April 2004 – Albali, Turkey Flat, Champagne Carlin, Margaux

These might be wines that have been reviewed during the month on wine-pages, or have appeared in my newspaper column, or they may be wines from a recent tasting that hasn’t yet been written-up in a full-length report. There is a growing archive of these four of the best choices each month.

under a fiver
Viña Albali (Spain) Reserva 1999
Valdepeñas, in Castilla-La Mancha in the Moorish south of Spain, has long been a powerhouse of the country’s wine output, supplying around 35% of production. Much of this was used for blending and distillation, and the region had little status with respect to fine wine quality. However there are quality producers in the region, working with the naturally low-yeilding and often ancient vines, to produce excellent wines that are particularly well-priced against Spain’s more glamorous regions. This wine is made from Tempranillo, the main grape of Rioja, and it has a delightful sweet-fruitedness about the nose. Aromas of berries and ripe black cherry dominate, slicked with vanilla, toast and spice from twelve months ageing in barriques. There is a tobacco-like warmth too. On the palate this is rich and full-bodied, with a mouth-coating texture of bramble and autumn-berry fruit, and silky, sweet-edged tannins. That softening layer of smoky oak and spices is balanced by very nice acidity, that is seamless and gentle, but does exactly enough to keep the wine fresh and savoury. Really lovely, well-made stuff with a bit of real character for less than a fiver. Asda, Budgens, Co-op, Londis, Sainsbury, Thersher, Unwins, Wine Rack, £4.99.

under a tenner
Turkey Flat Vineyards (Australia) “The Turk” 2002
This Barossa Valley red is a blend of 43% Shiraz, 40% Grenache, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre, giving it a very Châteauneuf-du-Papes-like character. It spends 15 months in a combination of small barrels and large oak casks. It has a dark, dense colour, and a hugely aromatic nose, with Porty notes of mulberry, eucalyptus, cranberries and spice. There is a distinct pepperiness and some exotic gamy hints. The palate is flooded with ripe red fruits; more cranberry, and a rich, savoury, damson and plum skin. This is a very harmonious wine, with well-judged acidity and peppery tannins integrated nicely with the super-sweet fruit, so from mid-palate to finish it is smooth and rounded, leaving a lingering fruity aftertaste and just a background warmth of toasty oak and alcohol. Another that is no shrinking violet, with 14.5% alcohol to beef it up. Lovely stuff for beef, venison and other meaty game. Australian Wine Online, £9.75

under twenty
Champagne Carlin 1er Cru NV
Now and again Aldi really do turn up some cracking value wines, and this fine Champagne is a perfect example. It is made by the house of Cattier, a robust and fruity blend of 75% Pinots Noir and Meunier, and 25% Chardonnay. Grapes are sourced from eight of Champagne’s 1er Cru villages, mainly in the Montagne de Reims region, and the blend covers three different harvests to add depth and complexity. The colour is quite a deep, glowing gold, and minuscule bubbles rise in a steady stream across the width of the glass. The nose has lots of toasty, brioche and buttered pecan, with a generous weight of ripe pear and lightly spicy aromas. On the palate it is rich and rolling, with lots of fruit: plummy and peachy notes abound, as well as oatmeal and toast, and a wonderful, shimmering core of acidity. This full-bodied, dry wine is very broad and drinkable, whilst having subtle layers of complexity and great balance. Reminiscent in some ways of Laurent-Perrier’s luxury Cuvée Grand Siècle, this is fantastic value. Aldi £10.99

sky’s the limit
Château Margaux (France, Bordeaux) 1er Cru 1999
I haven’t tasted a lot of the 1999 top Bordeaux wines, though I have some cellared, bought pretty cheaply as the string of late 90s very good, but not exceptional vintages, unfolded. Margaux from 1999 is undoubtedly a great wine based on this tasting. Dominated by around 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, the balance mostly Merlot and a little Cabernet Franc, it has a vibrant, deep, crimson/black colour. The nose has espresso beans and a gloriously plush toastiness. Beneath is a mass of blackcurrant fruit that is bright and polished, with great ripeness and hints of violet and dusty blueberry. On the palate there is lovely fruit sweetness, wrapped for now in marzipan and spice, and then that core of really ripe cherry and blackcurrant running straight through the mid-palate. This is more elegant than Latour 1998 (tasted alongside), and though the acids and tannins really do grip at this stage, it has all sorts of layers and nuances about it that are complex and quite delicate. Some dilution in this vintage due to a rainy September really doesn’t seem to have harmed this wine in the slightest: it nicely combines a generous openess with fine fruit and structure. It possibly could be drunk now, but will be better in five years and over the next 15 to 20. Oddbins Fine Wine, £94.99