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Majestic Wine Warehouses Press Tasting: 40 whites and 44 reds assessed
London, October 16th 2000

I go to quite a few tastings, and they vary wildly in the quality of wine, ambient conditions and clientele. This particular Monday was one of contrasts. Early afternoon was this Majestic press tasting, which was just about perfect (great organization, lots of space, pour your own samples and just a handful of wine journalists present); early evening was the Bibendum new world agency tasting, possibly one of the worst tastings I've attended in recent years (crowded, noisy, micropours not big enough to allow assessment of some of the wines, and to top it all, Bibendum's own staff cutting in front of the queues to pour their own samples).

This was a great chance to try a good portion of Majestic's generally excellent range in ideal conditions. There were several standouts, which I would recommend as 'must buys'. The Antinori Chardonnay Castello della Sala 1999 has been written up a lot in the press: it's an interesting wine, albeit a little oaky. Better in my book is the stunning Bethany Riesling and the intense Capel Vale Semillon/Sauvignon, both of which are great value for money. Also noteworthy is the Oxford Landing Limited Release Viognier, which for £5.99 offers remarkably true varietal character, and is well worth trying. From New Zealand comes yet another knockout Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc: the example from Fairleigh is a real head-turner at an attractive price. My pick of the Californians is the remarkably cheap bottle-aged Chardonnay from Durney: Majestic have a range of vintages priced at £3.99. At this price, definitely worth a punt. Further steals are the pair of 1990 Riesling Kabinetts from Jacobus: simply stunning examples for less than £4 -- how do Majestic do it?

As for the reds, top of my hit-list is a trio of old world reds. First, the wonderful Rosso della Fabriseria 1998 from Tedeschi, and then two wines from the Minervois: the Domaine des Aires Hautes La Livinière 1998 and the Château Coupes Roses Les Plôts 1999. Other highly recommended reds include the Mas Collett from Tarragona and the beefy, huge Tatachilla Foundation Shiraz.

The wines
Special offers are indicated in red, and are valid until 29 January

Italian whites

Soave Classico Monte Tenda 1999, Tedeschi
A blend of Garganega, Trebbiano and Durella from a single vineyard. Soft and quite full flavoured, gently acidic white wine. OK. (£4.99) Buy 2+ = £4.49

Vernaccia di San Gimigano 1998, Vinea Doni Falchini
90% Vernaccia/10% Chardonnay, fermented in barrels. Soft, nutty white wine with clean fruit and low acidity. This doesn't excite me. OK. (£8.99)

Chardonnay Castello della Sala 1999, Antinori, IGT Umbria, Italy
Fermented in French oak, this is a striking Chardonnay with a pronounced toasty oak nose. On the palate, the barrel-ferment character combines nicely with savoury fruit and high acidity. Quite oaky, but very good none the less. (£6.99) Buy 2+ = £6.49

French whites

Sancerre Roger Neveu 1999
Striking grassy nose. Light, herbaceous and acidic on palate, with quite impressive intensity. Good + (£7.99) Buy 2+ = £7.49

Pouilly-Fumé Les Angelots 1999, Masson Blondelet
An impressive Loire white with a complex nose of gooseberry and grapefruit, followed up on the palate with some spicy richness. High acid and good concentration. Very good. (£8.99)

Auxey Duresses Blanc 1998, Bouchard Père
Nose just like a new world Chardonnay, with toasty oak and ripe fruit. Simple fruit on palate with firm acidity. Good, but disappointing for the price. (£10.99) Buy 2+ = £9.99

Chablis 1er Cru Beauroy 1996, La Chablisienne
A nice, mature premier cru Chablis from the impressive Chablisienne co-op. Exotic, ripe nose with evolved, butterscotch-like character and firm acidity on the palate. Very good, but drink up soon. (£4.99/half)

Chablis Les Beaumonts 1998, Moreau Naudet
Juicy citrus-like elements dominate this fresh, full-flavoured Chablis. Good + (£7.99) Buy 2+ = 7.49

Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 1999, Moreau Naudet
Refined nose with nutty, lemony fruit. On the palate it is lean and not overly unimpressive. Will this develop some interest? Good. (£9.99) Buy 2+ = £9.49

Chablis Vieilles Vignes 1999, Vocoret
This is a crisp, fresh wine with a little richness and ripeness on the palate, but otherwise a little simple. Good. (£8.99) Buy 2+ = £8.49

Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons Vieilles Vignes 1999, Vocoret
Another crisp, lean Chablis with a little ripeness and complexity on the palate, but still quite tight and simple at this stage. Good+ (£9.99) Buy 2+ = £9.49

Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 1999, Vocoret
Light, fresh Chablis showing some minerally complexity. It's pleasant now, but will likely gain character with some time in bottle. Good/very good. (£9.99) Buy 2+ = £9.49

Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot 1999, Vocoret
You really shouldn't be drinking Grand Cru Chablis this young: it only shows what it's capable of after some time in bottle. This is lively and citrussy with good concentration. Too austere now, but may well be impressive in a few years. Good/very good (£16.99) Buy 2+ = £14.99

St Aubin 1er Cru 1998, Geraud Thomas 1998
Lively nose of smoky, lemony fruit. Some exotic tropical fruit notes join the citrus elements on the palate. Quite interesting. Very good. (£9.99)

Puligny-Montrachet 1998, Bouchard Père
Toasty oak nose. Lean and savoury on the palate with some complexity. It's a nice wine, but overpriced for this quality level. Good/very good. (£18.99)

Château Haut Mazières Blanc 1998, Bordeaux
Fresh, dry white wine with good flavour intensity. Good+ (£5.49) Buy 2+ = £4.99

Vouvray Demi-Sec 1999, Domaine Bourillon D'Orléans
Muted nose. On the palate this is soft and medium sweet with a smooth, soapy texture. Low acid. Too simple at present; will this improve? (£5.99) Buy 2+ = £5.49

Agrilo 1998, Domaine Bourillon D'Orléans
Rather odd chemical/soapy nose and palate. Weird stuff. (£7.99) Buy 2+ = £6.99

Riesling Grafenreben 1997 Bott-Geyl
Full, ripe, citrussy nose. It's dry with good concentration on palate, showing more of the citrussy character and nice complexity. Very good. (£8.99)

Tokay Pinot Gris Grand Cru Sonnenglanz 1998, Bott-Geyl
Ripe, rich, exotic nose; smoky and complex. On the palate, however, despite the good concentration it's overly sweet and sugary, without enough complexity or acidity. A real shame. Good. (£13.99)

Californian whites

Foxen Tinaquaic Vineyard Chardonnay 1997, Santa Maria Valley, California
From a single vineyard of 10 acres, this estate wine is barrel fermented in new oak and spends a further 18 months maturing in barrel. It has a full, rich, barrel-ferment nose and shows great concentration, but it is very, very, very oaky. For hardened California Chardonnay lovers only. (£18.99)

Chenin Blanc 1995, Durney Vineyards, Monterey, California
It's unusual to see a cheap Californian Chenin being sold with five years' bottle age. Soft, ripe and a little sugary with mild oxidation character. Still intact though. Odd, but worth a try at this price. (£2.99)

Chardonnay 1991, Durney Vineyards, Monterey, California
Majestic have a range of vintages for this wine spanning 1991 to 1996, all suprisingly cheap. This, the oldest, shows a toasty, butterscotch nose and soft, part-oxidised palate. This has aged quite nicely -- most new world Chardonnays will have died a death by now. I'd opt for the more recent vintages, but this is just a matter of personal taste. Time for a vertical? (£3.99)

Australian whites

Tatachilla McLaren Vale Chardonnay 1999
Rounded, buttery nose. Refined, rich and quite oaky on the palate. Soft, ripe fruit makes a pleasant Aussie Chardonnay. Very good. (£6.49) Buy 2+ = £5.99

