Food & Drink: Cross-channel wine-buyer's guide: Fine wines can be found over the water, but are you sure they're cheaper than at home? Kathryn McWhirter introduces a new book that will put you on the right track: this week in Calais, next week in Boulogne

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IF YOU are feeling rich and sybaritic next time you're passing through Dieppe on the way to the ferry, don't be tempted by the 1986 Chateau Lafite in Michel Pommier's shop. Chez Pommier it would cost you 870Fr ( pounds 103) a bottle. Oddbins' Fine Wine Shops in London and Edinburgh have it for pounds 55. Even for wine drinkers who stick prudently to bottles costing less than 35Fr ( pounds 4), it pays to do a bit of homework before loading your boot with cross- Channel bargains. Luckily Tom Stevenson has has done it all for us, in his new book The 1994 Cross-Channel Drinks Guide.

Comparing prices of precisely the same wines on both sides of the Channel, he concludes that you can find wines in France 49 per cent cheaper - or 113 per cent more expensive. On wines at pounds 20 a bottle and more, you're almost sure to make a whacking loss - the French have traditionally put a huge mark-up on smarter wines. But you should be able to save 30-35 per cent on wines up to 34Fr ( pounds 4), and 42 per cent on beer.

The Treasury, according to Stevenson, is losing pounds 1m a day in revenue in this trade, and it continues to grow. It's a measure of the tide that both Sainsbury's and Tesco are launching themselves on the French coast. Last week Sainsbury's opened a large wine and beer shop in the Mammouth shopping precinct near Calais, selling 250 of their own lines. Tesco has just signed up on a site in the huge new Cite de l'Europe shopping centre, due to open next March, by the French exit from the Tunnel.

To the British, used to good quality wine in our supermarkets, the French supermarkets with their often stunning food displays, cut-price wines and massive parkings look like an obvious and convenient place to find wine bargains. Wrong, says Stevenson. And I heartily agree, having scoured the top six supermarkets of Calais and Boulogne for inexpensive but drinkable bottles. Of the 15 supermarket chains Stevenson tasted his way through, 11 failed to come up with a single wine he could recommend. I had a slightly higher strike rate, and have a bit of a soft spot for the northern PG chain, where I found a number of tasty snips. Stevenson gives PG only hesitant approval. But on the whole he's right. French supermarkets buy on price, rarely on quality at the 50Fr-and-under end of the market, which is where the potential bargains lurk. Even if you're a wine buff you can be caught out - many French producers offload dregs on their supermarkets.

The range on offer in supermarkets is also limited. The northern French are nuts about red Bordeaux, and much heavier drinkers of red and rose than of white, and the shelves reflect their preferences. It's like the choice in an English supermarket 10 years ago and there is nothing from the New World. Here we give the names and addresses of Calais' super- and hypermarkets, but you will have to take a chance with their wines.

So where else? The French themselves buy either direct from the vineyards or from the supermarkets. There are a few specialist wine shops, slightly boosted in number around the Channel ports in the past year by a scattering of British merchants. This is where The Cross-Channel Drinks Guide is a godsend. Star of the Guide is without doubt The Grape Shop in Boulogne (see next week for details), which scoops the award for Best Cross-Channel Outlet of The Year, plus many of the mini-awards, such as 'best sparkling wine' or 'white wine snip of the year'. (The Grape Shop is due to open a second, much bigger shop later this month in association with Hoverspeed, right by the exit from the Seacat in Boulogne, where it promises an even bigger range including lots of Italian, Australian and Spanish wines).

And when you've found your bargains, don't feel stinted by the suggested limit of 120 bottles per person on the Customs Hall notices. It's not a law, just a Government guideline, and you're not obliged to declare even a million cases provided you can persuade Customs officers that it's all for your own use.

BAR A VINS

52 Place d'Armes, 62100 Calais,

tel: (010 33 21) 96 96 31

English spoken

Open: every day 9am-8pm, except Wed

Parking: plenty of room in the Place d'Armes

Payment: Sterling, traveller's cheques, Eurocheques, Visa, Access, Mastercard, American Express, Diners Card

Wine tasting in the store

WE HAVE nothing but praise and warm affection for this little venture run by Luc Gille, who was born in Provence and sells wine because he loves it. A sweet little shop that also operates as a bar and cafe, hence the name Bar a Vins. You can taste or even drink the wines before buying them, or you can just stop off for a cup

of coffee.

