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(Prices and stockists in the UK are listed in brackets; as a rough guide 1 = US$1.60. Date of tasting is indicated by month/year at the end of the note.)

1997 Beyerskloof Pinotage, Stellenbosch
Made by Beyers Truter from bought in grapes from old vines. Ruby red with a gamey, meaty nose. Palate has that typical pinotage character of berry fruits mixed in with farmyardy, rustic flavours. Medium bodied with no obvious oak. Well balanced and very good. (5.49 Oddbins) 7/98

1996 Bellingham Pinotage, Paarl
Light cherry colour and medium/light bodied. Cherry nose with a very rustic edge (plonkish?). Despite the light colour this is surprisingly full flavoured with rustic, farmyardy elements dominating. Quite high acidity. Good, lighter pinotage. (5.49 Sainsbury) 7/98

1996 Fairview Pinotage, Paarl
Purple black colour with medium density. Nose of pepper, licourice and cherries with a faint herbal/gamey edge. On palate it is quite dense and mildly tannic, with restrained barnyard character and ripe berry fruit. More rhone-like and orthodox than the others, but a pretty good wine nonetheless. (5.99, Safeway) 7/98

1997 Vergelegen Chardonnay, Stellenbosch
My first try of one of the wines from this highly regarded South African winery. Pale yellow gold. Big nose of boiled sweets with nutty overtones. On the palate buttery fruit combines with lively, almost 'spritzy' acidity. Light oak influence and good concentration make this a fairly stylish new world-style chardonnay. (6.49, widely available). 7/98

Cline Cotes d'Oakley 1996
This has to be the QPR bargain of the year for me (bought in USA for $6.99). Made from Alicante Bouschet, Carignan, Mouvedre and Cinsault, it is a very attractive rich red wine with spicy berry notes, pepper and a nice earthy edge. Perhaps a touch of brett (or is that just the meatiness of the mouvedre?). Its rusticty makes it a great food wine -- I'd have said it was a decent Rhone or Languedoc offering. In a sea of dull and overpriced Californian Cabs, this shines like a light. 7/98

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New wines May/June 1997

Houghtons White Burgundy 1996 (Oddbins, 5.99) Drunk May 1997. Mass produced white blend (Chenin/Muscadelle/Chardonnay) from Western Australia that is reputed to take some bottle age. Very light colour. Aromatic nose. Palate has high acidity but with balancing fatness (some oak?). Bags of flavour but a little overpriced for a basic quaffing wine. 74/100.

Lindemans Hunter River Shiraz, Bin 8203, 1991 (Duty free, 7.99). Drunk May 1997. Deep red black colour. Massive nose of spicy/tarry fruit. Almost Rhone-like earthy spicy flavours, but with added new oak richness. However, the acidity is out of balance and spoils what would otherwise be a top class shiraz. 81/100.

Hermanos Lurton Sauvignon Blanc 1995, Rueda, Spain (Sainsburys, 3.99) Drunk May 1997. Pale yellow. Green-tasting wine that is untypical of the variety and is light and vegetal. Not nice. 56/100.

Valdivieso Barrel-Fermented Merlot 1994, Lontue, Chile (Thresher, 4.99) Drunk May 1997. Ripe aroma of red berry fruit, including remarkably Cabernet-like blaccurrant. Full falvours, some complexity (good concentration) with a slightly bitter finish. Oak adds a little sweetness. 82/100.

Vina Casablanca Santa Isabel Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 (Oddbins 7.99) Drunk May 1997. 35% aged in French oak barriques. Vivid purple colour! Very concentrated, with an unbelievably strong nose of blackcurrant. Concentrated flavours of intense fruit (blackcurrants) with some tannin and undelying oak. Excellent. 88/100.

Etchart Cafayate Chardonnay 1995 Argentina (Thresher 4.99) Drunk May 1997. Crisp chardonnay with some spice and asavoury edge from the oak. On the lean side but good concentration and acidity—no inappropriate fatness or sweetness. 76/100.

Peter Lehmann Barossa Semillon 1995 (Oddbins 4.99) Drunk May 1997. Golden, full flavoured semillon helped with a dollop of oak. Good varietal character. 82/100

Maglieri Shiraz 1994, McLaren Vale (Tesco 7.49) Drunk May 1997. A gold medal winner at last years International Wine Challenge. Delicious, well structured shiraz: medium bodied with pepper spice shiraz fruit, soft tannins and well integrated oak. 88/100

Krondorf Show Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1993, Barossa Valley (Oddbins 6.49) Drunk May 1997. Dense purple black. Rich palate of spicy, chocolatey fruit with a slightly vegetal edge. Lots of new oak. 83/100? This may or may not develop nicely. Good price.

