfect. We opened the 1995 that evening and it made me think "whoops". This wine was dead, listless and unappealing. It made me think that 1995 is a good vintage that just doesn't age in the same way. So I opened another bottle casually, expecting nothing, and it was stunning: richer and juicier and even more enjoyable than 1992 - and with several years of life ahead of it. Bottle number one had been a case of RBO, random bottle oxidisation. Not a cheap write-off, but a valuable lesson in WWD.

What bothered me most was that we didn't have our car. We couldn't carry the wine back in anything like the quantities I'd have liked. But why am I telling you this, when the wine's someplace else? Because it reminded me of how many mid-priced wines are drunk too soon, before their full virtues have time to become apparent. One such is the pair of reds from Viña Albali, both their Reserva 1995 and especially their Gran Reserva 1993. These easily outshone all the reds we drank in Spain and, believe me, we did plenty of research. And they confirmed that this outstanding Valdepeñas bodega produces some of the best value in Spain, with good concentration and deft application of oak. The Gran Reserva is the one that will benefit most from another year or so in the bottle.

Viña Albali wines are widely available, from Asda, Budgens, some Co-op stores, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Unwins, and the Victoria Wine/Bottoms Up/Wine Rack group. Their prices, £4.49 and £5.99 respectively, place them within reach of anyone seeking a superior house red.

Hugel aside, we've got more choice here than we had in Spain. And another candidate for laying down has emerged from the bottles in the front hall: Peter Lehmann The Barossa Shiraz 1998 (Oddbins, £6.99). No one could dislike this wine, with its sweetness reminiscent of milk chocolate, soft tannins, and the balance you expect from this consistently fine producer. Delicious now. In two or three years, even better. And almost enough to make me stop pining for the Hugels I left behind.

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