December 2005 – Kurt Hain, Torcolato, Gruaud-Larose

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
Dourthe (France) No 1 Sauvignon Blanc 2004
I tasted four different French Sauvignon, or Sauvignon-based, whites around the £5.00 and the Dourthe was a clear winner (with Nathalie & Co’s Sauvignon/Chardonnay from the Co-op in second place). Bottled in a screwcap, Dourthe are one of the big negociants to have legitimised branded Bordeaux in the past few years, with consistent and very good value wines, just like this one. It has a beautifully judged character, with zippy, zingy freshness on the nose, but backed by a oatmeally richness and sense of more tropical ripeness, all in a flood of limpid pear and gooseberry fruit. On the palate there is a hint of sweetness, but that is all fruit and toffee-edged, unctuous ripeness, with a long, cool core of lemon and slightly tart, gooseberry and grapefruit acidity that sharpens the picture into a long, lip-smacking finish. Waitrose £5.99, Thresher £6.99 but on three for two.

under a tenner
Kurt Hain (M-S-R) Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett 2004

2004 is a great, classic Mosel vintage, and from top producer Kurt Hain, wines like this are just perfect models of balance and precision. The nose has gently floral and talcum notes mixed with lemon peel and a suggestion of ripe nectarine. On the palate a beautiful fruit sweetness of downy peaches and ripe, yet elegant fruit, all braced by a slaty acidity. Terrific stuff this, and will age gracefully. At £7.00 from French & Logan this is a steal.

under twenty
Torcolato (Italy) Maculan 2003
Not far from Venice in northeast Italy, the town of Breganze his home to Maculan, producer of all sorts of wines, but perhaps best known for their very fine dessert wines. Torcolato is made from 85% Vespaiola, 10% Garganega and 5% Tocai, harvested in autumn 2003 then hung to dry until January 2004. After 12 months in French oak, one-third of it new, only around 2,000 cases of this brilliant sweet wine are produced. The colour is a fine, light gold, and the nose offers an intense array of honey, vanilla, juicy grape and orange aromas, and more ethereal floral and herbal notes. The palate is full-bodied but has an elegance and lightness, with terrific balance between the luscious, marmalady flavours, a dried apricot character and a terrific lemony zest of acidity. It is definitely sweet, but the powerful alcohol (13.5% ABV) and finesse keep it clear, pure and fresh into a long finish. Excellent. £14.49 per half Oddbins.

sky’s the limit
Château Gruaud-Larose (France) St-Julien 1990
Consistently one of my favourite of the “unsung” wines of the superb 1990 Bordeaux vintage, this is a wine I bought by the case in bottle and half bottle to enjoy over the next few years. It remains wonderfully aromatic, with typically wild and animal notes (a touch of Brettanomyces, but beautifully so) amongst a fragrance of leather, coffee and blackcurrant. Toasty, espresso oak and a fine earthy minerality add complexity. This was the star of a pre-Christmas dinner, with fine balance, and showing plenty of fruit, power and structure on the palate. This is starting to drink well, but I’ll be in no hurry to drink it up, as it is still fairly tightly wound, but with all the components in place for enjoyable drinking over the next decade or more. A truly excellent wine.