Mount Hurtle Shiraz 1992, McLaren Vale (bought two years ago from Oddbins) Drunk June 1997. 86% McLaren Vale Shiraz, 8% Goulbourn Valley Shiraz, 8% Coonawarra Cabernet. Red brown edges. Good nose of spice, strawberry and redcurrant. Well textured flavour: good spice, acidity and still some fruit. Long finish. I reckon this is at its peak. 88/100

Van Loevren Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer 1996, Robertson, South Africa (Tesco, 3.99 half). Drunk June 1997. Golden, concentrated wine. Essence of lychee with some spice. Good acidity holds the sweetness in fine balance. 81/100

Sainsbury Sangiovese, Mendoza, Argentina. (3.19) Drunk June 1997. Made by Peter Bright at Trapiche winery. Medium bodied, slightly bitter clack cherry notes. Some oak. Surprisingly complex for plonk at this price: good value. 74/100

Penfolds Bin 35 Shiraz/Cabernet 1992 (Bought from Oddbins three years ago for 3.99). Drunk June 1997. This is the result of an ageing experiment on a cheaper Australian red. Dense red black colour with brownish edges. Ripe sweet fruit and oak with soft tannins: tarry. Superb. My impression is that this is a much better quality wine than the current release. 89/100

Hill Smith Estate Chardonnay 1994, Airstrip Block, Eden Valley (Sainsburys 7.95) Drunk three times, June/July 1997. A premium label from Yalumba. Deliciously complex cool climate Aussie chard. Concentrated fruit with plenty of new oak. Yeasty, bready flavours with hints of buttered toast. Bone dry finish. Excellent. 91/100

Domain St Gayan Gigondas 1990 Drunk June 1997. Deep red powerful wine. Good tannins. Dense mouthfilling flavours of cherries and plums. Complex nose; no obvious oak. Rustic edge? 86/100

Gallo Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 (Sainsburys 7.95) Drunk July 1997. Delicious big cabernet. Serious wine with complex blackcurrant fruit. Well blended tannins: drinking well now and good QPR. 88/100

Gallo Sonoma Chardonnay 1993 (Sainsburys 7.95) Drunk July 1997. Light yellow. Full flavoured chardonnay fruit with nicely integrated oak, but the whole thing is ruined by a truckload full of residual sugar. Ugh. Should have a warning on the label. Poured the rest away. 65/100

Santa Carolina Chardonnay 1997, Chile (Sainsburys 4.45) Drunk July 1997. Light golden colour with an intense nose of tropical fruit. Ripe fruit on plate with a touch of oak. Slightly commercial style but good value and attractive. 80/100

Brown Brothers King Valley Shiraz 1991, Victoria (Bought three years ago from Oddbins, 6.99). Drunk 30.7.97. Now showing signs of ageing: ruby red with brick red undertones. Powerful nose of spica and tar with a palate showing strawberries and spicy vanilla oak. Tannins have softened and the fruit has receded a bit: the wine has dried out slightly. Long finish. In conclusion: I think this wine was best on release, but with some bottle age it is still an excellent if different wine. 88/100

Parducci Charbono 1991, California (Oddbins 4.99) Drunk July 1997. Bright red. Complex nose of sweet fruits (some vanilla?). Sturdy tannins, very dry, with a bitter finish. Bit one dimensional, but has a long life ahead of it still.

