Food and Drink: Great news! The champagne won't run out

Wines of the Month

AS END of the year celebrations loom, champagne will be increasingly on minds and tongues. The action will start to hot up as the summer ends with a variety of sizzling deals on cases prices, large sizes and special millennium bottlings. Already, this month, the Co-op, in true champagne- socialist tradition, has once again snaffled a parcel of a Grande Marque champagne and lopped a fiver off each bottle.

What champagne won't do, despite the hype, is run out. We aim to take a look in early autumn at where the best deals will be as well as the best Champagnes for millennium celebrations - and beyond.

Meanwhile, at a Millennium Champagne tasting in Stockholm, of 150 different fizzes sampled by eight international judges (not including your own critic), the 1959 Billecart Salmon Champagne Cuvee Nicolas-Francois Billecart was voted Champagne of the Millennium. Regrettably, there is none for sale.

WHITES

Piper Heidsieck Champagne Brut, pounds 13.99, selected Co-op stores (from Monday 5 July).

The Co-op has slashed prices on Moet & Chandon and Lanson Champagnes in the past by acquiring them through the "grey market", once again they are doing their Robin Hood act, this time by selling Piper Heidsieck at the reduced price of pounds 13.99 (it's normally pounds 18.99) until the end of July or as long as stocks last.

Not a bad deal for this increasingly popular, attractively fruit-led blend of 60 per cent Pinot Noir, 40 per cent Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

1998 DR L Riesling, pounds 4.99, Waitrose.

From Ernie Loosen in the Mosel, this is a bantam-weight, summery off- dry white with a floral fragrance of sweet pea and almond, a refreshing spritz on the tongue and the mouth-watering sweet-and sour-bite of a Cox's apple. Normally pounds 5.99, Waitrose are lopping pounds 1 off in July.

1998 Sancerre Clos du Roy, Paul Millerioux, pounds 7.49 (buy 2 and save pounds 1), Majestic.

If New World Sauvignon Blanc emphasises fruit opulence, France's best examples put the accent on the minerally, flinty characters of the grape variety in its natural habitat of the eastern Loire Valley.

This is classic Sancerre, stony, aromatic and full-flavoured with a cut- grass edge and grapefruity zest.

1998 Polish Hill River Riesling, Clare Valley, pounds 7.99, Safeway.

Some of the best dry Rieslings come not from Germany but from Alsace, and its New World counterpart, Australia's Clare Valley north of Adelaide. This is a good example of the style: rich, dry and full-bodied at the same time, with a delicate lemon and lime-zest perfume and citrus-like flavours. A white to drink with smoked fish, like eel, salmon or trout.

RED AND ROSe

1999 Fairview Dry Rose, pounds 3.99, Asda.

Cape entrepreneur Charles Back is as successful at making goat's cheese as excellent value wines. This is an attractive dry rose made from bleeding the skins of the Cinsaut, Cabernet Franc and Gamay grapes to produce a juicy, strawberry and loganberry fruity wine. Think pink and wish for summery weather.

1997 Santa Ines Legado de Armida Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, pounds 5.99, Tesco.

With its fresh, raw meaty aromas, this is a ripe succulent, ultra-blackcurranty Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon with smooth fruit and a shade of vanilla oakiness. If you thought Legado de Armida was Spanish for arm and a leg, it's time for Spanish lessons.

1995 Rutini Merlot, La Rural, Mendoza, pounds 6.99, Wine Cellar shops.

Made by Argentinian winemaker, Mariano di Paola, the Rutini range from the La Rural winery is both highly priced and highly prized in smart Buenos Aires restaurants.

Rutini Merlot is a sumptuous Pomerol-style red, with a promising cedary bouquet and a character which combines voluptuous cassis fruitiness with unobtrusively classy oak and succulently sweet tannins. For a memorable combination, try it with slow-cooked roast lamb with rosemary, anchovy and garlic.

1994 Conde de Valdemar Rioja Reserva, pounds 7.99, Thresher, Bottoms Up, Wine Rack.

If you haven't already cottoned on, 1994 and 1995 were two of the best back-to-back vintages in Rioja for a decade or more.

The quality of the former vintage shows in this classy reserva from Martinez Bujanda, with typical liquorice and aniseed undertones and oodles of herby, strawberry fruit richness.

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