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Waitrose - fine wines

by Tom Cannavan, 07/03

Waitrose is generally acknowledged to have the most interesting wine range of any UK supermarket. Part of the John Lewis Partnership, Waitrose stores are pretty upmarket in terms of their range generally, and a browse around their wine shelves is always guaranteed to set the wine-lover's pulse racing. But recently they have shown an even greater committment to fine wine with the introduction of an "Inner Cellar" range of very serious wines.

There are 55 branches with an "inner cellar" selection, but special temperature-controlled rooms within two of their flagship stores at Canary Wharf and Kingston have the ultimate range. These branches have over 200 more fine wine lines than other stores, including names like Romané-Conti and Château d'Yquem. At Canary Wharf there is also a wine bar, where you can drink any bottle from the shelves for just £5 corkage, and eat from a tapas-like light meal selection. For those outside the capital, an extensive selection of Inner cellar wines is available from Waitrose online.

This tasting from the Inner Cellar was not blind. I also tasted a selection of white wines from Waitrose's general range, specifically with an eye to clean styles for summer drinking, and I couldn't resist tasting through some of their sweet wines, again from the general range. Notes on 30 wines follow.

Inner Cellar sparkling wines


Nyetimber (England) Classic Cuvée Brut 1996
All the way from West Sussex, Nyetimber is England's only genuine word-class wine as yet, and I have raved about every vintage since the 1993. Charming, bright nose with lots of lemon and green apple highlights underpinned by a nettly quality. The palate is very fine, with a rich, rolling mousse and plenty of persistence under a palate of bold, herbal, citrussy fruit. Little tertiary development as yet, but hinting at complexity. Very good indeed. £19.

Charles Heidsieck Champagne Charlie Brut L'Oenothèque 1985
Nutty, warm, lightly-oxidised bruised pear fruit on the nose, with a nice walnutty warmth and some citrus notes. Lovely palate, with plenty of lively bubbles and fine, toasty complexity. There are notes of strawberry and a rich fruity core, with elegant acidity into a fine, long finish. Excellent. £76.

Inner Cellar white wines


The Inner Cellar includes an astonishing array of Grand Cru Chablis from a single house, rarely available in retail stores. It would allow aficiandos to build up a wonderful horizontal collection from a top producer in a great vintage.

William Fèvre (France) Chablis Grand Cru Valmur 2000
Quite steely on the nose but some creamy, ripe, malolactic or light-oak notes and melony fruit. Plenty of fresh citrussy fruit on the palate, but there's a gentle, warming, underlying honey too. The fruit really is concentrated and has a gorgeous, limpid weight whilst staying grippy and incisive, with a hint of tannin. Excellent. £27.99.

William Fèvre (France) Chablis Grand Cru Bougros 2000
Slightly less nutty breadth about this on the nose, with pure, smooth orchard fruit, a touch of grapefruit and some minerals. Elegant, broad, smooth-fruited palate has plenty of clean, ripe fruit and a brooding core of minerality. Good balance, and impressive. Very good indeed. £24.99.

William Fèvre (France) Chablis Grand Cru Bougros "Côte Bouguerots" 2000
Mellow, warm, buttery notes with some toasty nuances and orange and tangerine fruit. Broad on the palate, with notes of ripe melon and a hint of mint. Very attractive, with honey and a definite toasty aspect in the finish. Very good indeed. £28.99.

William Fèvre (France) Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles 2000
A more herbal aspect on the nose here, with a hint of toasty richness. Ripe and juicy palate of smooth, clean apple fruit that is concentrated and quite long. Good balance, but a little less complexity at this stage. Very good indeed. £28.99.

William Fèvre (France) Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir 2000
Gentle toasted-brioche nose with peachy, creamy quality of fruit and hints of wet stone minerality. Lovely big, ripe, rather open-knit palate of creamy, concentrated fruit. A little vegetal, but an orchard fruit core and plenty of power and substance here. Very good indeed. £27.99.

William Fèvre (France) Chablis Grand Cru Le Clos 2000
More closed, concentrated and very tight aromatics, with little notes of lemon. Palate is similarly tight and concentrated, with a core of citrus and white peach, but intense, searing acidity and powerful fruit into the finish. Excellent and very impressive stuff. £29.99.