Not all the wines he submitted to us for tasting passed the test, but a good number did. The Chateau de Malbernat 1990 Pecharmant at 37Fr ( pounds 4.40) is an easy wine to enjoy from the best red wine area of Bergerac. Despite its youth, the wine shows a relatively mature, chocolatey fruit, but with enough supple tannin to hold it together for a couple more years yet. For a few francs less, the organically produced Domaine Barreau-la-Grave 1991 Bordeaux at 30Fr ( pounds 3.57), has surprisingly gentle fruit for a red Bordeaux, but is also held together by a supple tannin structure that seems to be a hallmark of many of Monsieur Gille's selections. We preferred it to the more expensive Majuscule Domaine Barreau-la-Grave. The Auxey-Duresses Cote de Beaune 1990 Bernard Fevre at 70Fr ( pounds 8.33) is a nice, gentle and stylish red Burgundy that needs a couple of years to plump out the fruit, whereas the Pommard 1991 Bernard Fevre has masses of fruit, but at 118Fr ( pounds 14.05) it is not cheap for a village Burgundy, although it does have class and will make a superb bottle when its oaky character has had time to subside. Not quite in the same class, but at 49.50Fr ( pounds 5.89) much more of a bargain, is the Bourgogne Mont-Avril 1990 Cote Chalonnaise, Michel Goubard, with its very pure Pinot fruit flavour. At 64Fr ( pounds 7.62), the Petit Chablis 1992 Daniel Gounot is hellishly expensive for such a lowly appellation, but the wine itself is exceptional value. It turned out to be one of the best white Burgundies tasted, which just goes to show that it can be profitable to pay a premium for some wines. The Tokay-Pinot Gris, Cuvee Prestige 1989 Vin d'Alsace from Gerard Metz at 51Fr ( pounds 6.07) is a big, rich and spicy dry white wine with oodles of fruit and flavour, everything Alsace Tokay should be. Although Champagne Poirot & Fils NV Brut Premier Cru is not what we would call true premier cru quality,

it has nice, mellow fruit with more than

a hint of mature biscuity character,

which makes this grower Champagne from Bergeres-les-Vertus exceptional value at 90Fr ( pounds 10.71).

BNB CASH & CARRY

24 Rue Madrid, 62100 Calais,

tel: (010 33 21) 34 41 78

Open: seven days a week, 9am-8pm

Parking: street parking only

Payment: Sterling, Eurocheque, Visa, Access, Mastercard

Wine tasting in store

BnB stands for Bernard and Beatrice, the two owners of this operation, which promotes cheapness of its lowest-priced beers and wines above all else. At 24.80Fr for a pack of 24 x 25cl, BnB's lowest-priced beer works out at 12p a bottle, which is the cheapest we could find, beating Calais Wine & Beer super-cheap Uberland Bier by 3p a bottle. BnB also pushes the fact that its wines start from just 6Fr; these are by no means the cheapest wines across the Channel (Auchan supermarket has two at 4.95Fr). If, however, there is one thing that we have learnt in compiling this book, it is not to make judgements based on image alone, and the wines from a number of cheaper outlets, including BnB, have done surprisingly well (thank goodness for the imposed objectivity of blind tastings). In BnB's case, this was due in part to the significantly expanded selection that we found on our second visit. Even the layout of the store had been improved and, quelle horreur, the new range actually includes several

foreign wines]

Although the shop sells wines as cheap as 6Fr, those submitted for us to taste started at 11.50Fr. And when it came to selecting a wine for its own label, Bernard BnB NV Rose, it chose one that had to retail at 16.50Fr ( pounds 1.96). It is worth paying the higher price as it was one of only two roses that could be recommended out of 26 tasted. Don't get too excited, this is not fine wine by any means, but its fresh, gentle fruit flavour makes it an exceptional rose and, as a humble vin de table, it puts to shame a large number of overrated, overpriced, underflavoured, yet supposedly superior appellation controlees (AOCs) from Bordeaux and other famous regions. Those AOCs do produce fine wines that are infinitely superior to this rose, but none of the cross-Channel outlets chose to submit such wines. Although the BnB's rose claims no appellation, as a broad style we would place it the Burgundy category. At 18.60Fr ( pounds 2.21), Domaine de Monluc 1992 Vin de Pays des Cotes-de-Gascogne with its distinctive peppery fruit was the best-cheapest white that BnB submitted, but the Muscadet de Sevre-et-Maine sur lie 1992 Marcel Martin, La Sablette at 24.50Fr ( pounds 2.92) is worth the extra francs. Muscadet is rarely worth recommending, but this has an intensity of tangy fruit not evident in any of the others tasted. BnB's best-cheapest red was the Cotes du Ventoux 1990 Eugene Brocard at 11.50Fr ( pounds 1.37), a good basic Rhone with some individual character for the price, but again it is worth paying a small premium, this time for the Bordeaux 1992, which at 16.90Fr ( pounds 2.01) was the best-cheapest Bordeaux in the tasting. It certainly has more Bordeaux character than many wines twice its price and makes a really nice, easy drinking luncheon claret. Although a wine of no fixed abode, the Monluc Vin Sauvage Brut NV Vin Mousseux Methode Traditionnelle was cleaner, fresher and simply better than any of the Loire sparkling wines tasted and, at 29Fr ( pounds 3.45), cheaper too. At 91Fr ( pounds 10.83), Champagne Henriot Brat Souverain must be the cross-Channel Grande Marque bargain of the year, even without the offer of a set of flutes or an ice-bucket with every six bottles you buy.

