17 AUGUST 1991, Page 43


Cheap 'n' easy summer drinking

Auberon Waugh

This month's offer has been specially geared to cheap summer drinking in defer- ence to all the rumours of poverty one hears, although I must confess I have not noticed it much. An average price of £4.47 the bottle on the sample case (7) containing two of each is cheaper than we have achieved for some time.

First, a Gascony wine from the Armag- nac region. Presumably these wines have been being made for hundreds of years, but it did not actually occur to one to drink them until fairly recently. The smell is not so much of pear drops as of red boiled sweets, well-sucked. It is not a disagree- able smell, and anyone who pretends it is must be accused of affectation. I suspect that the ugni blanc grape predominates, with colombard backing, but the effect is of a nice, clean, well-fruited wine which will make a delightful aperitif. I might raise my eyebrows a bit if served it with a meal, unless the host was very poor or very young, but at £3.55 the bottle, Le Puts(1), from the Domaine Bordes, is an excellent drink for the young of all ages.

Lindeman 's Traminer-Riesling from South East Australia (2) is not dry enough for all white wine dishes, but would go brilliantly with Asian food, rich seafood or as an aperitif. Beautiful gold colour after a surprisingly oily pour, handsome bottle, won a gold medal in Brisbane, silver in Melbourne, nothing in Sydney (where I was among the judges in 1989) but it is an excellent spicy wine at £4.70 — ideal, I should guess, if there are any 1960s relics around among Spectator readers who still

smoke pot. .

Next, considerably mof-E- xpensive at £5.20, comes our old friend Montana's Sauvignon Blanc(3) from Marlborough, New Zealand. When I first discovered this wine five years ago it seemed miraculously cheap at £3.50 but Unfortunately its fame has spread. It is still a wonderfully re- freshing summer wine, with a strong gooseberry leaves smell and green nettle taste, with a slight prickle, very refreshing in the heat, dry but not sharp, leaving the punter a trifle nettle-stung perhaps, but definitely refreshed. I wish it could be cheaper than £5.20 but others have made the same discovery that New Zealand is beginning to make the best sauvignon blanc in the world. Sancerre must look to its laurels.

Now for the reds. First a classic South Australian dry red. Hardy's Premium Cabernet Shiraz(4) at £4.19 the bottle comes in its 'Stamp Series' which means that it is decorated by two old Australian 1/2d stamps showing a kangaroo. I think it may be the prettiest, most evocative wine label I have ever seen — reason enough for buying the wine, which is very pleasant, slurpy, garnet-coloured, with enough char- acter but not too much for its price level and not quite so shirazzy as some South Australian shiraz. Some character, as I say, but all good character, no convict element, all light, robust and cheerful. I liked it a lot, while as for the label, I find my eyes fill with tears as I contemplate it.., Next a Rioja(5) which is 'sin crianza' — put more or less straight into bottle without too much hanging around in oak. The Spanish, in my experience, have enormous stocks of pretty foul old barrels which have no effect on wine put inside them except to oxidise it. For this reason, when buying cheaper Spanish reds, it is better to go for the 'sin crianza' rather than the cheap reservas. This example) at £4.49, has a good ruby colour and lovely Spanish fruit taste. It is ready for drinking now. I should be surprised if it improved. Finally at £4.70, a classic Australian Shiraz(6). This wine has only 10 per cent cabernet sauvignon, and all the character- istics of a ripe, heavyweight shiraz, with massive, plummy blackcurrants on the nose waiting to break out into the taste in a year or so. It can perfectly well be drunk now, but would repay keeping for a year or two or even longer. It is a thoroughly high-class wine, and Englishmen who are unprepared to take these Australian wines seriously will find themselves with no mature red wine to drink in a few years' time. At £4.70 it is a snip, but prices are catching up — Grange retails at £28 the bottle now, and the Australians are out- bidding us. Those who don't make the grand existential decision to lay down Australian reds now will be cursing them- selves before long.

The mixed case works out, as I say, at £4.47 the bottle, making it a nice, cheap offer this time.