Tatachilla McLaren Vale Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 1999
59% Sauvignon and 41% Semillon, this is a bright, unoaked white with simple, fresh fruit flavours. Good quaffer. (£5.99) Buy 2+ = £5.49

Knappstein Clare Valley Chardonnay 1999
Barrel fermented in 75% new French/25% new American oak. Deep coloured with a full barrel-ferment nose: quite stylish. Nicely structured on the palate; I'm quite keen on this style. Very good. (£7.49) Buy 2+ = £6.99

Bethany Chardonnay 1999, Barossa
Attractive ripe nose with a rich, unusual, figgy character. Extremely fruity and ripe on palate without too much oak. Impressive but a bit overblown? Very good + (£7.99) Buy 2+ = £6.99

Bethany Riesling 1999, Barossa Valley
A really appealing, full flavoured Riesling at a great price. Almost overpowering nose of citrus fruit. Full, rich, concentrated citrus-laden palate. Delicious, full-on wine. Very good+ (£5.49) Buy 2+ = £4.99

Bethany Semillon/Riesling/Chardonnay 2000, Barossa Valley
Ripe fruit but with an off-putting confected edge. Full flavoured and a little sweet on the finish. OK. (£5.49) Buy 2+ = £4.99

Capel Vale Riesling 1999, Western Australia
Relatively restrained when compared with some of the other, bolder Australian Rieslings. Lean and acidic with a savoury, citrussy palate. A bit austere now, but may well have a bright future ahead of it. Very good. (£7.49) Buy 2+ = £6.99

Capel Vale Sauvignon/Semillon 1999, Western Australia
A lovely wine. Startling nose of gooseberry and grapefruit nose. Ripe and impressive stuff with high acidity and good balance. Reminds me of the equally impressive but more expensive Cape Mentelle Sauvignon/Semillon. Very good + (£6.99) Buy 2+ = £6.49

Capel Vale Verdelho 1999, Western Australia
Tasty, ripe, slightly exotic dry white wine, with tropical fruit and blackcurrant on the nose, followed up with a ripe, full palate. Very interesting with good acidity holding everything in check. Very good. (£7.99) Buy 2+ = £6.99

Oxford Landing Limited Release Viognier 1999
A brilliant example of super-trendy Viognier at an attractive price. Luscious ripe nose with varietally true characters of peach, melon and apricot. Soft, full and fruity on the palate, showing nice balance. A bargain. Very good+ (£5.99)

New Zealand Whites

Fairleigh Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2000, Marlborough, New Zealand
Familiarity does indeed breed contempt, and its easy to overlook just how remarkable Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs can be -- this was a wine style that didn't exist until the 1980s. This is another top-notch example, with a striking nose of gooseberry and citrus, a super savoury palate and knockout concentration and intensity. Very good/excellent (£6.99) Buy 2+ = £5.99

Delegats Reserve Chardonnay 1999, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Rich toasty, oaky nose leads into a soft, buttery palate. Good concentration, but very similar to many hundreds of other new world Chardonnays. Good/very good. (£8.99) Buy 2+ = £7.49

German whites

Trier Augenscheiner Riesling Kabinett, Jacobus 1990
How do Majestic do it? A stunning, mature Riesling at a bargain price. Quite lovely evolved citrus nose; bold and full. Fierce stuff on the palate, with piercing acidity and dry finish. Very good+ (£3.99)

Bernkastler Badstude Riesling Kabinett, Jacobus 1990
Another great mature Riesling at a bargain price. Ripe, rounded nose of apples and citrus fruit, with an appley palate and piercing acidity. Very good+ (£3.99)

Spanish whites
Buy any 6 + Spanish wines for 20% discount

Muja Blanco 1999, Rioja
Toasty oak nose and lean acidic fruit work surprisingly well together: this is a savoury wine with some complexity. Good/very good. (£6.99)

