GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: tastings open the eyes and the palate

PUBLISHED: 16:29 29 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 07 September 2010

Readers with good memories will recall I made a promise before Christmas, but failed to keep it. The reason? There simply wasn t space. So this column and its continuation next week will make amends – and, I hope, provide some very pleasant suggestions fo

Readers with good memories will recall I made a promise before Christmas, but failed to keep it. The reason? There simply wasn't space. So this column and its continuation next week will make amends - and, I hope, provide some very pleasant suggestions for drinking through January and beyond.

Both are about the wines I chose for the big consumer tasting I run every December. As I said when I previewed some of the possibilities, the tasting's aim is to open eyes - and palates - beyond usual "safe" choices.

Beforehand, as always, I was heart-in-mouth wondering if the evening would be a success. It was - to the extent that people who were there keep coming up to me and saying how many bottles they've bought as a result of it.

So I'm happy to share the choices here. Even breaking the column into two parts, there isn't space to include all my notes about each wine (an aperitif, two whites, three reds and a stickie to finish with), nor to list all the possible alternatives I suggested, but I've fitted in what I hope will be most useful.

We started with fizz, always a good way to break down initial self-consciousness. Santa Julia Organica sparkling chardonnay 2007, Argentina (Oddbins, £9) is made just like champagne, with organic grapes, by one of Argentina's best and best-known producers, Alberto Zuccardi. Crisp and fresh, it has plenty of style for the price.

As an alternative, think of French cremants - de la Loire, de Bourgogne, d'Alsace are the most common. Good too are Blanquette de Limoux and sparkling Saumur. Waitrose has Limoux (Cuvee Royale, £8.50) and Bourgogne (Cave de Lugny, £7.20 until January 27); Majestic offers Loire (Langlois, £12, £8 for two or more) and Saumur (Bouvet-Ladubay, £10.50, £7 for two-plus). The Wine Society ( has plenty of cremants in the £8-£10 bracket.

The first white was Saint Mont 2007 (Marks & Spencer, £6, 10 per cent off any six bottles) from Gascogny. I have a very soft spot for south-western France and this wine comes from the enterprising, quality-driven co- operative, Producteurs Plaimont, which makes almost every bottle from the Saint Mont appellation. You're unlikely to know the grape varieties which go into it, notably arrufiac, petit courbu and gros manseng. But they're aromatic, interesting and produce a wine with lots of scents and flavours, dry but softened by natural fruit, good on its own or with a variety of food.

Others: The Wine Society sells another Plaimont white Saint Mont, Les Vignes Retrouvees, £6. Or try the dry whites from nearby Jurancon, made from gros and petit manseng, which have the same lovely aromatic qualities - again The Wine Society is a good source, with the very fine Domaine Cauhape, £12.

Next into the glasses was Trigone Blanc 2007, a vin de pays des Cotes Catalanes, in Roussillon. A ripe, long, yet mineral-crisp blend principally of maccabeu with a little vermentino and grenache blanc, this is from Gerard Gauby, the man who Jancis Robinson suggests could be France's greatest winemaker. How The Wine Society managed to sell it for £8, I don't know - in France it's as much as 14 euros. The 2007 is sold out, but there may still be some 2006 on offer at £6.50 - well worth trying.

It comes from a region where wonderful things are happening in wine production, and specifically from Domaine Le Soula, Gauby's new estate in the Fenouilledes hills, some of the highest vineyards in southern France. He works his vineyards biodynamically, uses natural yeasts, picks by hand - think of a good modern wine growing practice and he follows it.

Trigone is unique, so it's hard to suggest alternatives. Best bargain bet is another VDP des Cotes Catalanes from M&S - Les Orris Blanc (£6 instead of £8 until January 31), a collaboration between M&S winemakers and the co-operative at Calce, where Gauby also has vineyards.

Otherwise, Waitrose (top branches or Waitrose WineDirect) has the impressive Matassa Cuvee Marguerite, £18.50. Or there's a truly wonderful wine from Gauby's neighbour, Olivier Pithon, who names it after his favourite Jersey cow, Lais. Buy it (£17) from Les Caves de Pyrene,, which has a superb range of unusual French wines.

Next time, we'll pour the reds and end on a deliciously sweet note.

Liz Sagues

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