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01 November 2004

Waitrose Christmas wines 2004

Out of 50 recommendations picked from their autumn press tasting, there should be something for everyone here. Waitrose snatched the award (again) for Wine Supermarket of the Year in the 2004 International Wine Challenge, and it's not hard to see why. They have 166 branches, and the wine department seems to be run a bit like a specialist shop chain (or at least should be). The good news is that Waitrose has spread into virgin territory in the north of England and Wales, since they bought 19 stores in the fallout of Morrisons' takeover of Safeway.
There were some disappointing areas in the tasting though, it has to be said. Like Majestic, they stock some brilliant Burgundies - e.g. Drouhin's Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru - but a few surprisingly mediocre, overpriced ones too (conclusion = Burgundy is the problem as these guys know how to taste wine, after all). I also wasn't very impressed with some of their new Eastern European wines, and Portugal was a bit variable. In contrast, I've selected a nice variety of reds particularly from Italy, Spain (lovely Riojas), Chile and South Africa (classics from Rustenberg).
In addition, Waitrose stocks several top wines from Australia (all styles); take a look at Pinot Noirs from Stonier and Henschke. Among the whites, Germany (including Künstler and Prüm), Austria, France (especially their Alsace range) and Ken Forrester's South African Chenin Blancs really stand out. I appear to have had a bit of a Sauvignon Blanc frenzy as well, including several great examples from the Southern Hemisphere. Mind you, be wary of some 2004 New Zealand Sauvignons though; I've tasted a few that display too much of those grassy green pepper characters, perhaps due to overly high yields and under-ripe grapes. But Craggy Range and Jackson Estate show real class; ditto Nepenthe, Shaw & Smith... Wines tasted October 2004. More words & wines regarding things Waitrose.


Schloss Gobelsburg, 2003 Gobelsburger Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal (12.5%) - Vegetal aromas turning nutty, quite intense and peppery with crisp acidity set against rounder off-dry finish; nice commercial style. £5.99 85+
Schloss Gobelsburg, 2003 Gobelsburger Riesling, Kamptal - Fine greengage and celery mineral nose, vibrant concentrated pure fruit with zesty crisp length. £7.49 87+
Felsner Grüner Veltliner Moosburgerin Kabinett, Kremstal 2003 - Aromatic zesty and very spicy, delivers lovely concentration and class with crisp intensity balanced by nice depth of pure fruit. Try with Vietnamese stir-fried squid! £7.99 90

South Africa

Ken Forrester, 2003 Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch (14%) - Delicious honey and greengage fruit, a little sweetness balanced out by the tight acid framework, and a touch of toasty oak and quite high alcohol add weight to the palate. £6.99 89
Ken Forrester, 2002 Meinert Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch (13.5%) - Voluptuous fruit layered with coconut, showing late harvest sweetness characters set against toasty oak then tight mineral acidity and length, so in the end it doesn't really taste that sweet. Wow: a one-off. £14.99 94+
Rustenberg Wines, 2003 Chardonnay, Stellenbosch (14.5%) - Very buttery and toasty on the nose, weighty creamy palate with intense green edges, massive flavour yet becomes more elegant and tighter on the finish. Wow. £9.99 93+
Rustenberg Wines, 2001 Peter Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch - Somewhat closed up on the nose at first, shows bags of coconut oak on the palate but it's concentrated and grippy too with tight long finish; needs a few years to express itself and integrate (I hope...). £22.50 selected branches only. 90+?
Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2003, Boekenhoutskloof, Coastal Region (14.5%) - Meaty nose with cinnamon edges, quite perfumed and peppery black fruits on a tight long palate. £6.99 89
Semillon 2002, Boekenhoutskloof, Franschhoek (14%) - Creamy yeast-lees & toasty notes contrast nicely with its tight structure, nutty elegant finish rounded out by well integrated alc. £13.50 90
Springfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc special cuvée 2004, Robertson - Asparagus and spearmint aromas, very intense fruit offering nice weight yet mineral depth too, long crisp finish. £7.99 91


Piedra Feliz, 2001 Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley (14%) - Lightly toasty and smoky notes on the nose lead to silky "sweet & savoury" fruit on the palate, quite concentrated with firm long finish. £9.99 90+
Santa Rita Floresta Sauvignon Blanc 2003, Leyda Valley (13%) - Very vibrant pure gooseberry nose, green pepper notes on the palate rounded out by weighty concentration, intense wow finish. £9.99 90
Errazuriz Max Reserva Chardonnay 2002, Casablanca Valley (13.5%) - Wild aromas on the nose, creamy fat palate balanced by subtle bite and acid structure, big v elegant. £7.99 90
Nativa Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, Carmen, Maipo Valley - Rustic cassis notes jump out of the glass, has lovely depth of fruit in the mouth finishing with firm conclusive bite. £7.99 90


Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, 2002 Zind, Alsace (Auxerrois 50%, Chardonnay 35% and Pinot Blanc) - exotic voluptuous nose following through to delicious fruit and concentration, has a touch of sweetness but also fresh "cut" to balance, nice coating and texture in the mouth. £13.99 93
Jean Marc Brocard, 2002 Chardonnay Vin de Pays Coteaux de Tannay, Burgundy - from 40 miles (65km) south of Chablis. Mature "Chablis" style, quite fat and creamy actually set against nice mineral bite, good length and a bit of class too at the price: £5.99. 87-89
Domaine Huet Vouvray sec Le Haut-Lieu 2002 (Chenin Blanc) - Ripe and oily nose with a touch of botrytis richness, concentrated palate rounded by very light toasted oak, fine underlying acidity leading to off-dry finish. £10.99 89
Heresztyn Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2002, Côte de Nuits (Pinot Noir) - Shows good "sweet & savoury" Pinot style, with quite silky fruit set against firm tight palate, nice length and bite. Needs a bit of time to develop. A classic for duck dishes. £19.99 90
Albert Mann Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum "Vieilles Vignes" 2002, Alsace (14%) - Elegant pure Gewurz nose of rose water and lychees, very rich and concentrated showing purity and depth of fruit, then lovely bite on the finish cutting through the sweetness (32 g/l residual sugar with 14% alc.). Perfect match for Munster cheese. £17.50 94
Menetou-Salon "Clos de Ratier" 2003, Domaine Henry Pellé, Loire Valley (Sauvignon Blanc 13.5%) - Ripe oily citrus fruit contrasts nicely with pungent lees characters, quite open and soft actually with subtle length and light-ish acidity. Get the goats' cheese out. £9.99 87+
Pinot Noir 2002, Domaine Paul Blanck, Alsace (13% screwcap) - Nice perfumed style with dry bite on the palate contrasting with typical "sweet & savoury" fruit. Try with choucroute (sauerkraut) and charcuterie. £8.99 87
Pouilly-Vinzelles 2003, Thibert, Mâconnais (Chardy) - Juicy ripe fruit contrasting with leesy bite and intensity, fresh elegant length. £8.99 87
Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "Les Folatières" 2001, Joseph Drouhin, Côte de Beaune (Chardy 13.5%) - Delivers fat and rich mouthfeel set against aromatic lightly green fruit, sexy creamy palate rolls out underpinned by fine acidity on the length. Yum although not cheap of course: £29.99. 95
Organic Vin de Pays du Gard 2003, Saint Roche, Languedoc (Carignan Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon) - Attractive "sweet" rustic fruit with various berries and liquorice notes, has a touch of grip on a nice finish. £4.99 84+


Dardi la Rose, 2000 Barolo, Piemonte (Nebbiolo) - Lovely smoky tobacco notes with generous fruit underneath, then firm bite of tannins and acidity building a solid framework. Good trad style, shame about the price: £25 (admittedly not so silly compared with some Barolos). 90+
Borgo Salcetino, 2002 Chianti Classico, Tuscany (Sangiovese Canaiolo Nero 13%) - Quite rustic and soupy but has attractive smoky fruit and concentration, showing nice austere bitter cherry style and bite; needs time. £8.99 89
MGM Mondo del Vino "Da Luca" Grillo/Chardonnay 2003, Sicilia (13.5%) - Interesting nutty fruit, quite concentrated in fact showing nice weight and oomph yet a bit of fresh bite too, and very light touch of toast to finish. £4.99 87
Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino 2003, Campania (13%) - Zesty perfumed aromas suffused with banana and herbs, lovely concentration and style, long balanced finish. £9.99 89
Tria Syrah 2003, Sicilia - Appealing pure spicy blackberry and cherry, quite "modern" fruit-forward style but is chunky and grippy with vibrant fruit finish. £5.99 85