San Michele-Appiano (Italy) Sauvignon Blanc "Sanct Valentin" 2002
From Alto-Adige in the far north of Italy, this is ripe, sweet and very attractive, with some passionfruit and elderflower, but doesn't really suggest a £13 price tag for me. Very good. £12.99.

Château d'Yquem (France) Sauternes 1er Grand Cru Classé 1997
The first time I have tasted this vintage of Yquem, so quite a treat. Extremely vanillary and rich on the nose at present, absolutely flooded with sweet, custardy oak, but obvious layers beneath of honey, toast, marmalady fruit and botrytis. On the palate it is thick-textured and unctuous, with barley-sugar and honey thickly layered over nectarine and dark, seville-orange fruit. This is super-concentrated, and seems very fine indeed, like tasting the 1989 young, with a palate loaded with fruit, nutty richness and plenty of acidity pushing and extending the finish. Extremely promising, and almost certainly of outstanding potential. It seems 1997 is a great Sauternes vintage. £170.

Inner Cellar red wines


J. Boillet (France, Burgundy) Volnay 1er Cru les Chevrets 1999
Delicately perfumed nose, with fine fruit suggesting raspberry, red cherries and just a little suggestion of briary, smoky depth. On the palate this has a lovely fullness and sweetness of fruit, quite a silky texture and a fine tannic background giving some grip. Long, and very nice wine. Excellent. £29.

Conde de la Salceda (Spain) Rioja Reserva 1998
Very restrained but forward fudge-like, sweet oak on the nose. I guess it is French oak, with no coconutty, vanillin character, just a creamy toastiness over rich berry fruit. The palate is poised and elegant, with a lovely fruit quality and fine balance. Very fine-grained tannins add a nice texture in the finish, which is long and pure. Very good indeed/excellent. £20.

Argiolas (Italy, Sardinia) Turriga 1998
This has a big, dusty, impressively concentrated nose. It is very dense and almost jammy. The palate is chocolaty and packed with sweet, ripe fruit. Massive wine really, with tannic heft powering through a big, smooth, silky palate. Very deep, concentrated and impressive stuff. Very good indeed. £25.

Antinori (Italy, Tuscany) Tignanello 1999
Fine, herbal, smoky nose with notes of tobacco and spice. There's an old leather character and complex dried cherry fruit with hints of damson and dark chocolate. Massive, chewy chocolaty richness on the palate, with a core of deep-set black fruit. Lovely balance though, with fine tannins and excellent length. Excellent. £39.99.

Villa Maria (NZ) Reserve Cabernet/Merlot 1998
Ripeness and sweet, minty depth are evident on the nose. Lots of black fruit, sweet plums and bittersweet chocolate. The palate is massively dry, concentrated and gripped by tannin, but a raft of dark, damsony fruit emerges. A powerhouse, but fine. very good indeed. £15.

Chapel Hill (Australia) "The Vicar" 1998
Just a touch of volatility here, with a big, superripe nose of mulberry, mint and chocolate. Deep and serious, it is flooded with fruit on the palate bolstered by ripe tannins. The core is of muscular, ripe dark fruit which is concentrated and powers through to a long finish. Very good indeed/excellent. £13.

Boekenhoutskloof (South Africa) Syrah 2000
Big, schisty and charcoally nose with decisive blueberry fruit and pepper. Big, bold, sweet-fruited mouthful of wine, with lush fruit quality before a concentrated underpinning of tannin and spicy, warming, fudge-like oak. Good acidity and length. very good indeed. £24.

Montes (Chile) "Folly" Syrah 2000
Terrifically deep mocha-coffee nose with layers of smoke and spice, but really driven by lush, deep-set black fruit. Thick, rich and dense on the palate this has a smoky, earthy concentration of plummy fruit. Fine tannins and generous but persistent acidity balance the finish and this has good length. Very powerful, and excellent stuff with sufficient structure to cellar. £35.

General selection white wines


Fief Guerin (France, Loire) Muscadet Sur Lie 2002
What a nice, honeyed, lemon-oil richness on the nose here. There's a lovely leesy quality, with bright, forward fruit backed up by a weight of nettly, almost oily rich flavours. Very impressive stuff, with clean acid balance. Very good indeed, excellent at price. £4.99.

