Food and Drink: Wines of the Week

'WHEN are you going to get it into your thick skull that the Barossa Valley is the best place to grow grapes and make wine?'

Regional chauvinism runs deep in South Australia's ultra-traditional wine heartland, and no one is more chauvinistic than the Barossa's favourite son, Peter Lehmann, who uttered these words recently to an Australian journalist. A bear of a man with 45 vintages under his not inconsiderable belt, Mr Lehmann has helped revitalise a region whose reputation began to falter in the early Eighties.

The legend was here in person recently to launch new wines which will soon be in the high street. Meanwhile, his 1991 Barossa Valley Chardonnay, pounds 5.99, Oddbins, is a classic of its kind. Loaded with luscious chardonnay fruitiness, the toasty-oak-and-fruit flavours are full, and the texture rich, balanced by a mouthwatering streak of cleansing acidity.

For sheer good value, Asda's 1991 South Australia Chardonnay, pounds 3.99, is a fine amalgam of full, tropical-fruit-and-oak flavours from Angoves Winery in the Riverland district of South Australia. In similar vein, with the smoky aromas of American oak, Sainsbury's 1991 Australian Chardonnay, pounds 3.99, offers typically ripe, appealing Oz fruit.

On a more restrained, elegant note, Asda's southern French Chardonnay Vin de Pays d'Oc, pounds 3.09, going up to pounds 3.49 next Saturday, is well constructed: unoaked, clean and pure tasting but with a welcome degree of richness and butteriness.

With autumn in mind, I have selected a few heart-warming reds this week from the deep south. Having extolled the virtues of Joao Pires's 1988 Tinto da Anfora, I have since rediscovered Periquita, a traditional Portuguese red made from a blend of castelao frances, espadeiro, monvedro and bastardo by Jose Maria da Fonseca on the Setubal peninsula, south of Lisbon. Ripe, soft and succulently fruity with a raspberryish, distinctively Portuguese character, the 1989 vintage of Periquita, pounds 3.99, Tesco, Oddbins, Majestic, is on fine form.

From the normally hideously expensive and ultra-chic district of Brunello di Montalcino in southern Tuscany, Asda has managed to unearth an excellent Rosso di Montalcino, the younger and often fruitier, more vibrant counterpart to Brunello. At pounds 4.95, the sweet cherry fruitiness and fine balancing acidity of Val di Suga's 1989 Rosso di Montalcino brings this Tuscan red into the affordable drink-with-pasta category.

Meanwhile, lovers of rioja will find it hard to resist the charms of Tesco's coconut-oak and jammy, ripe Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, pounds 3.99. And Asda's pungent, charred-oak and very fruity Leon 1985 has to be this week's bargain at pounds 2.99.

Finally, to the deep cool of New Zealand. The quality of Corbans Private Bin Merlot 1990, pounds 7.39, selected Victoria Wine shops, surprised delegates to the recent Institute of Masters of Wine Symposium in Bristol. Served at dinner before a 1976 Chateau Latour, it proved to be a sumptuous example of rich fruit, velvet-smooth, new wave New Zealand merlot, a shot across the bows of Pomerol.

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