Albariño Martin Codax 1999, Rias Baixas
I'm usually a big fan of Albariño, but this was a little bit of a let down -- perhaps an off vintage? Spicy nose and a high-acid palate, lacking the usual rich flavour and exotic floral notes of better examples. Good. (£6.99)

Marques de Murrieta Blanco, Reserva Especial Capellania 1995, Rioja
Startling stuff! One of the world's most unusual and distinctive wines, you'll either love this or hate it. Killer acidity and pungent oxidative character make this a fierce white wine, only to be tackled with appropriate food. Very good (£8.49)

Spanish red wines

Arva Vitis Tempranillo 1998, La Mancha
From a new winery in the vast, central La Mancha region of Spain, this sees 4 months in new American oak. It’s a deep purple colour, with ripe, sweet berry fruit. Tasty; a good, modern-styled glugger. Good+ (£4.99)

Finca Lasendal 1999 Celler de Capçanes, Tarragona
Bright cherry red, with an odd nose and palate displaying herbal-tinged fruit. A bit simple and one-dimensional. OK (£4.99)

Mas Collet 1998 Celler de Capçanes, Tarragona
A blend of 50% Garnacha, 20% Carinena and lesser proportions of Cabernet, Merlot and Tempranillo. Reasonably tannic with a bit of character, but otherwise a bit unmemorable. Good+ (£5.99)

Costers del Gravet 1998, Celler de Capçanes, Tarragona
This is better! Deep red/black colour. Sweet ripe nose, with some toasty oak. This is a concentrated, tannic wine with noticeable new oak. May have a promising future ahead of it. Very good + (£8.99)

Señorio de Los Llanos Gran Reserva 1994, Valdepeñas
Fading a little in colour, this is an evolved red wine in an old-fashioned style, showing lots of oak and a drying-out palate. OK (£5.49)

Bodegas Marco Real Merlot Crianza 1996, Navarra
A full red wine showing some mature character, with pleasant structure. It's not too woody. Good. (£5.49)

Marqués de Riscal Tempranillo 1999, Castilla y León
A varietal Tempranillo. Purple coloured, this is a forward, modern-styled red with a nose of sweet berry fruit and soft tannins. Good+ (£6.99)

Marqués de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva 1994
70% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, plus lesser proportions of other grapes. This is an impressive Gran Reserva in the old fashioned mould. Deep red colour, beginning to lighten. Good concentration, with a sophisticated, complex palate underlain by a tannic, mineralic streak. Bone dry finish from the extended barrel ageing. Very good+ (£19.99)

Marqués de Riscal Baron de Chirel Reserva 1995
Deep red/black colour. Another concentrated, deep wine with a full, ripe nose, firm tannins and rich red berry fruit. Impressive stuff, but with an overly dry finish for my tastes. Very good. (£23.99)

Miguel Merino Rioja Reserva 1994
First release from this Rioja Alta producer. Mostly Tempranillo, with 20 months ageing in new American oak. Deep red/purple colour with great concentration. Dense and tannic on the palate. Nicely balanced and quite classy, with well integrated oak and a dry finish. Very good+ (£22.99)

French red wines

Fleurie 1999, Sapin, Cru Beaujolais
Youthful deep red/purple colour, with a ripe, lifted savoury nose. Fresh, bright cherry fruit abounds on the palate. I like it: it is light and fun, without being confected. Very good (£5.99)

Beaujolais Villages Domaine de la Plaigne 1999, Gilles Roux
Bright purple colour. Sweet, fruity nose. Cherryish and light on the palate. A little bit simple and confected. Good. (£5.99) Buy 2+ = £5.49

Morgon 1999, Jean Descombes, Cru Beaujolais
Exotic, almost unbelievably raspberry-like nose. Palate follows through with more bright raspberry fruit. Striking wine. Very good (if you like raspberries). (£6.99)

St Amour, Domaine des Duc 1999, Cru Beaujolais
Deep red/purple colour. Serious but bright, fruity nose. A more substantial style of Beaujolais, with some tannin to match the bright fruit. Good/very good. (£7.49) Buy 2+ = £6.99

