Eating & Drinking: Get a lot of bottle

In the second part of his roundup of wines for Christmas, Richard Ehrlich selects three bottles that will see you through lunch, from aperitifs to dessert wines. All you need to do is pick up the telephone or head down to your local supplier
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The Independent Culture
ROLL UP, roll up, for part 2 of the "buying by number" survey, a set of wines from assorted retailers designed to see you through the Christmas meal. The wines from each dealer: a sherry, white wine or Champagne as an aperitif, a red wine to accompany the turkey or goose, and lastly, a pudding or after dinner wine. The categories: budget (maximum around pounds 25) and top-end (maximum around pounds 35). Three major chains take up most of the space, with a brief look at three independents in conclusion. All you need to do is locate your nearest and dearest wine-emporium, and head off shopping, whether by phone or traffic jam.

SAINSBURY'S

Budget To start with, please note Sainsbury's offer of a 20 per cent discount on all Champagnes. Canard-Duchene NV (pounds 16.49), Charles Heidsieck Mis en Cave 1995 (pounds 23.49) and Dom Perignon 1990 (pounds 64.99, cheapest in the land) strike me as particularly good value when the discount kicks in.

Back on budget terra firma, lovers of Sauvignon Blanc will be charmed and delighted by Sancerre 1998, Domaine de la Perriere (pounds 8.49, 180 stores), a generous and penetratingly crisp example. For the main course, hop on the plane to Chile for Valdivieso Malbec 1998 (pounds 4.99), from a largely infallible bodega. This is incredibly rich for such a low-priced wine, with slinky tannins counterbalancing deliciously plummy fruit with hints of chocolate. Then back to the Loire for the honeyed, well-balanced Les Bruandieres Coteaux du Layon Saint-Aubin 1997 (pounds 8.49). This busts the budget by a small margin, but I don't mind doing it for such a lovely bottle.

Top-end Staying again with Sancerre, there's much to be gained from splashing out on Le MD de Bourgeois 1998 (pounds 11.99), from one of the area's stars. This is a powerhouse of a Sancerre, big on the nose and long on the finish, but restrained and elegant for all its fullness. With the turkey you'll get a lot out of The Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 (pounds 7.99) from Peter Lehmann, with its succulent flavours of blackcurrant and gentle tannins. To finish, you can't do much better than that Coteaux du Layon Saint-Aubin 1997 that the budget department are drinking (see above).

WAITROSE

Budget As a cheap aperitif I would look no further than Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi 1998, Moncaro (pounds 4.79), an organic vision of loveliness with nutty, almost biscuity fruit and bracing acidity. With such a cheap starter you can move on to the hefty, spicy Fairview Cyril Back Reserve Shiraz 1997 (pounds 7.49), from one of South Africa's most consistent producers. To round things off, try Waitrose's own label Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (pounds 4.99/37.5cl), a sound specimen from the Beaumes-de-Venise co-op.

Top-end Waitrose has more to offer in this category than any other supermarket, but since a choice must be made, I'd spend the lion's share of the budget on a really exceptional Sancerre Reserve 1998 from Alphonse Mellot (pounds 14.95). There's oak in the equation here, adding richness and complexity. A fantastic wine, leading easily into the sweetly peppery berry fruits of Saint-Joseph 1996, Cave de Saint Desirat (pounds 8.99). To finish, a half of Gonzalez Byass Matusalem Oloroso Muy Viejo (pounds 10.99) is sticky, deep and almost impenetrably complex. One of my favourite sweet wines.

FULLER'S

Champagne alert: Fuller's has two choice offerings. The budget option is their consistently impressive Brossault Brut NV (pounds 13.99), with its fine yeasty character and dried-fruit flavours. Top-end choice is one of the bargains of the year: Joseph Perrier 1990, featured here a few weeks ago. Buy two bottles and the price comes down from pounds 24.99 to pounds 19.99, which is far too little to pay for such richly creamy maturity.

Budget I'd start with that Brossault, which still leaves plenty to spend on A-Mano Primitivo 1997 (pounds 4.99). This Pugliese pleasure-chest is inky and juicy, lightly oaked - a very pure expression of the grape. A star buy for the season. And you can then finish with a half of Muscat de Rivesaltes, Domaine de Brial 1997 (pounds 3.99), one of the best examples of this unreliable appellation.

Top-end If you don't begin with Champagne, consider buying a pair of Chardonnays for comparing and contrasting: Huia Chardonnay 1997, Marlborough (pounds 8.95) and Macon Chantre Vieilles Vignes 1997 (pounds 9.99). The former is crisp and zingy, the latter, rich and buttery. Excellent wines, both. Then move on to the big, bountiful Chateau de L'Euziere Cuvee des Escarboucles 1997, Pic St Loup (pounds 7.99), with its spicy edge and easy-drinking red fruits. To finish, Coteaux du Layon 1996, Domaine des Forges (pounds 8.99) is a well- layered wine with lots of honeyed fruit flavours and fine acidity.

To conclude, snippets from three independents:

MORRIS & VERDIN

(0207 357 8866)

They've presented me with just one list, which begins with Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 1997, Selbach-Oster (pounds 9.20): a classic Mosel Riesling of remarkable fragrance and minerality. Carry on with Cotes du Roussillon "Les Terrasses" 1997, Domaine des Schistes (pounds 8.20), laden with oak-smoke, blackberries and an amazing bloom of fresh herbs - thyme, fennel, you name it. It is truly wonderful. To finish, go for one of their "Almacenista" sherries, Moscatel "San Emilio", Emilio Lustau (pounds 12.00). Stewed raisins, prunes and spices, and an endlessly lingering finish - a lot like Christmas pudding, but better. NB: this wine is included in Morris & Verdin's mixed sherry case - my Christmas present of choice at pounds 42 for six half-bottles.

ADNAMS

(01502 727222)

The pride of East Anglia proposed two lists, and my selection comes in not far over the budget limit. It begins with an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc, Menetou-Salon Clos des Blanchais 1998, Henry Pelle (pounds 8.95), and moves on to the Pinot Noir 1997 from Martinborough Vineyard in New Zealand, chockablock with ripe, smoky, cherry flavours. To conclude, a voluptuously grapey Moscato d'Asti 1998 (pounds 9.95) from Giuseppe Rivetti in Piemonte. These lightly-sparkled sweeties would be far more popular if there were more of them around.

BIBENDUM

(020 7916 7706)

London's mail order moguls propose an all-South American Christmas lineup, from star producers such as Catena (Argentina) and Valdivieso in Chile. Picking and choosing, I would begin with Catena's Alamos Ridge Chardonnay 1997 (around pounds 5.99, also available from Sainsbury's and Safeway), a fine medium-weight Chardonnay now drinking well. I'd then move to Valdivieso's Caballo Loco No. 3 (pounds 12.99, also from Tesco, Waitrose, Wine Rack, Fuller's and Thresher), one of the best blends produced in Chile (and heading for big price increases). To finish, I'd leave South America for the exemplary Niepoort 10-Year- Old Tawny Port (around pounds 14), from one of the great names in the Douro.

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