WINE / After the flying doctor, the flying winemaker: The supermarkets are using international names to revamp their own label wines, writes Anthony Rose

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Following in the airspace of the flying doctor, the most recent Australian gift to civilisation is the flying winemaker. It all started when it occurred to Martin Shaw, a South Australian winemaker, that instead of twiddling his thumbs when harvest was over in the Adelaide hinterland, his time would be better spent working during the harvest in France. He could then hop back home in time to start all over again. Soon others were following suit.

Then it was Europe's turn to repay the compliment. Paul Pontallier, for instance, the talented young winemaker at Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux, now makes wine in Chile instead of putting his feet up in the spring. 'Winemaking is not like growing peas,' says Mr Pontallier. 'It's fun. Making wine two vintages a year is twice the fun.'

Mr Pontallier was one of three roving European winemakers who described their experiences at the recent Masters of Wine Institute symposium in Bristol. In self-imposed exile in Oregon, Veronique Drouhin, the daughter of burgundian negociant Robert Drouhin, showed off her almost embarrassingly successful 1989 Oregon pinot noir.

Hugh Ryman, a chip off the stationery family block, explained how 'making wine in Australia taught me about trying to obtain more fruit flavour'. His most recent venture in Hungary has resulted in critical acclaim for his Gyongyos Estate sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.

The success of the venture has attracted supermarkets to the cult of the international winemaker. For them, in particular, it makes a lot of sense to revamp their anonymous own-label products to fit the Nineties ethos for wines of individuality and spark. An own-label may offer a quality guarantee of sorts, but says little or nothing about the human element.

Earlier this summer, Marks & Spencer introduced a new range of Winemakers of the World wines. 'A simple but imaginative idea was conceived,' says the blurb, 'to home in on the winemaker rather than the classification.' Now Tesco is launching in September 'an exciting new range of wines under its International Winemaker label'. Enter Jacques and Francois Lurton, two young brothers, whose family are renowned for the quality of their graves and white bordeaux. A glance at Jacques Lurton's diary is giddying, with entries of the 'if it's Monday it must be Mendoza' variety. He flits regularly back and forth between France and Argentina, Australia and Spain.

The result to date is six wines in the pounds 2.99- pounds 3.99 range, four white and two red. The best value to my mind is the Mendoza Blanc 1992, pounds 2.99. This cool-fermented, aromatic, refreshingly fruity dry white is made in Argentina from a blend of chenin blanc and ugni blanc. The Rueda 1991, pounds 3.49, is marginally more distinctive with a crisp, dry, earthy Spanish character. The chasan, a chardonnay-lisan crossing, is a well made if inferior Macon-style dry white.

I was less enamoured of the tartly austere semillon-riesling from Australia. As for the two reds, both from the 1992 vintage, I found them as yet too raw for enjoyment. Tesco deserves credit for the idea, and it is early days yet. I find it hard, though, to get over-excited about wines made to a formula in which the International Winemaker is heralded as the alchemist who can transform base material into liquid gold.

Sainsbury's answer to all this is two Italian wines under the Winemaker's Choice label, both of which have been made 'in the Australian style' by Joe Grilli, a winemaker from Hardy's, the Australian company that bought the Ricasoli Estate in Tuscany. Both cost pounds 2.99. The vino da tavola rosso is a soft, fruity red in the beaujolais style. Cool fermentation brings out the lemony aromas of the vino da tavola bianco.

Marks & Spencer has come up with more interesting results in its Winemakers of the World range. Here each Winemaker is a producer of international stature but, unlike at Tesco, they are working on home ground. By putting their signatures to the wines, the producers are in effect saying 'that's my wine and my reputation depends on its quality'.

Two unusual wines stand out. Hochar Pere et Fils 1989, pounds 5.99, is made by Serge Hochar, owner of Chateau Musar in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. This blend of cabernet sauvignon and cinsault is full of character, perhaps even an acquired taste. But its idiosyncratic, powerfully exotic aroma and gamey flavour soon grow on you.

The other surprise is the Marques de Grinon 1990 Rueda, pounds 5.99. This is a Spanish dry white made from the verdejo grape, a native grape many consider to be Spain's finest white, in the flat tableland of Rueda north of Madrid. Fermented in oak casks by the winemaker Antonio Sanz, the wine has an intriguing herby, aniseed-like aroma and a deliciously dry, nutty character.

With the rest of the range we return to more familiar territory: a tartly juicy, cherry-strawberry 1991 Beaujolais-Villages from Georges Duboeuf, pounds 4.99, and a well-crafted toffee-ish 1989 Merlot, pounds 4.99, from Pomerol's superstar, Christian Moueix.

The two chardonnays stand in sharply contrasting style. Robert Mondavi's 1989 Woodbridge Chardonnay, pounds 5.99, is a successful stab at reproducing the lightly oaked, delicately buttery, burgundian style in California. Len Evans's ebullient character is more immediately obvious in the brashly oaky, cinnamon-spicy 1991 South-east Australian Chardonnay, pounds 5.99. It may be one-dimensional, but what a dimension.

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