Corbières 1999, Domaine Madelon
Red/black colour, with good concentration. It's a bright, fruity wine with a nice smoky edge. Good/very good, and a good value. (£3.99) Buy 2+ = £3.59

L'Excellence du Château Capendu 1999, Corbières
Impressive red/black colour and good concentration to this nicely packaged wine. Quite muted on the nose, with a modern, fruit-forward palate. A little disappointing. Good+ (£5.99) Buy 2+ = £4.99

Faugères Abbaye de Sylva Plana 1999, La Closeraie
First vintage from new winemaker, handpicked grapes and low yields of 30 hl/ha. Full red/black colour. Slightly muted nose but full, dense palate of soft, ripe, chalky fruit. Nice concentration: needs time to show its best? Very good. (£6.49) Buy 2+ = £5.99

Minervois Domaine des Aires Hautes La Livinière 1998
Soft, forward, slightly sweet nose that seems to be typical of new-wave Minervois. Exotic herby, rich fruit on the palate, with nice balance. Very good+ (£6.99) Buy 2+ = £5.99

Château Coupes Roses Les Plôts 1999, Minervois
Deep red purple with a delicious nose: pungent, meaty and exotic. Tannic and full on the palate this is super stuff, with lovely herby complexity. Very good/excellent. (£6.99)

L'Image du Sud 1998, Féraud et Brunel
An unusual wine: most of the grapes come from the Châteauneuf du Pape appellation, but with the addition of some Cabernet, Syrah and Tannat, it has to be classified as a Vin du Table. Light coloured, with some herby, earthy complexity, it's very reminiscent of a Châteauneuf. Overall, though, this is not compelling enough to justify the price tag. (£12.99)

La Vieille Ferme Rouge 1998, Côtes du Ventoux
A branded wine from the Perrins of Beaucastel fame, this is light red wine with up front cherry fruit and some structure: a little bit dull. Good. (£4.99) Buy 2+ = £4.49

Côtes du Rhône, Domaine le Pigeonnier 1999
Red/purple, with good colour and intensity. Attractive, bright fruit on the palate. Good (£4.99)

Crozes Hermitage 1999 Cave de Tain l'Hermitage
Bright purple wine with good concentration and attractive fruit. A little too simple to be of real interest, lacking real character. OK/good. (£5.99) Buy 2+ = £5.49

Lirac les Esperelles 1998, Château d'Aquéria
Deep red/purple colour and with some interest on the nose. On the palate there is bright fruit, firm tannins and a nice, herby/medicinal edge. Good/very good (£6.49) Buy 2+ = £5.99

Cornas 1997 Cave de Tain l'Hermitage
A mid-weight, spicy Syrah-based wine with firm tannic structure. Quite closed at the moment; may evolve, but currently lacks the sort of distinctive character you might expect from this appellation. Good +. (£9.99)

Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde 1997, Guigal
I would be very disappointed if I had spent £20 on this wine. Deep coloured, with a lifted, rather esteric nose. Simple on palate, with primary fruit, firm tannins and high acidity. Lacks real character. Will it evolve into something interesting? Good, but rotten value. (£19.99)

Châteauneuf du Pape 1998, Domaine Lucien Barrot
A rich, ripe, exotically flavoured Châteauneuf, with medium concentration. Attractive stuff. Very good (£10.99)

Italian Reds

Santa Christina 1999, Antinori
90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, from the Chianti Classico region. Deep red/purple in colour, with a lively nose of red fruits. Savoury, spicy fruits on the palate: attractive in an understated sort of way. Good/very good (£5.99) Buy 2+ = £4.99

Valpolicella Classico dei Nicalo 1997, Tedeschi
A blend of Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara Rossignola and Dindarella that has spent 18- 24 months in old Yugoslavian oak barrels. Red with a brick tinge. Full, pungent nose. Savoury, dry and spicy on the palate from the extended oak ageing, this is a nice, old-style food wine. Good/very good. (£5.99) Buy 2+ = £5.49