CVNE Monopole Rioja blanco 2003 (Viura) - Creamy coconut fatness contrasts interestingly with its nutty dry side, has a bit of bite too on the finish along with well handled oak. £6.49 87
Celler de Capçanes Mas Collet 2001, Tarragona (Carignan Garnacha Tempranillo 14%) - Rich smoky nose leads to firm palate supported by lovely tobacco and liquorice fruit, has good bite and length too. £6.49 89
Reserva Selección Especial 2000, Muga, Rioja (Tempranillo Garnacha Mazuelo 13.5%) - The nose is a bit closed but it's concentrated and firm in the mouth, showing nice raspberry fruit tempered by subtle oak; has real bite, intensity and depth of flavour. £16.49 94
Ribera del Duero 2002, Vega de Castilla (Tempranillo) - Quite complex, smoky and minty nose paves the way to a grippy palate, yet balanced by good depth of fruit. £7.49 87
Rioja Reserva 1998, Dominio de Conte, Rioja Alta (Tempranillo Graciano) - Rich cheesy maturing nose invites you in to this classic style Rioja, pitching "sweet" raspberry fruit against firm structure, finishing with elegant length. £12.99 92+


RH Phillips Dunnigan Hills Syrah 2001 - Appealing pure spicy fruit style, chunky and firm in the mouth showing a little well-balanced wood to round it off. £6.99 85


J.J. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese 1994, Mosel - Ten years old and looking good: maturing mineral and petrol aromas, still has a zesty edge supported by elegant concentration, finishing not so sweet (46 g/l residual sugar versus nearly 10 g/l total acidity!). And reasonable too at £12.99 considering its age and class. 93+
Franz Künstler Hochheimer Kirchenstück Riesling Spätlese 2002, Rheingau - Very zesty mineral style, concentrated vs tight fresh and fine; finishing not so sweet despite its lush 102 g/l residual sugar, thanks to almost 10 g/l total acidity; meaning it will develop for a long time! £13.99 92+


Henschke Henry's Seven Shiraz/Grenache/Viognier 2002, Barossa Valley - Berries and liquorice aromas reveal nice depth of fruit, firm yet elegant finish despite the high-ish alcohol. £14 87+
Henschke Lenswood "Giles" Pinot Noir 2002, Adelaide Hills - Ripe "sweet & savoury" nose, tangy and complex mouthful offering lovely depth of fruit, vibrant ripe characters yet meaty/mushroomy too, and silky tannin texture to finish. Yum. £19.50 very limited availability. 95
Domaine Leasingham Magnus Riesling 2003, Clare Valley - Lime zest aromas abound, very fresh and crisp acid structure needing a few years to develop and soften; very good but not for everyone. Try with a fishy Thai green curry. £7.99 89+
Reserve Pinot Noir 2000, Stonier, Mornington Peninsula - Gorgeous "sweet & savoury" style, showing silky soft fruit, texture and elegance skilfully balanced by firmness and structured finish. £17 93
Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Nepenthe, Adelaide Hills - Displays great intensity of eye-watering green fruit with very crisp, elegant long finish; one for SB fans (I am), needs food I'd say e.g. a goats cheese or anchovy salad  £7.99 92
Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Shaw & Smith, Adelaide Hills - Yeast-lees notes on the nose, elegant palate offering gooseberry fruit and subtle zesty extract with long fine finish. £9.99 90+
Stella Bella Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Suckfizzle Augusta, Margaret River - Not obvious on the nose to start, green fruit and white pepper notes develop with crisp subtle palate, has a touch of roundness too without trace of oak flavour (10% barrel-fermented) finishing very dry yet with nice fruit. £7.99 90
Step Road Sangiovese 2001, Step Wines, Langhorne Creek (with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) - Attractive "Tuscan" style offering sweetness of fruit and tobacco notes yet firm tannins, good long bite on the finish. £6.99 88

New Zealand

Old Renwick Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Craggy Range, Marlborough - More subtle still than the Jackson yet shows nice trademark, very intense gooseberry fruit; super concentration and tight long finish. £9.99 94
Private Bin Pinot Gris 2004, Villa Maria, Marlborough - Alsace leaning style but zestier and crisper, offers lovely floral honeyed spice and juiciness typical of decent PG, good depth and purity of fruit too. £6.99 90
Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Jackson Estate, Marlborough - Intense gooseberry fruit yet has elegant mineral dimension as well, very tight and crisp palate with super zesty green fruit finish. £8.99 92


Petite Sirah 2002, L A Cetto, Baja California - Spicy blueberry aromas, chunky and fruity palate offering nice style and grip on the finish. £5.29 85


The Cork Grove Castelão/Touriga Nacional 2003, Casal Branco, Ribatejo - Juicy blackberry/cherry fruit with nice perfumed edges, quite chunky and attractive style with pretty firm finish. £4.49 85

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.