 

Marques de Murrieta Ygay Gran Reserva 1991 (White) (Thresher 6.99) Drunk July 1997. Golden wine. Not much nose but a profound and incredible palate of hard tannins, vanilla and botrytis. High acid, with a long, bitter finish. This wine must be served with food. On its own it is completely extreme, with almost all the flavour being derived from the wood ageing process. However, with strongly flavoured Spanish-style food it comes into its own. I like it. Remarkable. 85/100

Caballo Loco No 1, Valdivieso (Safeway, 10.39 down to 6.85!) Drunk August 1997. Blend of Deep Cabernet/Merlot/Malbec from 2 vintages. Chile’s attempt to produce a world-class ageworthy red. red/purple. Full nose of cassis and French oak. Concentrated and complex palate of blackcurrants, red fruits and spicy oak. Powerful tannins and sytructure indicate that it could go the long haul—it will definately improve in th next few years. Excellent: the best Chilean red yet? 90/100

Penfolds Adelaide Hills Trial Bin Chardonnay 1995 (Oddbins 11.99) Drunk August 1997. Golden colour. Intense nose of vanilla, sherbet(?) and tropical fruits (lychees and peaches). Lively acidity and powerful oak. No blowsy fatness or residual sugar. Excitingly complex palate. Fine now, it may even get better (obviously made with ageing in mind). Good value, even at £12. 93/100

Heritage Cabernet Franc 1994, Clare Valley (Bottoms Up 7.99 down to 4.99) Drunk August 1997. Light ruby red. Nose initially closed, opens up with some cassis and sweet vegetal notes. Palate with flavours of rasberries, cut grass and cherries. Stalky tannins. After 24 h opens up on the palate with pure cassis flavours and soft tannins. Solid. 71/100

Chateau Le Thibaut 1990, Monbazillac (gift) Drunk August 1997. Golden. Slightly waxy edge to the palate with sweet apricot flavours and a long alcoholic finish. Some complexity and hints of botrytis. Good desert wine. 77/100

Denbies English Table Wine, NV (Sainsburys 2.99) Drunk August 1997. Muller Thurgau and Riechensteiner dominated blend from the UKs biggest wine estate. Pale yellow. Sweet floral aromas with slightly sulfurous edge. High acidity but the palate is surprisingly rounded and has a long, dry finish. Very German in style, it is not an exciting wine but it is commendable that Denbies can produce what is a very drinkable wine at such a bargain price. 72/100

Sainsburys Jumilla, Spain (3.39) Merlot/Monastrell blend made by Peter Bright. Thick inky red/black. Palate has lashings of chocolatey black cherry and damson fruit. Hint of oak. Good for the price. 70/100

Raimat Cabernet Sauvignon 1991, Costers del Segre, Spain (Thresher 6.25) Deep red black. Powerful seductive nose of sweet fruit and vanilla oak carries through to the palate. Dry finish with pronounced acidity. Drink up. 87/100

Casa Nieto & Senetier, Valle de Vistalba Syrah 1995, Argentina (Victoria Wine 4.29) Drunk August 1997. Ruby Red. Slightly muted nose of crushed peppercorns. Strong palate with good acidity and peppery shiraz fruit. Medium bodied with soft tannins. Label claims Allier oak treatment, but this can’t have been new oak: the tannins have been softened but there is no discernable oak flavour. Rhone/Southern French taste-alike. 76/100

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 New tasting notes October/November 1997

Vouvray des Aubusieres Les Girardieres 1996, Demi-sec. (6.99, Oddbins). Pale yellow. Complex flinty, honeyed nose. Fat on the palate with sweetness nicely balanced with underying mineral-like acidity. Long finish. OK, textbook demisec Vouvray at the moment, but needs some time to show its full potential. 81/100

Villa Mt Eden Cellar Select Zinfandel 1994. (6.99 Oddbins) Great colour: deep cherry red, with good extraction. Slightly simple berry flavours on the palate. Not enough complexity for the money. 79/100.

A. Scherer Gewurtztraminer, Cuvee Jean-Baptiste, 1993, Alsace (6.25, Oddbins) Intense sweet nose of floral notes, honey, apricots and spice. Dry on the palate with good acidity, but a touch flatter than the big nose would suggest. Long finish. Delicious. 86/100.

Menetou-Salon, Morogues, Clos de Ratier, Domaine Henry Pelle, 1996, Loire (6.99 Oddbins) Huge nose of gooseberries, boiled sweets and cut grass. Intense, concentrated fruit in palate with good acidity. Superb. 88/100.

Heritage Semillon 1993, Barossa (2.99, down from 7.99, Thresher) Rich gold colour. Intense, fresh, citrus nose. Strong flavours of lemons and vanilla oak with hard mineral edge and high acidity. Complex, with a long life ahead of it. 84/100.

