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Fuller's tasting

Saturday 5 December 1999, Chiswick Cellars

Fuller's is an independent West London-based brewers who also own a chain of some 60 off-licences scattered around London and the home counties. Their wine list is well chosen and cheaply priced, and as well as the usual mass market stuff the range contains a number of really interesting wines. This bash, held in the cellars at the Chiswick brewery, was a chance to try a reasonable selection from their range.

Fetzer Wines, California

Brown-Forman Wines International, Cavendish House, 51- 55 Mortimer Street, London W1N 8JE Tel: 0207 7323 9332

Fetzer and Bonterra are two large brands that seem to combine successfully the production of wine on an industrial scale with the maintenance of impressive quality. They have also plumped for the organic ticket: all the Bonterra wines are organic, and the Fetzer wines are made in an environmentally conscious fashion. Fetzer is unusual in that since 1992 the company as made all its own barrels: they are now the largest barrel cooperage in the USA. Although I only tried a segment of the large range of wines produced, I was impressed in particular by the quality of the white wines. While none of these are absolute bargains, they all offer solid value for money, and in the Gewürztraminer and Viognier (the company also makes a Roussane, which I haven't tried) offers food-friendly wines that make a refreshing change from the ubiquitous Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc.

Fetzer Dry Gewürztraminer 1998, Mendocino County
Beckstoffer Vineyards, Mendocino. 100% barrel fermented and aged for six months in four year old French oak, 3.7 g/l residual acidity. The wine has an exotic, sweet, flowery and spicy nose. Really attractive stuff, if perhaps a little technological. Slight nuttiness to the palate. Very good. (£6.99, Fuller's)

Bonterra Viognier 1998, North Coast
Barrel fermented and aged for three months on the lees in 100% French oak, 4% new barrels and 3.8 g/l acidity. Exotic peach and apricot nose. Dry and fresh on the palate with a touch of spice. Good; a particularly good food wine. (£9.99, Fuller's)

Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay 1997, California
55% stainless steel fermented, 45% barrel fermented, 15% new oak, 30% malolactic fermentation, 5 g/l residual sugar. Quite a pleasant wine, with savoury, slightly oaky nose. A good commercial Chardonnay: well priced and nicely put together. (£5.49, Fuller's)

Bonterra Chardonnay 1996, Mendocino County
Barrel fermented in a mixture of American and French oak barrels, 15% new oak, 45% malolactic fermentation, 2.6 g/l residual sugar. This is oaky and savoury, with god concentration and plenty of flavour. Tasty stuff if you are not averse to oak. Newer vintages should be on the shelves by now, but it is encouraging that this ageing example is not showing any premature ageing like many new world Chardonnays. Very good. (£7.99, Fuller's)

Fetzer Eagle Peak Merlot 1997, California
Aged for 6 months in American oak (30% new). Bright lively cherry fruit dominates the palate. Aromatic, but to my palate this is too technology-driven. Simple, one dimensional fruit-forward wine; not recommended.
(£6.49, Fuller's)

Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, North Coast
Aged for 15 months in a mixture of new and old French and American oak. Bright attractive wine with blackcurrant fruit and some structure imparted by careful use of oak. Nicely put together. Good.
(£7.99, Fuller's)


KWV wines, South Africa

A pretty impressive performance by this huge South African company. In particular, the upmarket Cathedral Cellars wines punched well above their price bracket, despite their terrible labels.

KWV Cathedral Cellars Chardonnay 1997
Rich and oaky -- probably too oaky. Savoury, concentrated and well made but too much oak? (£7.99, Fuller's)

KWV Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
Lovely fresh blackcurrant fruit predominates. Rich and pure, reminiscent of a good Chilean Cabernet. Very good for the price. (£4.99, Fuller's)

KWV Roodeberg 1997
A red blend, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon. Attractive cherry and spice wine. Distinctively South African, with dusty, earthy complexity. Very good for the price: savoury and rich. (£5.49 Fuller's)

KWV Cathedral Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 1995
Beautifully herby nose with strong, menthol-like character. Big and tannic, this is serious stuff, with good complexity. Very attractive. A bargain. (£7.99, Fuller's)


Wines imported by Western Wines

An eclectic selection of stuff from the old and new world. Some interesting wines here.

