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The Independent Culture
I hope you are reading this over cafe creme and croissants at some bar/tabac in the Dordogne, or espresso and panini in a Sienese cafe. Now is the time to be on holiday, preferably in a place that boasts at least one local drink of distinction. I'll be in California myself, where I hope to investigate rumours that it's a state that produces a certain amount of wine.

On the other hand, if you're currently abroad then you are away from the annual ritual of the summer wine sales. The wine trade's yearly cycle calls for a clearance of shelf space in the long run-up to Christmas, and one way of clearing space is to slash prices. That means good bargains are in store, and you'd do well to take advantage.

There are usually reductions the whole length of the list, from top to bottom. But I think this is a time to trade up slightly, spending more on wine of superior class. The best bargains often congregate in the upper echelons, and what the hell: you can console yourself for not being abroad by splashing out on something really special.

The independents make most of the running here, and the annual sale at Lay & Wheeler in Colchester (01206 764446) has several enticing prospects. One that catches my eye is the Bourgogne Blanc, Les Forgets 1994 made by Patrick Javillier. M Javillier makes top-flight Meursault, and this wine comes from land just outside the appellation area. Reduced from pounds 10.75 to pounds 8.75, it gives you the opportunity to sample the taste of true white Burgundy at a reasonable price. Also from Burgundy come two wines from Jean-Jacques Vincent, the king of Pouilly-Fuisse. Twelve cases of his St Veran 1994 are on offer at pounds 7.95 (new vintage arriving shortly), and better still is a Jean-Jacques Vincent Pouilly-Fuisse: Chateau-Fuisse, Les Combettes 1994. This one is reduced from pounds 17.95 to pounds 14.95, and while that's not a painless price it's a very good one for wine of this eminence. Lay & Wheeler recommend stashing it away for a bit, till 1999, and that's just what I would do with it.

Another indie that takes its sales seriously is my local, Bibendum. The sale list sprawls over five pages, and covers everything from Vin de Pays to clarets of great age and grandeur. The fun started a few weeks ago, so some tasty items will be gone by now. That probably includes their wonderful "Lucky Dip" cases, pounds 50 for twelve bottles chosen by them and worth much more than the selling price. I'll ask you to decide whether you can afford Chateau Leoville-Barton 1982, reduced from pounds 70 to pounds 58.75; it probably doesn't matter, because they only had one bottle anyway. But you can certainly afford halves of La Serre Chardonnay 1995, pounds 1.75 from pounds 2.50 for an ever-reliable Vin de Pays d'Oc. Or a terrifically juicy St Chinian Mas de Berre 1994, pounds 3.99 from pounds 5.25. And if you're feeling expansive, how about magnums of Pommery NV at pounds 28 from pounds 38?

Independents aren't the only summer salers, however. Marks and Spencer gets in on the act with a good dozen or so of its wines, and here the star must be their Jeunes Vignes 1995. Jeunes Vignes is a Chablis in all but name, made from the fruit of vines that haven't yet acquired the age to form part of the AC. Year after year it yields one of the best high street buys in white Burgundy, and in the sale it's down from pounds 5.99 to pounds 4.99. Almost as good as being in Burgundy ...