CALAIS WINE & BEER COMPANY

Rue de Judee, Zone Marcel Doret, 62100 Calais, tel: (010 33 21) 97 63 00

English spoken

Open: seven days a week, 'at least' 6am-midnight

Parking: private car park

Payment: Sterling, traveller's cheques, Eurocheques, Visa, Access

Wine tasting in the store

Additional services: orders can be placed through the London shop (081- 875 1900) so that the goods will be packed and ready for your collection.

The nearest of all the Channel ports, Calais, receives up to 70 ferries, hovercraft and Seacats a day at the height of the season. More than two million trippers spent an estimated pounds 500 million in the run-up to the first Christmas since the duty-free barriers came down, making Calais the indisputable Mecca of cross-

Channel shopping. And with more than 11 million British travellers visiting Calais every year, tourism has certainly proved to be a nice little capitalist earner for its Communistcontrolled town council.

The official opening of the tunnel will be performed by the Queen and President Mitterrand on 6 May. Regular services have been delayed.

RESTAURANTS: Most critics will say that the best places to eat in town are La Channel (3 Boulevard de la Resistance) and Au Cote d'Argent (1 Digue Gaston Berthe, overlooking Calais beach). Excellent though they are, we think La Duchesse (44 Rue Duc de Guise) and George V (36 Rue Royale) are at least as good, and La Diligence (7 Rue Edmond Roche) even better. There are numerous cheap eating houses, including some good pizzerias.

MARKET DAYS: All day Thursday and Saturday morning (Place de Creve-Coeur).

TOURIST INFORMATION OFFICE: 12 Boulevard Georges Clemenceau, 62100 Calais, tel: (010 33 21) 96 62 40.

THIS British-owned operation belongs to Marco Attard, who started off in the wine trade by leasing a London lock-up in 1981 and ran the business on such a shoestring that he had to sleep in the store on a makeshift bed of cases each night. Now he owns four outlets and a proper bed in a real bedroom. The Calais operation is staffed by bright, cheery, helpful people despite the hours they have to keep.

The wine list is fairly comprehensive, with a good selection from Eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa, which you won't find in any French shop, however good they might be. They're not so hot on Spain, Portugal and Germany. There's plenty to interest the wine enthusiast here, and a number of wines did particularly well in our tasting. Perhaps most surprising of all is the Notre Cellier NV Vin de Table Rouge, which, although only 9.07Fr ( pounds 1.08), was a well-balanced, eminently drinkable red. There is a white version in a 1.5 litre bottle for just another 14p more, which would be a super bargain if the wine was equally as drinkable. Unfortunately it's not. The Romanian Classic Pinot Noir 1987 at 15.29Fr ( pounds 1.82) had a rather sweet and sappy taste that you could never mistake for a decent red Burgundy, but it is infinitely better than all those bad Burgundies the unsuspecting public are expected to buy for more than twice the price. Just as non-classic, but even more yummy, is the Principe de Viana 1990 Cabernet Sauvignon which, at 32.34Fr ( pounds 3.85), is a full-bodied red that is packed with rich coconutty fruit. The Chateau Ramage la Batisse 1988 Cru Bourgeois at 68.38Fr ( pounds 8.14) is even bigger, with an intense flavour that shouts its classic Medoc origins. One of the biggest bargains in the tasting, at 18.06Fr ( pounds 2.15), was

