May 2004 – Simon Gilbert, Henry Pelle, Observatory, Huet

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
Simon Gilbert (Australia) Verdelho 2002
It was somewhat of a struggle to find a really strong group of contenders at under £5 in May; perhaps I’ll need to raise the bar to under £6 next time. This has an attractive nose of lemon and lime, with a doughy quality and beneath a gentle spice and delicate notes of white flowers. On the palate this is again delicate in flavour; there’s almost a sweetness to the fruit, like jelly beans and nectarine juice, and then a dry white fruit character fills in, with plenty of crisp, fresh pear and apple. It has medium-body and a nice leesy texture, with some waxiness and richness emerging. It has nice acidity too, with lemony notes. Refreshing for summer drinking or matching to Thai and Chinese food. £4.99 Safeway.

under a tenner
Henry Pellé (France) Menetou-Salon 2002
This is an old favourite of mine, and a producer generally acknowledged as the star of this small appellation which neighbours Sancerre in the Loire Valley. Like Sancerre, Menetou-Salon uses Sauvignon Blanc for its white wines, and the best examples (like this) have all of Sancerre’s crispness and minerality, whilst having a subtle richness and ripeness of fruit that makes a tentative nod towards New Zealand. 2002 is a cracking vintage, and this pale-coloured wine exudes class on the nose, with a deep, almost figgy vein of richness, yet a mass of taut gooseberry and passionfruit aromas. There’s a herbal cut of grassy, nettly quality, and lovely purity. On the palate it has a shimmering core of minerals and steely lemon fruit, wrapped in layering of greengage and gooseberry and just a glimpse of more tropical sweetness with mango and lychee notes. It is a beautifully poised and balanced wine from a Maestro winemaker, and one of the great Loire values currently. This would be perfect with a goat’s cheese and poached pear salad, and is fabulous for sipping on its own. Majestic £8.49

under twenty
The Observatory (South Africa) Carignan/Syrah 2002
The Observatory is the project of Tom Lubbe, former winemaker at the excellent Spice Route project, and also winemaker at Domaine Gauby in the South of France. Lubbe follows a determindly “artisan” winemaking philosophy, decrying “chemical confections” and harking back to his training in Bordeaux and Burgundy. His Syrah at a few pounds more is a brilliant wine, but I was really taken by my first tasting of this blend. Individual berries were selected by the dozen-strong cellar team, and the grapes were crushed by foot. It is just fantastically aromatic, with a soaring, bright nose of cherry, and wild, herbal, exotically spice fruit with floral nuances and chocolaty notes. The palate is supple and savoury, with loads of cherry and tight, tense, muscular structure. Fine tannins and keen acidity play against the flesh and sweetnes of the fruit, and whilst it is plush and full into the finish, it stays pin-sharp and supple. Excellent stuff. Berry Bros & Rudd, £17.95

sky’s the limit
Maison Huet (Loire) Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Moelleux 1ère Trie 1947
1947 is an outstanding year for the sweet wines of the Loire, with full Botrytis. This is reputedly one of the best ever Huet wines. As always with such a reputation, it pays to be cautious and vigilant in tasting. It is certainly the darkest wine of the night; a dramatically deep, caramel-tinged umber. It has a wonderfully intense nose; almost mint-leaf, spearminty concentration. There are some vegetal, herby notes of nettle, leaf tea and and bark, as well as a deep, luscious, honey bouquet. The palate is just superb. After an initial blast of honeyed, figgy, quince-like rich flavours, the thick texture is cut by notes of caramelised orange, candied tropical fruits, and coffee flavours. There is a nice bittersweetness here; and interplay between limpid butterscotch and honey, and tangerine skin bite and freshness. It has outstanding concentration and length still, with that great, vibrant tang of Seville orange and burnt brown sugar playing against all the sweetness and fruit. A truly memorable and remarkable wine, and worthy of its reputation on this evidence. Outstanding. Expect to pay £300+ per bottle if you ever find this wine for sale.