by Tim Atkin

The Perfect Dozen

If you gave up booze for a month on 1 January, as several of my friends did, you may have reached the point, two weeks later, when you’ve locked away the corkscrew and are deliberately avoiding supermarket wine aisles. I’ve never been one for abstinence myself. Unless you take the Mark Twain approach — "Giving up smoking is easy: I’ve done it hundreds of times" — cutting down is easier than cold turkey.

That’s why I was intrigued by an email from Observer reader Nick Armstrong. To improve his health (and presumably bank balance), he’s chosen to limit himself to one bottle a month in 2010, rather than give up wine altogether. As a white-wine drinker, he’s asked me to recommend 11 whites and a solitary red. Nick, rather you than me, my friend, but here goes.

If you’ve only got one bottle of wine to look forward to each month, it had better be special. We’re not quite in last-meal-on-earth territory here, but not far off. Nick has given me a budget of £240 for 12 bottles, so he doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who usually drinks JP Chenet, Banrock Station or Kumala Zenith. All the same, I’m determined to find him a case for less than £175.

I’ve chosen to build my recommendations around three grape varieties — Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. I couldn’t do without this trio for long and I hope Nick agrees. To add to the enjoyment, I’ve picked contrasting examples from the New and Old Worlds, making six wines in all. The combinations are France and New Zealand, France (again) and Chile, and Germany and Australia.

The Sauvignons are the crisp, refined 2008 Pouilly-Fumé, Domaine Raimbault-Pineau, Cuvée Cassandra (£13.49, 13%, Laithwaites, and the fuller, fruitier 2008 Vavasour Sauvignon Blanc, Awatere Valley (£9.99, 13%, Majestic). The Chardonnays are the complex, lightly oaked 2007 Marks & Spencer Saint-Romain (£10.99, 13%, selected branches of M&S) and the broader, toastier 2007 Carmen Winemaker’s Reserve, Casablanca Valley (£9.99, or £7.99 each for two Chilean wines, 14%, Majestic). The Rieslings are the grapey, refreshing, off-dry 2008 Dr Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett, Mosel (£12.49, 7.35%, Waitrose), and the mature, honeyed 2003 Peter Lehmann Wigan, Eden Valley (£16.99, 11%, Oddbins).

If he’s anything like me, Nick is going to need more variety than that in 2010, so I’d recommend a bottle of each of the following, less well-known wines from Italy, Spain, South Africa and Australia, respectively. The 2008 Fina Vini Grillo, Sicily (£8.99, 13.5%, Sainsbury’s) has notes of green olive and fresh pear, the tangy 2008 Brigantia Albariño, Rías Baixas (£9.99, 12.6%, Waitrose) is ideal aperitif material, the appley 2008 Morgenhof Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch (£10.99, 13.5%, Waitrose) is creamy, spicy and lightly oaked, while the unoaked, citrus-fresh 2006 Tesco Finest Denman Vineyard Semillon, Hunter Valley (£7.99, reduced to £5.99 until 2 February, 10.5%) shows you how well Semillon from New South Wales develops in bottle.

By November, I reckon Nick will be desperate for a glass of red. Given his preference for white wines, I’d guide him towards a lighter, low-tannin red made from Pinot Noir. The 2008 Ten Minutes By Tractor X Range Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula (£19.99, 14.5%, Oddbins; is one of my favourite Aussie Pinots: floral, full-bodied, yet elegant, with lovely red-fruit flavours.

Anyone who has survived on one bottle a month for a year will be entitled to celebrate. So how about a bottle of the all-Chardonnay Champagne Lilbert Blanc de Blancs NV Brut Perlé (£31.92, 11%, Vine Trail, 0117 921 1770), a finely crafted, focused fizz at the dry end of the spectrum for December? Nick, I hope you enjoy the wines I’ve chosen for you, all £163.81 of them. I have enormous admiration for your determination and restraint, but please don’t be so hard on yourself in 2011

Originally published in The Observer

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