River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Six Of The Best

January 2007

Giles takes an exciting canter around the vinyards.

Hallo! Well another year lies behind us, one that my sources tell will not be hailed a truly vintage year in wine terms, and its time, as is my want, to join in the frenzy that is the media's way of filling papers and broadcasts in this often lean time of year and reflect on matters past whilst speculating on matters future. So without further adieu, here is my six of the best wines from 2006.

White wines and I for the longest time were relative strangers. With the notable exception of Alsatian Riesling, a wine whose charms were no match for my meagre resistance, I only drank whites in the summer or on those rare occasions when I was having fish. This year however I have somewhat widened my horizons and along the way made some rather jolly discoveries. First up, and for me most surprising, was a Chardonnay. Now I have long held the contention that unless you are in the fortunate position of being able to spend twenty to forty pounds a bottle on decent Burgundy, then Chardonnay can be amongst the most dreary, uninspired and vapid wine imaginable. Part of the problem is that when Chardonnay is given too much heat it can lose the acidity and delicacy that give the cool climate wines their charm. Add to this clumsy wine making, particularly in the New World where the maxim 'more is more' is associated with how much oak to use and the global thirst that caused it planted in a whole host poor sites and the result is a sea of dull and duff wines that have price tags they don't warrant. However, this year I discovered a brilliant little Chardonnay that has bags of character, finesse and style and weighs in for everyday money. It's the Louis Jadot Macon Aze 2005 (Waitrose £7.59) Crisp, firm and with loads of apple and honeydew melon fruit, here is a wine that gives a true taste of why Chardonnay became famous in the first place.

Next up, a fizz, its another Burgundy, this time the Blason de Bourgogne Rose (Waitrose £8.54) Now whilst Burgundy is famed for its still wines, it, like practically every other region of France, makes its own sparkling wine. Here they are known as 'cremant', which refers to the level of pressure within the bottle, cremant being slightly lower than that for say Champagne. Anyway, this one is made in the method traditionelle, the Champagne way if you will, with secondary fermentation in bottle and made from the local Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. The lovely thing about this wine is that as well as being fruity (it has strawberries, raspberries and red cherries to spare) it is wonderfully rounded and soft, with none of the sharpness or edge that so haunts sparkling wines. Drinking wonderfully well on its own, its got enough richness and bite to stand up to soft cheese or white meats dishes.

Now for something a touch better suited to the weather and few winter warming reds. First up, and I make no apology for the price, is the Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva 1997 (Tesco £14.99) Simply brilliant, this had been produced from grapes grown in the some of the finest sites in the region of Rioja known as La Rioja Alta - the highest, coolest and finest of the three sub regions. Gran Reserva wines are only ever produced in the bets years, to do otherwise would mean that the wines would be overridden by oak as they spend nearly three years in American oak casks. This wine, which at a decade old is still a youngster, packs a velvety punch and conveys a glorious weight of raspberries, blackcurrants, cranberries and creamy vanilla. It's ideal with the Sunday roast, particularly if you, like the Riojans, are having lamb, or with feisty cheeses or just good company.

Equally robust, almost as characterful and somewhat cheaper, is the brilliant Cairanne Cotes de Brulee 2003 (Tesco £4.99) Cairanne itself is a small village in the south of the Rhone Valley. It sits atop a small hillside and up until a few years ago the wines from this pretty setting ended up being blended into so much generic Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Village. These days owing to the reawakening of interest in all things Rhone, the wines are attracting enough interest (money) to be bottle under their own label...and a good thing too! Cairanne's are big, bold wines made with a blend of mainly Grenache and Syrah and give wines, such as this, which are rich, full bodied and come packed with flavours of prunes, blackcurrants, white pepper and smoke. Cheap and distinctly cheerful, keep this wine for the most power of dishes and leave it open for an hour or so before you drink it.

I couldn't in all decency do a review of my vinuous year without a nod to the greatest region on earth, Bordeaux. There have been many brilliant clarets come my way this year, but for sheer value, I have had to select the Tour St Bonnet 2003 (Majestic £8.99) Hailing from a great, this super little property lies in the heart of the Medoc and shows just how good claret can be when mother nature lends a helping hand to the noble Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. This wine is rich and fleshy (not as rich or fleshly as it will be in ten years time, but that's another matter) and offers masses of crisp blackcurrants and blackberry tones, with undercurrents of chocolate and spices. Its is a rare find indeed a wine as good as this for so relatively little money, and you can be sure when the 2005 comes out in the spring (a wine said to be even better) that the price will be nothing like as good.

Last, but no means least, a drop of Port and no ordinary drop of Port either; this is the Warres Optima 10 Year Old (Majestic, Sainsbury's, Tesco£14.99). This is what we call a wood port, so named as it does all its ageing in a wooden cask, a pipe, rather than in a bottle as is the way with vintage and other date stamped Ports. The significance of this appears when you drink it, for this is a wine whose colour is only mid red and whose flavour profile is much lighter and drier than you might expect, giving tones of dried nuts, mint and cherries. The reason for these differences is that when you age any wine in cask it loses colour and oxidises, thus giving the wine the fresher, zestier style and its suitability to be drunk chilled as an aperitif or with the cheese board.

Well that's enough from me this year, so may I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a New Year that brings you all desire.

More soon!

Giles Luckett

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