Wines of the week

BEFORE a grape has even reached petit pois proportions on this side of the equator, the first fruits of the southern hemisphere, bottled and ready to drink, have appeared. My current favourite is Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc 1992, pounds 3.99, Oddbins, an aromatic and bracingly fresh Chilean dry white with a snappy gooseberry- grapefruit crispness. Sauvignon blanc's cool, grassy, pungent aromas and tangy, citrus fruit flavours is a made-for-summer grape variety. Also from Chile, Rowanbrook Chilean Sauvignon Blanc 1991 may not have quite the oomph of the Caliterra, but at pounds 2.99, Asda, its zesty, refreshing fruitiness represents excellent value. Chateau de la Jaubertie in Bergerac has carved itself, under the stewardship of the Englishman Nick Ryman, a reputation for the intensity of flavour of its sauvignon blanc. Try the Domaine de Grandchamp Sauvignon 1991, pounds 5.69, Sainsbury's vintage selection, for a fine example of the penetrating, citrus flavours that can be wrung from the hand of a man clearly happier with grapes than with paper clips and ring binders. For the ripest grapefruit-and- gooseberry flavours, Konocti Sauvignon Blanc 1990, pounds 4.98, Bibendum, London NW1 (071-722 5577), is a delightful Californian sauvignon, and surprisingly affordable. It would normally take wild horses to drag me near something labelled soave in a three-litre wine box. My prejudices have been temporarily shown up by Marks & Spencer's new 3- litre soave in a box, pounds 11.50. I liked its soft, dry but fruity, honeyed flavours.

Sauvignon apart, another of the great summer wines is Portugal's vinho verde - in Portugal. Too often it arrives here so saccharine-sweet that it loses its zip. Not Asda's Dry Vinho Verde. At 9 per cent alcohol, it is ultra-light, and the fruit so dry and refreshing, you feel as though you are crunching slightly under-ripe grapes, which then explode like fermenting sherbet lemons in the mouth. Recommended for hot days and heavy thirsts. Last month I mentioned the unusual 1991 Redwood Valley Chardonnay from New Zealand. Now in at Wine Rack and Bottoms Up, pounds 8.99, its pungent, zesty tropical fruit aromas are given added complexity by a touch of 'noble rot', which just goes to show that the French have no monopoly over things seriously and nobly rotten.