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France, Californian and Australia

by Tom Cannavan, 08/98

An interesting blind tasting of 4 whites and 6 reds. The whites all turned out to be 1996 chardonnays, 3 from Burgundy and 1 from California. Generally the distinction was clear, though the most expensive Burgundy of the bunch I thought might be New World, and the cheapest was my favourite. The reds had a couple of big surprises - the 1995 Beaucastel seemed very atypical, and the 1995 Cornas from Jaboulet had me baffled. Some lovely wines on show. All prices are quoted in pounds sterling.

Domaine Lassarat, Saint-Véran "Le Cras" 1996, £16.99
Pale gold, greenish tinge. Nice boiled sweet nose, yeast and pear-drops. Quite astringent on the palate at first, chewy, with some intense, mineral flavours and lots of melon fruit. Good '96 white Burgundy. Acidity is really biting in the finish. Quite long, with good fruit maintained and excellent definition. Very good.

Forman (California), Chardonnay 1996, £16.99
Pale, straw colour. Much bigger, oakier, more alcoholic nose. Very distinctive pineapple aromas. On the palate a nice mix of exotic fruit - pineapple again and mango - and more severe melon and citrus notes. Lots of alcohol in this wine. Californian Chardonnay I'd guess. Decent finish with oaky spice and ripe fruit.

Domaine Pillot, Chassagne-Montrachet 1996, £16.99
Pale yellow/gold. Very pungent nose, quite leafy and herbaceous. Almost grassy, and a bit unforgiving with relentless acidity and some spicy, vanilla from new oak. Too fierce for now, but fruit should emerge.

Château de Puligny, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Chalumeaux 1996, £23.99
Slightly deeper, but still pale gold. Fat and rich on the nose, almost meaty. A little sulphur? Round and rich on the palate too with creamy, chewy, super-ripe grapefruit and lime fruit. Classy New Zealand chardonnay? Citrus acidity dominates the finish. A huge style of wine that's a bit over-the-top for my taste.

Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Cornas 1995, £12.99
A dense, crimson colour. Solid and youthful. Lovely, fruit-driven nose of raspberries and blackcurrants. Minty and high-toned. A little bit of a creamy edge. Elegant and clean on the palate with excellent structure: plenty of black fruit, good levels of tannin, acidity and oak, but already fine integration. This might be the Forman Cabernet I tasted not long ago? Long, sweet and pure finish. Very nice.
I suppose the crimson colour and the distinct raspberry element should have led me away from Californian cabernet....

Château de Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1995, £18.99
Even, deep, crimson black. A great depth of blackberry fruit, a little leafy with plummy notes and some cedary, spicy complexity. A big mouthful. A little raw at present and a touch hollow on the mid-palate, but fine concentration too showing up in the finish. Tannins dominate at present, but the weight of black fruit and fine structure suggest this is one for the future. (08/98)
Fooled me. I never got any of the usual Beaucastel meaty, dirty, Mourvèdre and Brettanomyces character.

Viader (California), Red Wine 1995, £18.99
Inky, dense, crimson/black. Very young. Lovely, high-toned mint and blackcurrant nose. Very ripe and luscious blackcurrant on the palate with nice creamy, coconut, vanilla oak. Classy stuff with a long finish that is pure and concentrated. A lingering impression of beautifully integrated fruit and oak.

Croix de Beaucaillou (2nd wine Château Ducru-Beaucaillou) 1995, £27.99
A little lighter, but still opaque ruby/black. Beautifully rich and mellow nose with soft, inviting raspberry and blackcurrant fruit. Lovely mouth-coating quality, soft, lush with creamy oak and ripe, red fruit. Broad and generous. Chewy too, with structure beneath all that lush fruit. Finish is a little short, though this is very good and tasty stuff. Merlot dominated claret perhaps?
A bit expensive for what it is, but very delicious.

Domaine de Bertagna, Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Murgers 1996, £26.99
Fairly thin, crimson colour. Toffee nose with nuances of dank, undergrowth. Pinot Noir. A slightly off-putting modelling-clay taste in there, but also lots of ripe and opulent fruit. I think there's some good stuff buried in there and the wine has quality with a long finish. If this develops the deeper flavours that are hinted at, it will be good. Burgundy.

Jim Barry, "The Armagh" Shiraz 1995, £34.99
Extraordinary, dark, dense, syrupy black colour. Soaring nose of lifted mint leaf, eucalyptus and mint humbugs. An Australian shiraz I'm sure; probably The Armagh. Very tannic and grippy on the palate, with masses of black fruit beneath and a slightly rustic character that contradicts the nose. Lovely sweet, strawberry fruit emerging. If this is Armagh they've made a tougher style than previous vintages I've tasted. Fine, distinctive, powerful stuff.