the Denham Estate 1992 Semillon Chardonnay. It is the cheapest you are going to find in a Chardonnay-style wine of good, easy to drink quality. Almost twice as expensive, yet still an amazing bargain compared to Burgundian prices, at 32.76Fr ( pounds 3.90) the Santa Rita 1992 Chardonnay Reserva is a fine wine by any standard. It has a somewhat high-tech style of international Chardonnay character. At just 76.86Fr ( pounds 9.15), from a low-profile house in the Dizy, Champagne Paul Berthelot NV Brut Reserve produces an excellent value Champagne, but to be frank the Seaview 1990 Pinot Noir-Chardonnay is the better wine. This is a classy Australian fizz and at 40.91Fr ( pounds 4.87) it's a fantastic bargain. Not anywhere near the same class, but an even greater deal is Seppelt NV Great Western Brut, which has improved so much over the past five years or so and is now full of luscious, tropical fruits, selling for just 23.02Fr ( pounds 2.74). This everyday drinking fizz is hard to beat at the bargain price of pounds 4.99 at Oddbins, Victoria Wine, Majestic etc, yet you can now save pounds 27 a case buying it from Calais Wine & Beer.

CAVES ENTREPOTS

e Geant du Vin, 28 Rue Mollien,

62100 Calais, tel: (010 33 21) 96 63 82

English spoken

Open: Tues-Sat 9.30am-12.15pm & 2.30pm-7.30pm; Sun 10am-12.30pm; closed Mon

Parking: on-street parking

Payment: Sterling, traveller's cheques, Eurocheques, Visa, Access, Mastercard

Wine tasting in the store. Minimum of 20 different wines (although usually restricted to the La Fontaine wine boxes)

Caves Entrepots is proud of the fact that its shops are France's largest sellers of La Fontaine Vin 10-litre bag-in-the-box wines. In Britain the average size of a wine box is just three litres - less than a third of the size of the La Fontaine monsters. The popular misconception is that wine boxes should be cheaper than an equivalent volume purchased by the bottle. The opposite is in fact true, as the tap and multi-layered bags are hi-tech products that cost far more than an equivalent number of mass-produced bottles. The whole purpose of bag-in-

the-box technology is to enable the consumer to have a wine on tap that remains fresh to the last glass. The problem, however, has always been to find a box that contains a decent wine, as the producers are only too well aware of the public's belief that a bulk buy should be cheap. The cheapest La Fontaine boxes are the two Cuvee du Geant vins de table, which sell at 102Fr ( pounds 12.13), which is the equivalent of 7.65Fr (91p) per bottle. They are very cheap, of course, but by no means the cheapest that can be found, as many cross-Channel outlets offer wines from 6Fr (Auchan supermarket starts from 4.95Fr) and cannot, in any case, be recommended. When we called, Caves Entrepots had 23 La Fontaine boxes on sale, of which we were allowed to taste 10 and from these we found three good deals. The best-cheapest box was, without doubt, the Vin de Pays du Gard Cepage Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a soft red wine with an easy and appealing sweet fruit flavour, well worth its price of 148Fr ( pounds 17.73) or the equivalent of 11.17Fr ( pounds 1.33) per bottle. More expensive, but just as good value, is Cotes du Ventoux at 175.40Fr ( pounds 20.88) or the equivalent of 13.16Fr ( pounds 1.57) per bottle. Best of all but, at 329.20Fr ( pounds 39.19) or the equivalent of 24.69Fr ( pounds 2.94) per bottle, substantially more expensive, is Graves Rouge Chateau Sarrot 1992. This is a stylish wine of real character and structure. Later the company sent us more boxes for tasting of which just one passed the test. Chateau du Roc 1992 Entre-Deux-Mers at 22.90Fr ( pounds 2.73) makes a soft, easy-to-drink dry white wine of some character and interest, but there may be other wines in the range that could have done well. The Alsace wines sold under the Traber label, for example, are produced by the co-operative in Ribeauville, one of the region's finest wine villages, and should at least be worth tasting.

LE CHAIS

0 Rue de Phalsbourg, Centre Frader,

62100 Calais, tel: (010 33 21) 97 88 56

Open: seven days a week, 9am-7pm

Parking: private car park

Payment: Sterling, Visa, Mastercard

Wine tasting in the store

Part of a small chain of two wine warehouses called Le Chais and two town shops called Les Vins de France, all three other outlets being in or around Boulogne. The Boulogne branch has the largest range, and the Les Vins de France shops have a more upmarket presentation

with a smaller range and slightly more expensive prices. Although Le Chais will sell individual bottles, it is more geared up for sales by the case. Coaches are welcome by prior appointment.

