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Wine with Chilli Dishes

Chardonnay has been suffering something of a backlash of late. More precisely, it is a style of Chardonnay that is being given the cold-shoulder by some consumers: those very oaky, somewhat over-powering examples that have filled the shelves over the past decade. Of course Chardonnay doesn't have to be like that: fresher, more delicate styles like those from Chablis in the north of Burgundy can be fruity, elegant and razor-sharp.

Not only do this month's whites make a refreshing change from Chardonnay, but they will also cope with the powerful flavour of chilli. Chilli can have a physical effect of numbing the taste-buds, so don't uncork your best, most complex wines. Ideally I'd play a subtle game, by choosing a clean tasting white that will have plenty of lemony acidity to refresh the palate, yet has enough fruit to make its presence felt. Reds need a bit of power and punchy fruit to meet Chilli head-on and survive.

White wines

Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie 1997 (Tesco, £3.99)
Muscadet can so often be bland and rather acidic, but this superior example is "Sur Lie" which means it is bottled directly off the lees - the solid matter and dead yeast cells that remain after fermentation. This results in a wine that is delightfully fresh and tangy yet has creamy, peachy fruit and a long nutty finish. Refreshing and delicious.

Ceps de Sud, Old Vine Vermentino 1996 (Peckhams, Bibendum, £4.49)
This wine comes from the go-ahead Languedoc region in the south of France. It has a really bright, fresh, aromatic nose with flowers, peach and lime-zest. A mouthful of peach and apricot fruit leads to gentle but persistent acidity in the long, pure finish. Gorgeous stuff.

San Marco, Frascati Superiore 1997 (Sainsbury £4.99)
Frascati is another mine-field for the consumer with plenty of dull as ditchwater examples about, but this is a particularly delicate, elegant wine. With its restrained nose of lemons, boiled-sweets and honey, its dry, nutty, palate and plenty of nettle and gooseberry fruit, this is a fine example.

Red wines

This month's reds are just a lovely bunch:

Cairanne 1995 (Majestic, £4.69)
Cairanne is one of my favourite of the Côtes du Rhône Villages. This wine has an attractive nose of soft berry fruits, redcurrants and damsons. Lush on the palate, with a mouthful of raspberries and cream, a nicely bitter edge and a long, spicy finish that is round and savoury.

The Pinotage Company, Bush Vine Pinotage 1998 (Victoria Wine £5.99)
This wine has a knock-out nose of bubble-gum, raspberry, coconut and bitter-sweet black chocolate. On the palate there is excellent black cherry fruit that is ripe and almost confected with terrific length and good balance. This is lovely stuff, reminiscent of the best Beaujolais Nouveau - with the volume turned up full. Might just be pretty wonderful with a chillied dish.

Slaley, Shiraz 1997 (Oddbins Fine Wine, £7.99)
From a newish estate in South Africa, this has a striking, paint-box colour of vivid purple and intense aromas of super-charged blackcurrant and mint, brambles and an earthy depth. On the palate there is tremendous fruit: ripe, crunchy berries, sloes and damsons and a rounding out with creamy oak. This will get better and better over the next 5 years.