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wines of February 2002

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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
Domaine Bégude (France) Chardonnay VdP d'Oc 2000
I attended a tasting recently with winemaker Benjamin Darnault of Comte Cathare, the Languedoc estate owned by Bertie Eden, which has become a huge favourite with Oddbins customers for an impressive range of mostly organic, "terroir-driven" wines that have helped put this once lowly region on the map. This wine is just delightful with a fresh apple and pear-fruited nose. There is a lovely counterbalancing suggestion of peachy ripeness on the one hand, and firm minerality on the other. Silky-textured and concentrated on the palate, there is plenty of sweet-edged fruit that is extended and made savoury by crisp citrus acidity and a long, pure finish. Very good indeed. Oddbins £4.99.

under a tenner
Domaine de la Grande Bellane (France) Valréas 2000
Valréas is one of the Villages of the Côtes du Rhône, and a previous vintage of this organic wine from la Grande Ballane had the honour of wine of the week. A blend of high quality grapes (75% Syrah, 25% Grenache), this wine is also vegetarian, in that no animal products were used in making it (some agents used to clarify wines prior to bottling are animal-based). The nose is just gorgeous: a melange of wild herbs, cedar, rich crumbly earth and deep raspberry fruit. There are leather and gamy notes, and spicy hints too. On the palate a great thwack of tannins instantly coats the mouth in a drying, chocolaty layer, but that savoury, mellow, spiced plum and red fruit character pushes through. With perfect balance, this wine combines stuffing and supple elegance in a food-friendly format. Terrific stuff. Tesco, Sainsbury's, Thresher, Bottoms Up, Unwins. £5.99.

under twenty
Karthäuserhof (Germany) Riesling Spätlese Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg 2001
This was one of a glittering array of Rieslings in a large tasting in London recently. There were many possible candidates, but this wine from one of the Ruwer's finest estates sneaks the honours. It is delicate, with a herbal edge to the light, fragrant, perfumed nose. There are aromas of racy minerals and fine citrus fruit as well as green apples. On the palate there is plenty of orchard fruit, and that keen minerality cutting through. Lots of verve and style here, and a scintillating balance of acidity. Very good indeed/excellent. Charles Taylor (0207 928 8151) £12.95.

sky's the limit
Château Léoville-Barton (France, St-Julien) 1975
This is not the greatest wine I've ever tasted - not even the greatest claret - but it was, for me, the epitomé of what fine, aged, perfectly mature claret can offer, that few other wines can match. With 25 years under its belt, this wine is as smooth as silk with tons of finesse. There is a lovely, old, cedary, savoury, typical claret nose with old-oak sweetness and plenty of tobacco-tinged fruit. There is still a sweetness of fruit on the palate, with little rose-hip or parma-violet nuances, and complex, earth and mineral notes. Some coffee and smoke emerge too, and there is lovely balance with softening tannins and moderate acidity. Long, poised and just a treat. Excellent. Expect to pay about £40-£50 per bottle from a broker or at auction.