And the future is...

WINE: New Zealand will just about hang on to number one spot for the most expensive average bottle price thanks to its ability to create silk purses from under-ripe sauvignon Illustration by Spike Gerrell
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The Independent Culture
Peering into 1996, the crystal ball looks alarmingly like a snowstorm. Last year's rain in Italy and Germany and drought in Spain were matched by equally varied fortunes in the New World. All part of a conspiracy by France, of course, which could still lose it all in the face of a strong franc and the Chirac feelbad factor.

Bordeaux, itching for cash flow, is being talked up as the best vintage since 1990, and pent-up demand for top clarets will unleash the bandwagon in April. But it is wishful thinking to imagine Bordeaux will come unstuck with the inevitable swingeing price hike. A few British feathers may be ruffled, but there will be plenty of takers for Bordeaux elsewhere.

Pockets of excellence notwithstanding, the drift away from appellation controlee as any guarantee of quality will continue. At the price-fighting level, the Languedoc- Roussillon, with its good value varietals, vins de pays and spicy blends, is best equipped to combat the New World. And it's in motoring distance.

The first of the1990 vintage champagnes will start trickling on to the market next year. If the feeling is borne out that they are the best of the trio of vintages beginning with 1988 and 1989, expect 1990 to be heralded as the ultimate millennium champagne.

Ports and fortified wines: 1994 is odds-on for a universal vintage declaration by all the major port shippers in the spring. Duty on all fortified wines was cut by 12 pence a bottle on Monday. Sherry had an extra boost, too, when the fraudulent terms "British Sherry" and "Cyprus Sherry" were consigned to the sherry-butt of history. The term "sherry" will only apply to the genuine fortified wines of Jerez in Spain.

Eastern Europe: flying winemaker wizardry will keep Eastern Europe in the frame as an improving source of cheap supermarket reds and whites. Harvest problems in Bulgaria look set to make this Hungary's year, particularly for good value dry white wines.

New World: Australia will lose ground to Chile and South Africa at under a fiver - at least until Oz's anticipated record 1996 vintage. After a wet 1995, New Zealand will just about hang on to number one spot for the most expensive average bottle price thanks to its ability to create silk purses from under-ripe sauvignon. The under-pounds 5 New World vacuum will be filled by Chile and its image as a source of unbeatable value wines will continue to shift from its fruity reds to its aromatic sauvignon blancs and crisp chardonnays.

South Africa: whether the Mandela effect can be sustained depends more on supply than demand. Holding its own in the lower ranks of the under- pounds 5 brigade, South Africa's problem is a gap in the mid-price range, not to mention delusions of grandeur from treble-digit growth and sales of two million cases in 1995. If 1995 dries up before 1996 comes on stream, there could be a slip or two between cup and lip.

The new buzzword? Unfiltered, as seen on the label of the fine new 1995 Chilean Concha y Toro Syrah and 1994 Santa Rita Reserva Merlot, pounds 4.99 at Oddbins. Unfiltered is all part of the move towards more natural wines and will increasingly be used as a marketing tool.

The unseemly supermarket battle for the pounds 1.99 loss leader will continue, but do not expect any improvement in quality at that level. Even at pounds 2.99, there will only be a handful of exceptional bottles. Value for money in 1996 will be the pounds 3-5 range. That's where my money - and my mouth - will be