D’Arry’s Original Shiraz Grenache 1994, McLaren Vale (6.49 Oddbins) Deep red/black with warm lifted nose of tarry fruit. On the palate there are concentrated plummy and spicy notes, a hint of tarr and slight earthiness. Complex, long finish, good structure. Excellent, but drink soon before the fruit recedes: if you wait too much longer the acidity will get out of balance. 88/100.

Vinas del Vero Chardonnay 1995, Somontano, Spain (5.99 Oddbins, Victoria Wine) Light gold. Bold fruit flavours with lemon and honey notes and well integrated oak. Savoury, rich, but not too buttery. A winner. 87/100.

Carmen Gewurztraminer/Sauvignon blanc 1997 (6.99 Marks and Spencer) Drunk November 1997. Dense, floral nose. On the palate it displays gooseberries and spice, neatly combining the freshness of the sauvignon with the aromatic qualities of Gewurztraminer. Concentrated with good acidity; bone dry. If this was a little cheaper I’d have it as my house white: it is a tasty, fresh wine but just a little overpriced. 85/100

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December 1997

Menetou-Salon Morogues 1995, Henri Pelle, Loire (3.99 Thresher) Clean gooseberry fruit with piercing acidity. Textbook Sauvignon blanc. Good. 82/100

Brown Brothers Sauvignon blanc, 1996 King Valley (6.99 Thresher) Slightly muted nose. Palate a bit unfocused. Some, but not much varietal character. Perhaps a bad bottle? 75/100

St Hallett Shiraz 1994, Barossa, Australia (7.99, Thresher) Delicious palate of spice, tannin and dark berry fruits. Good structure and acidity. Very tasty now, but could do with another year or two to soften out fully. One of the best vintages I’ve had of this wine. 87/100

Penfolds Rawsons Retreat Bin 35 1995 (5.49) Generous fruit with just a touch of tannin and spicy backbone. Still overpriced, but better than other recent vintage of this mass market blend. 79/100

Valduero Crianza 1992, Ribero del Duero. (6.99 Wine Rack/Bottoms Up) Bright red colour. Muted nose. Palate of dark cherries with strong tannins and dry finish: I think the extra time in wood has caused the wine to dry out, and there simply isn’t enough fruit to withstand this sort of treatment. Not pleasant. 78/100.

Palliser Estate Chardonnay 1995, Marlborough, NZ (9.99, Wine Rack) Sophisticated bouquet of toasty vanilla oak promises great things. However, the wine is slightly let down by the thin, high acid fruit on the palate. Not good value, but I suspect this has more to do with the poor 1995 vintage than the winemaking. Look out for the 96 and 97. 81/100

Palliser Estate Sauvignon blanc 1997, Marlborough, NZ (9.99, Wine Rack) Classic NZ Sauvignon from a good vintage, this one has it all: exotic nose is supported by dense fruit. Sophisticated but not overblown. However, at this price the wine is faced with some stiff competition from the likes of Cloudy Bay, Vavasour and Villa Maria. 87/100

Oxford Landing Viognier, Yalumba, 1997, Australia (6.99, Wine Rack) Viognier has become ultra-fashionable of late. The wine is clean, lean and well made with a hint of varietal character, but ultimately tasted blind you’d be hard pressed to tell what grape this came from. Mind you, there are very few Viogniers that I have tried that have succeeded in this respect. 80/100

Caliterra Chardonnay Reserve, 1997, Casablanca, Chile. Good clean fruit flavours, reasonable concentration, all backed up with a dollop of oak -- but the net effect is a little synthetic or chemical, a criticism I have of many of the low/mid range Chilean chardonnays. What is the point? 79/100.

Concha Y Toro ‘Explorer’ Syrah 1996, Rapael Valley, Chile (4.99 Oddbins) Dark red purple colour: almost opaque. I applaud the massive extraction, but the wine has a slightly medicinal, bitter edge which really spoil it. Hints of liquorice and firm tannins. Not too much varietal character. It is all a bit odd. 77/100

Domaine de Grande Olivette, La Jasse, 1995, Vin du Pays des Cevennes (6.99 Oddbins) This unusual wine from a relatively obscure viticultural area is a real find. Beautiful concentrated red black colour. Muted nose which opens out into a spicy richness after a while in the glass. Masses of tannin and spicy red berry flavours, with hints of coffee and liquorice, the Rhone meets Bordeaux: it is a serious wine, built for the long haul. 86/100, but watch that score rise with a couple of years’ bottle age.

