16 FEBRUARY 1991, Page 42


Wise and foolish virgins

Auberon Waugh

In a recession, the foolish virgins buy cheaper wine than usual and cause them- selves endless pain and misery. Once you have grown accustomed to decent wine, you can't go back to plonk. Wise virgins face a recession by continuing to buy good wine, but demanding vast price reductions until they are drinking the same wine for what is practically the price of plonk. If I were still capable of blushing, I would blush to think of the huge discounts we have been allowed on this choice from Majestic's huge range of delicious wines. I will give only one example. Majestic's normal case price for the first wine, the Highgate Sauvignon 1989 from California, is £39.48 (£3.29 a bottle). We have it for £32.28 (£2.69 a bottle) including delivery — a reduction of over 18 per cent. It is quite normal for wine merchants to offer reductions of this sort when clearing stocks, but these are wines which we have chosen.

The Highgate Sauvignon from California(', which the panel tasted against one from New Zealand and a famously good one from Bergerac, came out on top in both quality and value. A lively example, quite crisp at the sweeter end of a very dry spectrum, it makes easy drinking and a brilliant aperitif at £2.69. When tasted it had a slight fizz which did it no harm whatever.

Brown Bros Dry Muscat(2) from Victoria is making its second appearance in a Spectator offer after being a colossal suc- cess first time round. It remains the ordin- ary white wine served in the Beak Street Academy, whose members manage to get through five cases a week. They go for its lemony nose and rich spicy taste, unlike any other grape variety and quite unlike either the sweet muscat, with which we are all familiar or the dry muscat from Alsace, which some will have tried. I was pleased that it jumped out at this tasting, too. What makes it exceptional, I think, is the sheer fulness of flavour at a price (£4.49) where you expect one-dimensional taste.

Last of the whites, a 1990 chardonnay from Rothbury's Brokenback vineyard in Hunter Valley(3) — part of Len Evans's empire. Len never puts a foot wrong. It is an attractive wine, still at the apple end of the chardonnay spectrum, but very ripe and summery apples — luscious, perfumed and ready to drink. It works out at £4.72 the bottle, and to find chardonnay of this quality at under £5 is little short of a miracle. Long live the great recession. Now for the reds. Château Meaume(4) is an old favourite. The 1987 is fruitier and more forward than the 1988, which is still rather closed and tannic, and in any case £9 more expensive. I was particularly pleased that the panel applauded this wine, as it was the one I chose from all the wines of the world for my elder son's wedding in November. The French guests greeted it ecstatically — all the more impressive, because the chateau, which ranks an appellation only of Bordeaux Superieur, but is really very superior, is English- owned. If I had to describe its particular quality beyond that of being a fresh, well-made claret with good fruit and clean after-taste I might suggest that its goat de terroir was slightly touched by the scent of sweet silage, which cows enjoy so much as part of their winter feed. But that might not recommend to everyone what is a thoroughly sound Bordeaux of much high- er class than you can easily find for £4.04.

At exactly the same price of £4.04 comes another old friend from Wyndham in South Australia. The Wyndham Bin 555 Shiraz 19880) has a wonderfully spicy nose, with the slight touch of vanilla which the best young shiraz imparts. It is less farouche and colonial than many exam- ples, with great elegance and reticence in its finish. I suspect I am the only househol- der in England with a serious policy of laying down Australian reds, but I feel this wine, which is still quite tannic, would profit from keeping. It is a big, gutsy wine, with its rich sweet fruit, which could be drunk now with a joint of beef and roast potatoes. It is a winter wine, whereas the Château Meaume can be drunk throughout the year with perfect decorum, perhaps even better in the summer.

Finally, a pinot noir from Oregon(6). I have been searching the world for burgundy-substitutes, but it is no good pretending that a price of £8.09 puts this wine off to a tremendous start, however much reduced. I remember liking it at the time, and being pleased when the panel chose it, but my tasting notes are some- what exiguous ('nose: sweet pinot, alcohol; palate: rich, sweet, good finish') and I am sorry to say I have forgotten its special qualities. Perhaps I was also influenced by Majestic's £14.40 discount. Anyway, we all agreed it was a thoroughly good wine and there it is. Unfortunately, it brings the cost of the mixed case up to £56.14, or £4.68 the bottle, but it would be £66 or £5.50 the bottle without the recession so let us make hay while we can.