Wines of the month

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Under the stewardship of the canny George Fistonich, Villa Maria, one of New Zealand's Big Four wine companies, has a consistent record of turning out award- and trophy-winning wines. Villa's 1996 Wairau Valley Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 9.49, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up) is a case in point. Winner of the Sydney Top 100's Best of Competition award, this intensely pungent, supercharged reserve sauvignon with its tropical fruit salad of grapefruit, guava and passion-fruit flavours is made, astonishingly, from18-month old vines in New Zealand's Marlborough region. The secret lies in very low yields.

With its Cellar Selection range, Villa has added a middle string to its bow just below the more expensive reserve range: the cut-grass scented 1996 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 7.99, Oddbins) streaked with gooseberry and tropical fruit flavours, is tightly constructed by steely acidity. If the Wairau Valley Reserve is spectacular, so, too, is the 1996 Villa Maria Reserve Riesling (pounds 8.99, Oddbins) made by Villa's winemaker, Michelle Richardson, from grapes grown at the Seddon Vineyard in Marlborough's Awatere Valley. This decadently rich, almost luscious, super-concentrated riesling is kept fresh by a dry, lemon and lime-zesty tang.

Having conquered Chile and Argentina, Marks and Spencer has turned its attention to Uruguay with half a dozen new wines made specially at the Juanico Winery by Australian winemaker Peter Bright. Pick of the bunch is the 1996 Chardonnay/Viognier, (pounds 5.99) a delicately smoky blend whose peachy fruit flavours are flecked with notes of vanilla and coconut. The 1996 Gewurztraminer/Sauvignon (pounds 5.99) is another adventurous blend, in this case from Chile, in which the two aromatic grapes successfully combine to produce a fragrantly exotic, Turkish Delight-style white with a refreshingly crisp, dry aftertaste.

Bibendum, the dynamic Regents Park wine merchant, has launched a special offer of its Australian range from Deakin Estate in Victoria. Normally pounds 60 per case, Bibendum (113 Regent's Park Road, London NW1 8UR, 0171-916 7706), is offering three 1996 dry whites - a sauvignon blanc, colombard, and chardonnay - plus a 1995 cabernet sauvignon at the introductory price of pounds 50 a case (which can be mixed), including free delivery. Although officially closed at the end of March, the deal has been extended, for Independent readers, to Tuesday 8 April. For me, the two best choices of Spring quaffer would be the refreshing gooseberry and passion-fruit- flavoured 1996 Deakin Estate Sauvignon Blanc and the crisply appealing, melon-like 1996 Deakin Estate Colombard.

New in at Waitrose, the 1996 La Bamba Tempranillo (pounds 3.85) is a vibrant, thirst-quenching Argentinian red, again made by the ubiquitous Peter Bright. Its counterpart, the 1996 La Bamba Pinot Noir/Syrah (pounds 3.99) aptly described by Waitrose as a New World beaujolais, contains considerably more exuberant cherry and raspberry fruit flavour than you'll find in most beaujolais at the price.

And from Sardinia, Giacomo Tachis, one of Italy's leading winemakers, has been retained as a consultant to the Santadi co-operative, producing the 1994 Carignano del Sulcis (pounds 4.99, Tesco), an aromatic, sage-like red whose sweetly baked, full-bodied fruitiness is enhanced by the savoury Mediterranean undertones of the carignan grape.

Assuming the truth of the back-label claim that the 1995 Rioja Almenar (down to pounds 3.49 from pounds 3.99, Somerfield) has been fermented in new oak barrels, this creamy-smooth, ripe, full-flavoured Spanish dry white made from Rioja's viura grape is something of a bargain. At the opposite end of the price spectrum, Rhone ranger John Alban, based in the relatively cool Edna Valley in California's Central Coast, has produced a richly concentrated dry white with intense, dried-apricot-like flavours in the 1994 Alban Vineyards Viognier (pounds 14.99, Oddbins) a wine which compares favourably in power and intensity with Condrieu, the Northern Rhone's rare and expensive dry white made from the viognier grape

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