November 2003 – St Gisbertus, Quando, Cousino-Macul, Catena

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
St Gisbertus (Germany) Beerenauslese 2002
Aldi really does come up with some cracking wines at rock bottom prices, and also manages to offer some diversity with unusual styles from lesser known areas. Here we have a proper Beerenauslese wine from Rheinhessen, made not from Riesling, but from Ortega, a cross-bred grape with the specific properties of full body, vivid aroma and flavour and, most importantly, the ability to ripen early and acheive high must weight, suitable for dessert styles. That helps explain the low price. The colour is a medium gold, and the nose offers up aromas of honey and musky, floral notes, with some dried fig and herbal, tobacco scents. On the palate it is quite viscous and rich, with decent apricotty fruit and more of that honeyed flavour, and with 109 grammes of residual sugar, plenty of sweetness. There is no great length here, and the acidity rather flattens the finish, but at £2.99 for a very elegantly-packaged 50cl, what a little treat this is. £2.99, Aldi

under a tenner
Quando (South Africa) Sauvignon Blanc 2002
From the baking-hot inland region of Robertson, where Sauvignon supremos Springfield Estate are also based, this has a very pale green colour and an enticing nose of mineral, salts and lime-zest, with undertones of nettle and gooseberry. On the palate this offers a really punchy, vivid lemon and grapefruit-packed palate, with masses of verve and a piercing quality of fruit and acidity. Much more Loire-like than anything remotely tropical, this is elegant and has plenty of fruit, yet also an unapoligetically austere mineral and citrus tautness. This is my kind of Sauvignon Blanc, and a really nice, well-balanced wine with fine purity and length. Excellent. £7.55 Roger Harris.

under twenty
Cousino-Macul (Chile) Finis Terrae 1995
I drank this first about four years ago or so, and thought it had a lot of potential so tucked away a bottle or two. This was decanted for two hours before serving. Wonderful, classy, Pomerol-like nose with cedar, plum and cassis and a sweet, gamy perfume of animal notes, earth and tobacco. On the palate, further evidence that this wine has filled-out over the past few years, with a silkiness to the texture, and a rich mouthful of currant and damson fruit, still quite grippy tannins and balanced acidity. There is now a certain voluptuous quality to this wine, which is delicious and seems to be ready right now. One of the original Super-South Americans, and excellent. You may find the 1995 in some independent shops and a few have popped up at auction, but 1997 seems to be the current vintage in most shops. £15.99 Edencroft,Everywine, WineRaks (Aberdeen), Connolly’s (Birmingham).

sky’s the limit
Catena (Argentina) Nicolas Catena Zapata 1997
When I first tasted this wine (blind) about eighteen months ago I thought it was excellent, with power and concentration, but also finesse and balance. I had a chance to re-taste in Argentina at the start of November, sharing the wine with the Catena family at restaurant 1884 in Mendoza. OK, I accept that dining with such gracious hosts and eating such wonderful food might have cast a rosy glow over my impressions, but I was still bowled over by this bottle (tasted in a vertical including the 1999 and yet to be released 2000). In the past year and a half it has mellowed and developed a more cedary, tobacco-tinged character to its svelte, polished black fruit and fine-grained tannic structure. It is nuanced and complex, with some animal, gamy qualities as well as that seam of black fruit. A lovely wine judged by any criteria. The 1997 may be available at auction, but the current 1999 vintage is also excellent.  £49.95 Bibendum.