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New wines January 1998

Santa Rita Reserve Chardonnay 1996 Maipo (5.99 Oddbins) Barrel fermented and aged in American oak. Light gold colour. Big nose of tropical fruit and vanilla oak. On palate, prominent savoury oak and citrus acidity. Complex with slightly bitter, bone dry finish. Tasty, and lean enough to be a good food wine. 84/100

Chateau Lastours Cuvee Simone Descamps 1993 Corbieres. (5.99 Thresher/Bottoms Up) Light purple with distinctive flavours of mediterranean herbs, red berries and a touch of brett -- just enough to add complexity, but not enough to spoil the wine. Rich and complex, this is an appealing wine. No sign of any new oak. 86/100.

Marks and Spencer Unoaked Australian Chardonnay. Made by Philip John of Lindemans, this is a slightly fresher version of Bin 65 with plenty of flavour and no oaky fatness. Perhaps a little ‘industrial’ but a good ‘house wine’ style. 82/100

Flichman Merlot 1997, Argentina (3.49 Oddbins) This bargain basement Argentinian has a slightly leafy edge to the ripe berry fruit, and just enough tannin to give an edge. Soft and drinkable. 79/100

Vina Casablanca 1996 El Bosque Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile (6.99 Oddbins) Concentrated red/black, with a full nose of cassis. Good tannic structure and spicy oak edge offset the rich fruit nicely. Fine wine. 85/100

Raimat Chardonnay 1996, Costres del Segre, Spain (4.99 Asda) Rich nose of honey and butterscotch. Full palate of honeyed, appley fruit with good concentration and no oak flavours. Good balance of acidity and ripe fruit, it tastes like a still champagne! 84/100

Rowan Brook 1996 Reserve Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile (4.99 Asda) Lemony fruit bolstered with substantial toasty French oak. Very savoury and dry with high acid. Restrained style: may age well, but lacks the typical Chilean intensity of fruit. Good none the less. 83/100

Bright Brothers Old Vines 1995, Vino Regional Estremadura, Portugal (3.99 Asda) More proof that Portugal can produce wines with personality and flavour at knockdown prices. Bright red purple, with rich peppery, smoky nose. Strong black pepper flavours blend with warm red berry fruit to produce a tasty medium-bodied wine of excellent value. 83/100

Jamieson’s Run Chardonnay, Coonawarra (4.99, Oddbins) Gold colour. Concentrated barrel-fermented Chardonnay -- lean with a dry finish and well balanced oak. Not groundbreaking, but good value at this price. Made by Mildara Blass. 85/100

Valentin Bianchi Elsa’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1993, Mendoza (Oddbins 8.99)
This single-vineyard Cabernet from Valentin Bianchi is a real find: it is a stunning effort that is a notch above even the Elsa Malbec I tried last year. Concentrated red/purple, with a huge nose of cassis and oak. Powerful, concentrated flavours of cassis, layered tannins and tarry oak. A big wine, with incredible extraction and real personality. 92/100.

Bouchard Finlayson 1996 Kaaimansgat Chardonnay, Overberg, South Africa (10.49 South African Wine Centre)
A top-flight South African chardonnay sure to appeal to those who like the more Burgundian, restrained style of Chard. Light gold colour. Fruity nose with a touch of oak. Harmonious palate with citrus fruit, light oak and seamless acidity. Complex and high class, making a change from the up-front blockbuster style that is now so common. 88/100

Old Penola Estate Botrytis Gewurztraminer 1996, Coonawarra. 

Carmen Grand Vidure Cabernet Reserve 1995, Maipo Valley (Oddbins 6.99) Opaque purple/black. Sweet warm cassis aromas. Blackcurrants and red berry fruits pack out the palate, with a spicy edge and no discernable new oak. Concentrated wine with soft tannins and a slightly bitter finish. Good value. 85/100

Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage 1995 Deep red with good concentration and a gamey, licouricey edge. A hint of brett? Very tasty. 89/100

Pere Anselme Chateauneuf du Pape 1996 Medium bodied with incredible pepper spice flavours, but not enough complexity or concentration to be really good. 80/100

Willows Vineyard 1994 Shiraz, Barossa Valley. Big purple black wine. Concentrated marriage of sweet vanillin oak with ripe fruit. Hints of pepper. Soft tannins. Impeccable example of my favourite wine style-- Barossa Shiraz. 90/100