This group plans to open a big warehouse later this year at a service station just outside Calais on the autoroute towards Dunkirk.

Some excellent wines on this list from Alsace (Klipfel), Rhone (Jaboulet),

Burgundy (Jadot and Mommessin) and a very good selection of Bordeaux, the best bargains we saw were Clos du Marquis 1988 (excellent second wine from top-performing St-Julien second growth Leoville-Las-Cases) at 99.88Fr, which is pounds 11.89, compared to Oddbins price of pounds 14.69 and the brilliant Chateau Lynch-Bages 1986 at 198Fr or pounds 23.57, a saving of more than pounds 10 a bottle over the pounds 33.95 charged by Thresher Wine Rack. Mind you, these are anomalies. As we found again and again, the more expensive the wines, the less chance of a bargain compared to what you can pay in Britain. At Le Chais you could buy a bottle of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1983, for example, for 495Fr or pounds 58.93, compared to just pounds 45.00 at Unwins and, if you want to buy an off-vintage first growth, Chateau Margaux 1987 is 398Fr or pounds 47.02 at Le Chais, whereas Oddbins list it at pounds 34.99. But that is par for the course across the Channel, and it has to be said that Le Chais does seem to stand out for its bargains among top-of-

the-range wines. Unfortunately none of the above wines was submitted for tasting; of those that were, only one can be recommended: Bourgogne Rouge 1991 Louis Jadot, which at 35Fr ( pounds 4.17), was the best-cheapest red Burgundy tasted.

There is, unfortunately, another wine tasted that must be mentioned because of all the dire Chardonnays we had to taste our way through, the Bourgogne Blanc 1989 Cepage Chardonnay, Cellier des Samsons at 25Fr ( pounds 2.98) was the very pits. Cellier des Samsons is normally a reliable producer, which makes this wine both a disgrace and a puzzle. Basic enjoyable Chardonnay is one of the easiest wines to make and Burgundy is not only a natural home for this variety, but also has the advantage of several centuries' experience. On a brighter note, Le Chais has a strong selection of good quality beers,

including such top performing brews

as Pelforth Brune, George Killain's

Biere Rousse, Jenlain and Chimay (the blue label is the best) and, despite the poor performance of most wines submitted, we see enough exceptional quality and value on the list they sent us to

recommend this outlet.

CHAMPAGNE CHARLIES

14 Rue Cronstadt, 62100 Calais,

tel: (010 33 21) 97 96 49

English spoken

Open: Sun-Fri, 8am-8pm (closed Sat)

Parking: on-street parking

Payment: Sterling, traveller's cheques, Eurocheques, Visa, Access, Mastercard, American Express, Diners Card, British cheques (with card)

Wine tasting in the store

Additional services: toilet facilities available in the store. Foot passengers given a lift to the ferry

Another British outlet, Champagne Charlies is owned by Alan Thompson, Kevin McDermott and Stephen Dolan. Thompson spent 15 years in the licenced trade and fronts up the business in Calais, while his partners attend to their own firms in Britain.

With a name like Champagne Charlies, you would be forgiven for expecting this outlet to house an exceptionally large range of the world's greatest sparkling wine, but you would be disappointed. There are only six Champagnes listed and three of those are unknown, although at prices that demand investigation. Champagne Charles Heidsieck looks a bargain at 117Fr ( pounds 13.93) compared to the pounds 20-odd you could expect to pay in Britain, give or take a pound. Bad news first: the range of wines offered here will not grab the instant attention of most wine enthusiasts. Indeed, if we had not tasted some of these wines, we would be at a loss as to what to recommend. The good news is that of the three wines that passed our stiff tasting test, two were truly sensational new finds. Even the third of this trio, the Cotes du Ventoux 1990 La Giboyere, makes a very good buy, having more fruit than most red wines selling at 12Fr ( pounds 1.43), but it is the other two that should really get wine drinkers excited. They are both made by an Englishman, Peter Hawkins, who has lived in France since 1970 and purchased Domaine de Papolle in the Bas-Armagnac region in 1981. He splits his time between engineering in the north of France and making and selling wine and Armagnac in the south-west. His Armagnacs have just started to win medals, as indeed has he (an MBE in the 1993 Birthday Honours list), but it is his wines that bowled us over. Both are Vins de Pays de Cotes-de-Gascogne, a humble appellation that has provided good, but not exciting, inexpensive dry white wines from modest grape varieties for more than a decade. With these two examples, however, Hawkins has gone a step further, producing wines that transcend their intrinsic class. Domaine de Papolle 1992 is stunning in its fresh, crisp, fruity style, titillating the palate with its intense, flowery-grapey flavour, while Domaine de Barroque 1992 is almost as fresh and crisp, but off-dry and softened by its deliciously honeyed aftertaste. Both wines show an amazing degree of finesse for just 13.80Fr ( pounds 1.64).

