March 2005- Excelsior, Mas de Lavail, Philippe Butin, Taittinger

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
Excelsior Estate (South Africa) Sauvignon Blanc 2004
A South African wine that, at half the price of most from Marlborough in New Zealand, maybe can’t quite match those fireworks, but that undoubteldy delivers more than half the quality. I was really very impressed by Cape Sauvignon on my recent visit, and this little cracker from the de Wets in the Robertson district delivers a fine, aromatic cut grass, gooseberry and elderflower nose, with succulent passionfruit and fig nuances. On the palate it is generous and full of fruit, with masses of ripe pear and yellow plum fruit, a lip-smacking burst of more goosberry and tart, rhubarb and lemon, and a lovely balancing acidity. Long and focused, it is well worth it’s asking price. £4.99 Waitrose.

under a tenner
Domaine Mas de Lavail (France) Tradition 2003
This Côtes du Roussillon Villages is made from a blend of southern grape varieties (40% Syrah, 40% Carignan and 20% Grenache), with all vines 50-years-old or more. From the fantastically hot vintage of 2003, it has vibrant purple colour and concentrated, schisty, charcoal and raspberry nose with hints of pepper and dusty blueberry fruit. That charcoally, Syrah-dominated quality persists on the palate, which has a raft of bittersweet, edgy black fruit flavours in a medium-bodied format. A depth of smoky, dark, bitter chocolate fills out on the mid-palate, with plenty of spice, a slick of vanilla and dry, savoury, leather and plumskin notes. This has that lovely Rhône-like character that combines super-sweet fruit and restraining acidity and tannin in a lovely all-round package. Excellent. £8.85

under twenty
Philippe Butin (France) Côtes du Jura Cuvée Speciale 1999
Unless you know the style of Jura wines like Vin Jaune, I would have to put my hand on heart and say this is one to try before you buy. It is a quite exceptional, brilliant wine, but it is made in the style of a Vin Jaune, which means Savignin grapes are left in open-topped ex-burgundy casks for many years under a film of yeast and never topped-up, so that the wine reduces and intensifies, exactly as it does for Sherry. In this case, Butlin has lightened and brightened his Cuvée Speciale by blending in 20% of ripe Chardonnay. It has a nose exactly like a Fino Sherry, with almonds and a dry, autumn apple quality that exudes minerality. On the palate it is beautifully dry, nutty and elegant, with notes of walnut and again, a salty, mineral quality that makes it almost like a Ravenneau Chablis. A great, succulent core of pear fruit becomes evident through the mid palate, before that lemon and mineral acidity extends through the elegant, balanced finish. Outstanding stuff, and totally different from 99% of other white wines on the shelves. 13.5% alcohol. £13.95, or £12,55 by the case, BBR

sky’s the limit
Taittinger (France) Comtes de Champagne 1995
The deluxe cuvée from Taittinger is always a remarkably complex and sophisticated wine, made only in years regarded as “exceptional”. It is partially barrel-matured, and is 100% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru vineyards of Avize, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger and Chouilly. Released after five years on the lees, the nose has a delicate smokiness, touches of toasted brioche and nuts, and a core of peachy fruit. There are little herbal notes, and a lemon-zest lift, in a complex picture. On the palate the sweet peachy quality of the fruit persists, with a delicate, mouth-filling mousse and a waxy lemon-rind quality. There is lovely zest about this wine, with great persistence of fruit wrapped with that subtle, toasty layer of flavour that is so appealing. The is excellent/outstanding, and is one for long-term cellaring if you can resist. Widely available at around £80, but shop around for a deal.