PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 April, 2004, 12:00am


Woodstock 2003, $130

A century ago, the small, hard and sweet verdelho grape was renowned for being the raw material for Madeira, a sweet Portuguese wine famed as the wine

of romance. The Spanish used the grape as the basis for the sharp, tart whites of Castillo. But recently this hardy grape has flourished in Australia, where it is

used to make wines of dazzling diversity. As with

many vines from the Old World, when planted deep

in Australian soil the verdelho seems markedly different. This is lighter than most wines, blended

with 14 per cent riesling grown in the cool climate of

the Limestone Coast on the edge of South Australia.

It has a delightful, lively and clean finish. Prominent Bangkok-based Australian wine guru Darren Galle recommends verdelho with spicy foods. Taking his

word for it, I opened a bottle at a Thai restaurant and found he was right.

Kedington Wines (tel: 2898 9323)

Hope Estate 2002, $146

Many verdelhos can pack a punch in terms of flavour if not in alcohol content and they tend to go well with heartier seafoods such as deep-fried squid with chilli. This winery in the Hunter Valley insists on making wine from grapes grown only in its own vineyards to ensure quality control. This version has a light taste and a hint of lime and lemon. There is also a suggestion of herbs on the palate, which gives an enticing depth to the flavour.

Boutique Wines (tel: 2872 4234)

Chapel Hill 2003, $138

When I heard Watson's had Chapel Hill verdelho, I scampered down to snap up six bottles. Once again, you get that strong lime character but this is a bit rounder, with some peachy overtones. Well balanced with adequate acidity, the wine slipped down well with barbecued chicken basted in olive oil and paprika. These grapes were planted in 1987 at Kangarilla in the McLaren Vale of South Australia. It was a decade before the wine-maker decided they were mature enough to make his first verdelho vintage. As the vines grow older the wines produced will be superb. As it is, they make for excellent drinking.

Watson's (tel: 2147 3641)