Barbera d'Asti Alfredo Prunotto 1999
Purple/red colour, with a lovely bright nose. It's bold and fruity, with high acid and good concentration, showing nice varietal character. Very good (£5.99) Buy 2+ = £4.99

Carlino Bonardo 1998, Oltrepo Pavese, Castello di Luzzano
Red/black colour. A mid-weight wine with bright fruit and high acid. Good. A bit overpriced? (£7.99)

Nebbiolo d'Alba Ochetti Vineyard 1998, Prunotto
This is a rather backward Nebbiolo. Light cherry/red colour, with a restrained, leathery nose. Austere and spicy with medium concentration. Very dry. OK/good. (£8.99)

Paretaio Falchini 1997
From the Paretaio vineyard in San Gimignano, a blend of 90% Sangiovese 10% other grapes. Deep red/purple colour, with good concentration. This is quite a full-on wine, with bright fruit and some oak complexity. Very good. (£9.99)

Rosso della Fabriseria Tedeschi 1998
A delicious, full flavoured red consisting of 35% Corvina, 30% Corvinone, 30% Rondinella and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, from a 3 ha vineyard in the Valpolicella classico area. Concentrated red/black colour. Lovely spicy, exotic nose is followed with a palate of rich fruit and herby, medicinal complexity. Very good/excellent. (£11.99)

Amarone della Valpolicella 1996, Tedeschi
A blend of Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara Dindarella and Negrara. Concentrated red/purple colour. Slightly muted nose leads to an interesting palate of soft, rich, full flavours with a nice exotic edge. Good acidity holds things together well. Very good. (£12.99)

Guado al Tasso 1997, Bolgheri Antinori
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Syrah. Concentrated red/black colour. Lovely, forward exotic nose, herby and rich. Tannic, oaky, menthol-laced palate, but still good balance in an international style. Very good/excellent, but expensive. (£29.99)

Portuguese red wines

Tuella Douro Tinto 1997
Concentrated purple/red with a muted nose. Soft, rich, full flavoured palate with a touch of caramel and ripe fruit. Good/very good, and at a nice price. (£4.99) Buy 2+ = £3.99

Chaminé 1999 Cortes de Cima, Alentejo
Deep red/purple colour. This is a modern styled wine with a pungent nose and interesting savoury cherry and herb palate. Good concentration. Very good (£6.99) Buy 2+ = £6.24

USA red wines

Foxen Tinaquaic Vineyard Cabernet Franc 1997, Santa Ynez, California
Concentrated red/black colour. Sweet, exotic nose of ripe, leafy fruit. On the palate it is soft, sweet and full, with ripe fruit combining nicely with prominent oak to make a tasty wine with immediate appeal. Very good + (£16.99)

Foxen Santa Barbera Merlot 1997, Santa Ynez, California
A deep, concentrated wine: an enticing, sweet ripe nose is followed by a soft, luscious palate. Very forward, and perhaps a little bit sweet. Very good+ (£15.99)

Australian red wines

Tatachilla Foundation Shiraz 1998, McLaren Vale
A remarkable, inky black wine with an enticing, ripe nose of blackcurrant, mint and eucalyptus. Dense, licqouricey and balanced on the palate: a huge wine, but approachable now. Very good/excellent. (£15.99)

Bethany Grenache 1999, Barossa Valley
Pungent, fruity and ripe. Sweet and rich; a little confected, but joy-filled. Good + (£6.49) Buy 2+ = £5.99

Bethany Shiraz Cabernet 1999, Barossa Valley
Soft, rich and ripe. Very approachable, but a little confected. Good+ (£7.99) Buy 2+ = £6.99

Capel Vale Howecroft Merlot 1997, Western Australia
Stunning, powerful menthol and herb laced nose. Exotic palate with firm acidity and medium density. A big wine and a winemaking triumph, but to me this seems to lack some real personality. Very good+ (£17.99)

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