Wines of the month: First of the summer wines

The bottles you simply must have at your garden party - Anthony Rose sniffs out the best of this season's delicacies
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"As the century draws to a close, the wines of Jerez are as good or better than they have ever been. The choice is excellent, and in terms of value for money they have no rivals on earth." This is the sherry gospel according to John Radford, whose succinct and gloriously illustrated book, The New Spain (pounds 25, Mitchell Beazley) has walked off with both the Glenfiddich and Lanson gongs for best wine book of the year. As a counterpoint to the fruity New World wines, I give you an Iberian duo: an unusual, modern Portuguese red and an Amontillado sherry which sets out as a fino, feeding on the flor yeast in cask, before it's sidetracked into becoming an Amontillado by spending longer in oak. Enjoy.


1998 35 Sur Sauvignon Blanc, pounds 4.49, Asda. Once again, Jacques Lurton, the globetrotting French winemaker, has produced a refreshing, aromatic style of Sauvignon at San Pedro in Chile, with green bean and green pepper aromas and mouthwateringly crisp, gooseberry fruitiness. One of the best Sancerre-style Sauvignon Blancs on the market at this price. The name (35 Sur), incidentally, is the latitude of the San Pedro vineyards.

Amontillado Seco Napoleon, Hidalgo, pounds 6.99 (introductory offer; pounds 7.99, from August), Majestic. Pale amber in colour, this Amontillado is a mature, dry sherry with aromas of coffee and burnt toffee, a core of sweet fruit topped off with the typical nutty aged characters of authentic Amontillado and an uncompromisingly dry finish. One of five bone dry to lusciously sweet premium sherries from Hildalgo on special offer at Majestic and available for tasting over the summer period. Try with an oily fish or mature cheese.

1997 L'Avenir Chardonnay, pounds 7.99, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Thresher. Made by Francois Naude in the Cape's Stellenbosch region, this is an extremely well-crafted, Burgundian-style estate dry white taking the Chardonnay grape of white Burgundy and fashioning it through barrel-fermentation into an opulent, full-flavoured style with undertones of fig and peach all knitted together by a hazelnutty richness.


1998 Terra Mater Zinfandel/Shiraz, Maipo Valley, pounds 4.99, Safeway, Sainsbury's. This sumptuous Chilean red marries the Zinfandel grape of California to the Rhone Valley's Syrah in an exotic blend. The colour is dark ruby, the aromas perfumed with spice, while the fruit is deep in damson and blackberry jam-like qualities. A voluptuous red that's hard to resist.

1996 Sainsbury's Old Vines Estate Zinfandel, pounds 6.49, Sainsbury's. Zinfandel was the precursor to Cabernet Sauvignon in California and the best Zin comes from the old bush vines which were sadly neglected before the grape's resurrection. This is a powerful, raspberry-like California blend with a hint of the rhubarb character you often find in the grape variety.

1997 Vila Santa, Vinho Regional Alentejo, pounds 7.95, Waitrose. A southern Portuguese red combining local grape varieties Aragones, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet in a distinctive blend with Cabernet Sauvignon. Oak cask maturation in a mix of French and Portuguese barrels mirrors the combination of local and international. It all adds up to a smart, modern red with a bright, damsony fruitiness and plenty of spicy oak.

Fizz of the Month

Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier, pounds 24, widely available. I'm not overly keen on patting the Grandes Marques Champagnes on the back, as they are more than capable of doing it themselves. But of all the Grande Marque Champagnes, Louis Roederer Brut Premier is worth mentioning for the sheer class which distinguishes it from the rest. This is a wonderfully stylish fizz with a biscuity bouquet, melt-in-the-mouth toasty flavours and a creamy delicate texture which defies description. This month's special offers: pounds 22.99 at Thresher, Victoria Wine, Bottoms Up and Wine Rack (buy two, pounds 5 off); buy six and get six free flutes at Fuller's