Saint-Pourcain (France, Loire) Réserve Spéciale 2002
Bold, bright, lemony and leafy with a real sauvignon-like punch (it is actually a blend of 60% Tressallier and 35% Chardonnay, with only 5% Sauvignon Blanc). Fine fruit on the palate and a very attractive style. Very good indeed. £4.49.

Les Andides (France, Loire) Saumur 2002
Lovely ripeness and fruit sweetness in this 100% Chenin Blanc. There is rich, rolling, soft peach fruit with a cut of apple acidity. Gentle, sweet nectarine juiciness on the palate with plenty of citrussy fruit, but still that hint of lushness. Green apple acidity sharpens the finish. Very good indeed. £4.29.

Château Saint-Jean-des-Graves (Bordeaux) 2001
80/20 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, there is immediate quality evident here, with a light herbal fruitiness, bold, juicy, skin-contact waxiness and nettly character and plenty of pungent gooseberry fruit. On the palate tropical fruit is backed up by a waxy lemon component. Long and pure, this is lovely stuff. Very good indeed. £5.69.

Curious Grape (England) Aromatic 2000
Made by Chapel Down, one of England's biggest wineries, this is a light and breezy summer blend of cross-bred grapes Schönburger, Rivaner (Germany's Müller-Thurgau) and Huxelrebe. It is indeed aromatic, of freshly squeezed grapes and summer flowers. On the palate it is distinctly off-dry, with a medium body and very attractive juicy pear and peach fruit. Light and lissome to the finish, there is decent grapefruity acidity and this stays fresh and not at all cloying. Very nice wine for summer in the garden. £4.99.

Tria (Italy, Sicily) Grillo 2002
Grillo is the grape in this racy yet soft, sweet vanilla-edged peachy wine with plenty of citrussy verve. Abundant sweet orchard fruit on the palate, witth lemon acidity but some more complex notes of herbs and cream adding background weight and colour. Very good/very good indeed. £5.99.

Mission Hill (Canada) Private Reserve Pinot Blanc 2001
From the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, when I first tasted this wine about a year ago I could have sworn it was Sauvignon Blanc with its piercing gooseberry fruit. It has calmed down somewhat meantime, but still has plenty of vivacious personality with clean, ripe, tropical fruit and a juicy peach skin note. There is good acidity to counteract an off-dry personality, but this is a delicious, quite full-bodied summer wine. Very good/very good indeed. £6.99, but on offer at £5.59 in July.

Rosemount (Australia) Roxburgh Chardonnay
Thought I'd try this wine which is top of Rosemount's white wine tree. Massive, Jack Daniel's barrel, charry, toasty nose. Layered with tangerine, marmalade and apple pie aromas. Unctuous fruit on the palate, with superripe, bold, leesy-rich fruit and that great toasty background. Impressive concentration and fine length here, with lots of subtly amongst the fruit and power. Very good indeed/excellent. £30.

General selection sweet wines


H. Lang (Germany) Hallgartner Jungfer Riesling Auslese 1999
Undoubtedly one of my stars of the entire tasting, this beautiful wine has herbal-edged nettle and peach notes on the nose, with subtle hints of wax and minerals. Lush palate, of thick nectarine and peach fruit, with a cutting edge of tangerine acidity and all the time something tight and more mineral at its core. Lovely, with length, purity and balance. Excellent. £9.99.

Domaine de Forges (France) Coteaux du Layon Chaume 2001
Very intense, honeyed, toast and figgy richness. Quite smoky too, and lemon fruited. On the palate a vanilla-coated, lush palate of rich white fruit flavours and sufficient balancing acidity for this full-on, unctuous style. Very good/very good indeed. £8.99.

Château Les Sablines (France) Monbazillac 1998
Subtle, honeyed, butter and marzipan aromas with good fruit. Fine almond and marzipan flavours, with some vanilla and a rich, peachy core. Fine sweetness, and might just lack a little aciditity, but then again, very good indeed. £6.99.

Château Doisy-Daëne (France) Sauternes 2000
Delicate tea-leaf, honey and dried fig nose. A touch of tangerine, some sweet custardy notes and peachy fruit. Lovely weight and richness in the mouth, with silky texture and fine concentration. Peach skins and honey with a nice citrus bite and very good acidity. Very good indeed. £11.99.