The drinker | wines for spring

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Remember Beaujolais Nouveau? The frenzy to get first shipments has largely abated, possibly because the wines themselves are rarely very exciting. But there's a comparable first-past-the-post competition: the race to release the first wines of the vintage. And it was inevitable that there'd be particular zeal to show off the first arrivals of the new millennium.

The inevitable has now become the actual: three bottles with 2000 on the label have found their way into my front hall. All are white, all from South Africa, all sound bottles for cheap (£3.99) springtime drinking. In descending order of preference, they are: Goiya Kgeisje, a 50-50 blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from the Western Cape (Tesco); First Release Chardonnay (Safeway); and First Release Chenin Blanc (Safeway). The Goiya Kgeisje is fragrant and soft, the Chardonnay of a light citrussy character.

Such up-to-the-minute novelty (in the literal sense) is a fine thing, but it shouldn't mislead us. The wines from that old-fashioned year 1999 are also new bottles, or near enough, and they're still the main option for the impending break in the weather. Tesco is currently in the midst of its annual Wine Festival, featuring new arrivals from Australia, Italy and South America, and it has three likely candidates that I can easily picture myself swilling over lunch in the garden.

Item one: Valdivieso Malbec Rosé 1999 (Tesco, £4.49). My prejudice against most pink fluids doesn't keep me from loving this juicy, strawberry-rich potion given depth and interest by Malbec's chunky fruit flavours. Item two: the amusingly named The Wrong 'Un 1999 (£5.99). The wrongness in question concerns the grapes, a Syrah-dominated blend with Pinot Noir, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Totally wrong from the standpoint of European wine laws, totally right if you value good extraction, weighty concentration, and easily accessible black fruit flavours. Item three: Il Padrino, Frappato Nero d'Avola 1999 (£3.99). The grapes are come together nicely to create tart, plummy flavours with moderate weight and ripe tannins. Barbecuer's delight.

The rosé apart, these do not fit the cliché view of springtime wine as light, thirst-quenching stuff. I figure that if you're thirsty, you can drink water. I'd rather feel a little oomph along the way, which is the rationale behind two other seasonal choices from Argentina. Rio Santos Torrontes 1999 (M&S, £3.99) has the characteristic high-acid apple freshness of this finest Argentinean white grape, along with its nutty, elusive cooked-fruit flavours. Quince jelly? Candied ginger? I dunno. But the wine is good at the price. My second choice is Santa Julia Viognier 1999 (Sainsbury's, £4.79), also with the typical spectrum of Viognier's peachy flavours but in a light, fresh style.

Please don't feel you need to buy only for the current spring. There should, Deo volente, be others to follow. To finish off this erratic survey, therefore, I beg you to snap up remaining bottles of Viré Clessé "L'Epinet" 1998, Jean Rijckaert (£8.50, Laytons, 020 7388 4567). Rijckaert formerly worked for Mâcon mega-star Jean Marie Guffens, but 1998 was his first solo vintage. An actor would undergo cosmetic surgery without anesthesia for this kind of debut. It will age well, though you won't die if you drink it now.

I'd say the same about Henschke Louis Sémillon 1998, Eden Valley (£10.95, Lay & Wheeler, 01206 764446), a hugely successful balancing act between oak and fresh lime-peel. Suddenly the future doesn't look so bleak, despite the weather.

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