December 2003 – Infierno, Lilliano, Villa Maria, Veuve-Clicquot

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
Infierno (Spain) Monastrell/Merlot 1999
This is fantastic stuff! From Yecla in the southeast of Spain it is made from a blend of 70% Monastrell (Mourvèdre), and 30% Merlot. The wine is partially aged in small French oak barrels. Now, here’s an interesting thing: the small print on the back label says the wine is made by Bodegas Castaño. I raved about a wine called “Hécula” from Bodegas Castaño a few months ago, which Robert Parker also gave 92 points. It was selling elsewhere at £6.99 and was made to exactly the same recipe as this wine. My guess is that the two wines are one and the same. The colour is a vibrant cherry red, and the nose is brimming with sweet, spicy berry fruit, with a little undertow of creamy vanilla, prune and crunchy pepper. On the palate there’s a wonderful bitter dark chocolate edge to juicy blue/black fruit that is succulent and savoury with lip-smacking tannins and a warm, coffee-bean finish. Very highly recommended.

under a tenner
Lilliano (Italy) Chianti Classico 1999
What a nice, classically Chianti nose of leather, game. spices and a lovely quality of fruit. There is a weight of dark, concentrated plum and cherry, all tinged with that gamy quality and a little tobbaco warmth. On the plate plenty of fruit, and a nice earthy complexity. Lots of robust blackcurrant and fine, ripe tannins leading to a mouth-filling, blanced finish. Very good indeed.£93.34 per Case, (£7.78 bottle equivalent)

under twenty
Villa Maria (NZ) ‘Clifford Bay’ Sauvignon Blanc 2001
Villa Maria make great wines, especially at their prestige level, like this Clifford Bay. Gorgeous vegetal, asparagus and nettle elements to deep, sweet, fully-ripe tropical fruit that is lightly honeyed. Bursts with gooseberry, lychee and juicy mango. Big, fat, powerfully-fruited palate with fine length and romping acidity. Very good indeed/excellent. £10.99 Oddbins.

sky’s the limit
Champagne Veuve-Clicquot Vintage Reserve 1996
This is one of the best young vintage Veuve-Clicquots I have ever tasted, and is up there with the 1988-1990 triumverate of great wines. It is already beautifully toasty, rich and nutty on the nose, that richness developing on top of crisp, cool lemon and peachy fruit. The mousse is rich and persists in the mouth, with lots of body and richness and a creamy quality. All the time there’s a tang of grapefruit acidity that teases and cleanses the palate. This has fantastic length too, and is an absolutely brilliiant Champagne that should cellar effortlessly for 10 years and more. Berry Bros & Rudd have 20% off a case of six currently, bringing the price down to £29.50 a bottle. Otherwise, around £35-£39 from Bibendum, Fine & Rare, Luvians, Majestic and elsewhere.