March 2004 – Musella, Combe Blanche, Romanee-Conti

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
Château de la Fessardière (France) Muscadet 2003
It is always a particular pleasure to stumble across a really good wine from Muscadet, an area that is currently rather out of fashion compared to the bold, fruit-driven styles of much Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. This Muscadet makes its intentions known even before you pull the cork, coming in a heavyweight Burgundy-style bottle and very elegant packaging. It is biodynamically produced from vineyards that where certified organic 90 years ago. The vines are hand-picked, the yeasts all-natural, and lees-stirring takes place before ageing part of the wine in large wooden barrels. The nose is subtle and mineral, with some nutty elements and succulent, firm, pear fruit. There are little notes of salt and straw. On the palate it is very pure and concentrated; there’s a real spine of steely, lemony character wrapped with supple, dry, underripe melon and crisp pear. It is fresh and appetising, with bracing minerality and real complexity. £4.99 Sainsbury’s.

under a tenner
Musella (Italy) Valpolicella Superiore 1998
This is an absolute cracker. The handsome, super-heavyweight bottle is clearly out to impress, and reveals immediately the serious intentions behind this wine. The traditional northern Italian grapes Corvina, Rondinella and Barbera have been bolstered by a little Cabernet Sauvignon to produce a sumptuous red wine that heaves with plump, sweet fruit and generosity. Twelve months in new French barrels (Tronçais and Alliers oak) has imparted a toasty, smoky element on the nose, set against crushed blackberry and clove-scented fruit. On the palate it is rich and velvety, the broad-based cherry acidity and svelte, burnished tannins giving lovely support into a long, concentrated finish packed with fruit, spices and mellow, chocolaty depth. Sensational stuff. 13% alcohol. Oddbins £9.49

under twenty
Domaine la Combe Blanche (France) “La Dessous de l’Enfer” Vin de Pays des Côtes de Brian 1999
This deep, ruby-coloured wine really does have a lovely nose, with soaring kirsch-like cassis and berry scents, violet and tobacco, with plenty of spice and toasty components. Unusually, this is 100% Tempranillo, the grape best known in Rioja and Ribera del Duero, across the border in northern Spain. It spends 18 months in barriques, which I’d guess must be French, to give it a profile very similar to modern Riojas like Torre Muga, Contino and San Vicente. On the palate, There is a big, generous flood of red fruit that is sweet and ripe, with bramble and cherry and a solid underpinning of biting, but ripe tannins and that warm, spicy oak. Medium- to -full-bodied, this has really good fruit and fine length. Excellent. £12.95

sky’s the limit
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Le Montrachet 1996
From a tiny parcel of Le Montrachet covering just two-thirds of a hectare. This is a fantastically aromatic wine, its fragrance of honey, toast, and hot-butter layered over Brazil nut, and deep beurre noisette, with ripe apple and peach fruit beneath. Real sensory overload here. It has an equally stunning palate, with wonderfully vibrant and concentrated orange fruit and a weighty, silky texture. But there is tons of verve too, with a rapier-like mineral acidity cutting through a developing core of luscious nectarine and finely-wrought pear fruit. There are so many layers to this wine, which unfolded over the evening (I dipped in and out of my generous glassful). It has fantastic limpidity too, with honey and oatmeal nuances, and a bright polish of start-fruit and Asian pear adding tension against the more opulent side of its nature. Amazing concentration and length, giving this wine undeniable presence, yet impeccable balance. Outstanding. This wine costs an incomprehensible £1,000-plus per bottle, but is other-worldly.