EATING OUT: CHEAP AND CHEERSFUL

RICHARD EHRLICH'S BEVERAGE REPORT: The summer sales have hit the mail-order lists, and the results are superb
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The Independent Culture
ONE OF THE many nice things about summer mail-order wine sales is that you don't have to camp out overnight to be first in the queue. But you do need to be quick off the mark: some sales started a week ago, so swift and energetic dialling is the order of the day. Here, in order of their appearance in the pile of bumf threatening to tumble off my desk, is a selection from the seasonal listings of my four favourite mail-order moguls.

Not a sale exactly, but Tanners (01743 234 500) has a particularly attractive set of monthly "dozens", something it does all year round - themed cases, with the contents selling for 7 to 8 per cent less than they would cost individually. I'm especially drawn to their 1995 Claret case, pounds 83.25, which includes that year's vintage of Chateau La Sabliere, Saint-Emilion (I raved about its 1990 incarnation in these pages some weeks ago). For something more explicitly summery, the Sauvignon Dozen (pounds 73.50, all 1997 vintage) includes an old New Zealand friend, Jackson Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, with fullness and crispness in happy equilibrium.

Finally from Tanners, an offer which really is a sale. To celebrate a change of supplier for its always-reliable own-label Champagne, Tanners is offering the stuff - light, well-balanced, perfect for summer drinking - at pounds 72 (free delivery) for six bottles. That, friends, is a bargain.

Toss Tanners aside and next on my pile is Lay & Wheeler (01206 764 446), a name that appeared in these pages last week. Some of the best wines I've tasted from L&W are in the sale list, including such reasonably priced 1995 clarets as Chateau Mazeris- Bellevue, Canon-Fronsac (pounds 6.85) and Chateau La Croix des Moines, Lalande de Pomerol (pounds 7.45). Both prices represent reductions of around 15 per cent. There's also a long stretch of Burgundies, red and white, a good slew of Alsation treasures from the great Albert Mann, and a fantastic Penedes, Negre Seleccio 1994, Can Feixes (pounds 6.95 from pounds 8.37), a fine, mod-style Cabernet Sauvignon/ Tempranillo blend. But really, just about every line of the list reads well. And while you're reading, don't ignore the mixed cases for summer.

OK, lay aside Lay & Wheeler and it's the turn of Bibendum (0171 916 7070). Quantities of some sale items are depressingly low, including just a pair of bottles of a glorious Californian called Caviste Chardonnay 1996, Acacia Winery. This unoaked beauty is - or was - a supreme bargain at pounds 6.99 from pounds 8.79. It keeps as well as some of the Premier Cru Chablis of my acquaintance (I am hoarding my last bottle of the 1994), and will repay study when there is a new vintage. In the meantime, there are larger quantities of some of the Chilean Valdivieso wines (which Bibendum imports), including the Reserva Cabernet Franc 1996 (pounds 6.95 from pounds 8.99), and loads of good Burgundies and clarets. If you want to see what Chateau Ausone 1982 tastes like in magnum, they have a case of them for pounds 299 from pounds 362 (that's per magnum, remember). If you want to see how good the basic level of port can be, buy Niepoort Ruby NV for pounds 5.75 (down from pounds 7.50). This wine can give some LBVs a run for their money.

Finally ... to the bottom of the pile for the most enjoyable sale of all - as long as you are blessed with a spirit of adventure. Adnams (01502 727 222) is concentrating its efforts on a group of "Bin End Mystery Case" offerings. You buy by type, "principally white" or "principally red", and at four price levels, starting at pounds 40 for six bottles and going up to a full dozen for pounds 95. The contents of the case you'll be getting are revealed only when you take delivery and slice through the tape. Adnams reports that last year's sale was a huge success; don't delay if you want to play.

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