Beverage Report: They grate with me

Supermarket bargains, a new range of drinks for cannibals, and the best of viticultural websites
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The Independent Culture
FEELING the post-Christmas pinch like me? Then walk to Somerfield and grab a few bottles of its own-label Terrale Primitivo 1996, Puglia, on special offer at pounds 2.99 from pounds 3.99. With its pungent, gamey fruit and ample but not frightening tannins, this must be one of the best-value reds in the country.

One of the best-value whites, though in a different league, is the same company's Hautes Cotes de Beaune Blanc, Cottin Freres (Somerfield, pounds 4.49 from pounds 6.99). It's a funny thing with white Burgundy: at the full price you wouldn't quite trust it, because wines from this area do not exactly come cheap. And I'm not entirely sure I would recommend it at full price. At the sale price, however, you'd be hard-pressed to find one that has this extra dimension of flinty, mineral-ly substance. A wine that reminds you there's more to Chardonnay than fruit and oak.

Not on promotion but one of the company's nicest reds, it is hard to imagine anyone not warming to Trincadeira Preta 1997, Estremadura, another of the enterprising and talented Bright Brothers' Portuguese productions. At pounds 4.99, the aromatic fruit here is gulpably delicious, and perfect stuff for the meaty casseroles you're likely to be eating now.

Sainsbury's, too, is in a cost-cutting mood, with various bottles down in price at various points in the month, and the two that catch my eye are New World Chardonnays from Australia and Chile. First off: Sainsbury's Classic Selection Australian Chardonnay 1997, made by BRL Hardy. Down from pounds 6.49 to pounds 5.49, and worth every penny for its generous toast, oak and soft buttery citrus flavours. Second: Santa Carolina Chardonnay 1998, reduced to pounds 3.49 from pounds 4.49. This is but a bantamweight among Chardonnays, but a very enjoyable bantamweight, and oaked with an appealingly light hand. Both sale prices apply from today until the 30th of January.

Elsewhere on the cheap-and-cheerful front, a new initiative from Morrisons makes me wonder whether supermarkets occasionally just like to make life more enjoyable for wine writers. Modelling itself, no doubt, on the Tesco "Great With ... " series, Morrisons has created a set of wines suitable for cannibals. At least that's what I thought when I saw the labels: Ideal With Friends, they announce. It was slightly disappointing to realise that they meant Ideal to Serve to Friends, rather than to drink when you eat them for dinner. Oh well. There's a serviceable Merlot Vin de Pays d'Oc, a very pleasant Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from the excellent Nezsmely winery in Hungary, and a Pfalz Riesling.

All cost pounds 3.49. All, at that price, are worth having. But I resent the implication that one should serve cheap stuff to friends. What are we supposed to do with the really good wine? Serve it only to Cabinet Ministers? The subtext here is: "Your guests don't deserve anything better." I await the next initiative: "Cheap Enough for the In-Laws." Or, for more up-scale launches: "Too Good for Your Friends."

And finally ... the Webbing of wine continues. New sites open all the time, older ones improve their offerings, and even such deeply old-fashioned outfits as Graham's Port have their own pages (www.grahams-port.com). Some of the new entrants have their work cut out for them, including the Rare Wine Cellar (www.rarewine.co.uk). So it's meant for people with deep pockets, granted, but how deep do pockets have to be to shell out pounds 21 for a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1997? If you're after the precious stuff, you'd be much better off visiting (or revisiting) www.berry- bros.co.uk, which has added an advice service to its stock listings and invaluable vintage charts.

Now, as ever, my favourite site remains www.wine-pages. com, run by Tom Cannavan of the University of Glasgow. His on-line wine course, based on the one he teaches in the evenings, is useful and enjoyable. So are the links to other sites and UK wine merchant listings. If all sites were this good, we'd spend more time surfing than drinking. Which is probably more expensive, but almost as much fun.

If you're inclined to sip while you surf, here's a proposition for you. Plan on bedding down with the PC or Mac after dinner, with which you should drink a bottle of Chateau de Lascaux Rouge Classique 1996, Coteaux du Languedoc (pounds 5.95, Lea & Sandeman, 0171 376 4767). This Syrah/Grenache blend, warm, well-spiced and sweet, is a perfect winter wine. Great with game, red meat, tomato-sauced pasta or mouse (the digital kind, not the rodent). Save a glass for quenching that on-line thirst.

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