La Vega Verdejo/Sauvignon blanc, DO Rueda, Spain
This is an attractive, technology-driven white wine, with a big nose of boiled sweets. Modern, clean and good value if this is what you are looking for. (£3.99 Fuller's)

Pinot Grigio Pecile Grave del Friuli Bidoli 1998, Italy
A fresh, spicy techno white. Clean and modern. (£4.79 Fuller's)

Sauvignon blanc Pecile Grave del Friuli Bidoli 1998, Italy
A very attractive richly spiced and nicely textured Sauvignon with good fruit. (£4.75 Fuller's)

Chardonnay Mezzo Mondo 1998 IGT, Italy
This has had one year in French oak. Fresh citrus fruit combines with subtle oaking and some slightly odd nutty notes on the palate. Savoury and attractive: well priced. Apparently this stuff flies off the shelves. (£4.49 Fuller's)

Cono Sur Pinot Noir 1998, Chile
Fruity and attractive, this is quite wild stuff with an earthy/animal stink and some vegetal notes, giving it really unusual character. You'll either love it of hate it: I think it works quite well. (£4.99 Fuller's)

Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir, Chile
The upmarket Pinot Noir from Cono Sur which spends a year in new French oak barrels and is double the price. This has a similar stinky nose to the regular Pinot, but with a softer palate. It is good, but not worth the extra cost. (£9.99 Fuller's)

Montepulciano D'Abruzzo Barrique Casalbordino 1997, Italy
Another beautifully deep purple red wine. Tannic and cleanly fruited, this is good stuff. Hard to spot its Italian origins. (£4.99, Fullers)

Tre Uva Ultima 1997, IGT, Italy
50% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese, 20% Primitivo, has been aged for 10 months in French oak. Strong menthol nose with rich herby fruit. Herby, spicy and rich, with plenty of complexity, this is a nice food wine. Very good. (£5.99 Fullers)

Ilanga Pinotage 1998, South Africa
Cherry and Banana nose, with a slight stink. Technology driven and one dimensional. (£4.99, Fuller's)

Kumala Reserve Merlot 1998, South Africa
A rich wine: quite herby in character and not distinctive as a Merlot. Intense and slightly medicinal, it doesn't really work for me. (£8.99 Fuller's)

Kumala Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, South Africa
Dusty, dry and savoury but with an unpleasant caramelized edge. (£7.99 Fuller's)


Rosemount Wines, Australia
Usually a relaible, solid range from this Hunter Valley-based producer, with good wines at every level. More expensive than their peers, but sometimes a little classier.

1999 Semillon Sauvignon blanc
Good crisp, fresh dry white, but unremarkable. A little overpriced at £5.99.

1998 Chardonnay
Subtle oak influence (3 months part new oak). This is savoury, fresh and tasty: very good for the price (£6.99).

1998 Show Reserve Chardonnay
Hunter Valley fruit, from two vineyards, Roxburgh and Giant's creek. 11 months French and American new oak. Big vanilla oak nose. Savoury and fresh, but with plenty of complexity. Very good if you are not averse to a bit of oak: I quite like this wine. (£9.99)

1998 Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon
This is a red wine made more-or-less in the same way as a white wine, with cold fermentation and no oak. Lovely bright sweet nose of strawberry and cherry fruit, with a touch of banana. Light and pleasantly tart, this is an attractive style for young drinking. Perhaps a little overpriced at £6.49: would be great value for £5!

1998 Cabernet Sauvignon
Aged in a blend of French and American oak. Lovely deep colour, with a sweet, ripe nose. However, on the palate there is quite high acidity and perhaps the wine is a little bit too 'technological'. I'm not as keen on this as I have been on previous vintages. At £7.49, better value is available elsewhere.

1998 Shiraz
Fruit is sourced primarily from McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills and Langhorne Creek. Aged in a blend of French and American oak. This has a pleasant spicy sweet nose. On the palate it is still quite tannic: again, this is tasty, but not as good as previous vintages, tasting quite technological. (£7.49)

1996 'GSM' McLaren Vale
A blend of 50% Grenache, 40% Shiraz and 10% Mourvedre, from the McLaren vale, aged in new American oak for 18 months. Lovely spicy sweet nose, with sweet berry fruits and a cherry-like finish. It is warm, authentic, complex and concentrated, but perhaps a little too reliant on American oak for me to want to splash out £16 on it.

1996 'Traditional' McLaren Vale
This is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot that has spent 18 months in new American oak. Deep coloured and sweetly fruited, this an attractive, serious wine. Again, however, the sweet American oak is prominent and in my book stops this wine getting top marks. (£16)