December 2006 – Catena, Massaya, Leeuwin, Bollinger

Four of the best wines tasted last month, in four price brackets.

under a fiver

Catena (Argentina) Argento Chardonnay 2006
Argento is a wine brand made in a joint venture including the UK’s Bibendum Wines and the superb Catena Zapata winery in Mendoza, Argentina. The Chardonnay has been recommended before in previous vintages, and is always an ultra-reliable example of finely-tuned, beautifully balanced Chardonnay that shows just enough oak influence (from three months in barrels) married to wonderfully crisp, fresh, juicy fruit. The 2006 is a corker, made as always from fruit grown on the cool Andes slopes at around 1000 metres altitude. The nose has wonderfully succulent fig and ripe, tropical fruit notes playing against citrus and some mealy, lightly honeyed depth. On the palate there’s a blast of juicy, almost sweet-toned fruit that fills the mouth with pinapple and angelica flavours, and hazelnutty, lightly toasty wood notes. The whole package is stylishly woven through with crisp, leafy, zesty lemon and grapefruit acidity that leaves this fresh, crisp and quite light in the mouth, despite the 13% alcohol. This wine is widely available, but Tesco has lopped £2 off until the start of January 2007. making it a genuine bargain buy at just £3.99.

under ten

Massaya (Lebanon) Classic Red 2004
Massaya’s Classic Red is a blend of 60% Cinsault with 20% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Stainless steel fermentation with hand-plunging is followed by eight months in vats, with no oak influence. It is an immediately seductive wine on the nose, with a deep-seated, terrifically creamy blackcurrant fruitiness and little notes of anise, grilled meats and floral hints of violet and roses. On the palate it is concentrated and ripe, with plenty of that slightly perfumed, parma-violet character to solid, rich, berry fruits. This has a meaty texture and plenty of substance, with lovely tannins roughening up the edges, and excellent length and balance. Massaya is owned by passionate Lebanese brothers Sami and Ramzi Ghosen, and winemakers Dominique Hébard of Bordeaux and Daniel Brunier of Vieux Télégraph in the Rhône, and there is very fine quality in evidence here. Around £8.99.

under twenty

Leeuwin Estate (Australia) Art Series Riesling 2005
When I judged Australia’s National Riesling Challenge in 2005 I was excited by many of the examples tasted from Margaret river, not an area I had previously associated with great Riesling. One that did always stand out was the Riesling from Leeuwin, and this 2005 screwcapped release does not disappoint. The nose offers aromas of gently toasty and buttery fruit, with a touch of waxiness and plenty of lime. There’s a delicate floral character too. On the palate this has a rapier-like thrust of pristine lime and lemon fruit, with an intense minerality and a fine depth of flavour. There’s just a suggestion of that rich, toasty weight beneath the dazzling clarity of the fruit, and the dry grapefruity acidity leads to an elegant finish. Delightful Riesling. Around £11.00, Domaine Direct.

sky’s the limit

Bollinger (France) La Grande Année 1999
La Grande Année is Bollinger’s prestige cuvée, produced only in exceptional years. This may seem criminally young to open a fine wine that is built for extended cellaring (for those who like the aged Champagne style), but I found this wine to be seductive and wonderfully nuanced even at this young age. Fruit comes from only 17 Premiers and Grands Crus from amongst Champagne’s 316 villages, and the 1999 harvest is said by Bollinger to be “similar to 1970 and 1983,” promising very high quality. Barrel-fermentation is followed by six years ageing before release, resulting in a wine that has a rich but pale golden colour, pin-prick bubbles and toasty, complex aromas of brioche and yeastiness, but also a vegetal richness and core of bruised apple fruit. On the palate the mousse is very fine but persistent, and this has an immediate tension between very taut, nervous minerality and a huge sweetness of fruit, with already a nutty, rich maturity from the long ageing, with some toast and caramel, and a very long, supple, elegant finish. A terrific wine. Around £50