EASTENDERS

Beer & Wine Cash & Carry,

Rue Garennes, Zone Industriale

des Dunes, 62100 Calais, and at

6 Quai de la Loire, 62100 Calais,

tel: (010 33 21) 34 53 33

English spoken

Open: seven days a week, 6am-11pm

Parking: private car park

Payment: Sterling, traveller's cheques, Eurocheques, Visa, Access, Mastercard

Wine tasting: a policy of 'try before you buy' on most wines

When we first visited EastEnders in June 1993, owner Dave West was selling dirt-cheap booze from the back of a few containers dumped unceremoniously on an empty site. He had, however, already come a long way, having set up EastEnders five years ago when the trade barriers were still up. At that time, West was living in a tent and selling from a small caravan. By the time we returned in the autumn, he had acquired a small but modern warehouse on the same unmade site and was offering a much larger range, but at the same cut-throat prices. West is a genuine East-End market trader with an authentic 'we can do a deal' philosophy, and he must be doing something right, as most of the customers we spoke to had purchased from him before and all vowed to return. His prices are unbelievably cheap, yet they are all up for grabs if you are willing to buy a sufficient quantity.

David West enjoys a drop of wine and really believes his selection is superb. It isn't, but some of it is good and the prices are great. What was exceptional, though, was the high proportion of wines that passed the blind tasting test; what spoilt this was the unprecedented number of wines that were so dire that we would be at fault if we ignored them. The Blanc Sec Crustaces NV Vins Erde at 5Fr (60p), for example, was one of the three worst white wines in the entire tasting, but as West advertises wines 'that you can drink' from 6Fr a bottle, it may be his subtle way of warning us about the wines costing one franc less. At 8.30Fr (99p), however, Cuvee Monodor NV should be drinkable by West's own price barrier and, to give him his due, it is EastEnders' biggest selling wine, but it is such a rank- smelling, cloyingly sweet wine that those who come back for more must be anosmic (cannot smell or taste). Both these wines are, however, vins de table and are not subject to any form of quality control, which is an excuse that Brouilly 1992 Armand Dartois at 20Fr ( pounds 2.38) cannot claim. We tasted a few Beaujolais from Armand Dartois, but only the Morgon was passable. A lot of the Beaujolais submitted was awful, but this was the pits. It has to be said, though, that the most diabolical EastEnders wine was much worse than the Brouilly. At 13Fr ( pounds 1.55) the Chateau Marsan 1992 Bordeaux Cotes-

de-Francs is a disgusting resinous liquid that does not even deserve the name wine, let alone a famous appellation from Bordeaux. Well, that's enough of wine avoidance; to return to positive recommendations, it is nice to be able to say that EastEnders fresh, crisp, fruity Carval 1992 Vin de Pays des Cotes-

de-Gascogne at 10.50Fr ( pounds 1.25) was the best-cheapest dry white we tasted, just as the Sancerre 1992 Les Hauts Fourchaux at 28Fr ( pounds 3.33) was the best-cheapest, dry Loire white wine tasted. Included for nothing more serious than its jokey name, EastEnders NV Vinocalapso is worth a laugh at just 11Fr ( pounds 1.31). Not an offensive wine, it tastes like green fruit gums. Fizzing along in the same vein is EastEnders NV Lovely Bubbly, although at 8.50Fr ( pounds 1.01) it is even cheaper and it is in fact cleaner, fresher and fruitier than all the similarly sweet Loire sparkling wines we tasted. We think the label is supposed to depict a rather lovely lady, but due to the way it has been printed she appears to be turning into a werewolf. After wading through a lot of disappointing Chablis and Macon from almost every cross- Channel outlet, it was a pleasant if somewhat curious surprise to find EastEnders Chablis 1992 E Brocard at 36Fr ( pounds 4.29), which is fresh and delicious, albeit in the style of a fine Macon, rather than a Chablis, but who cares as long as it is enjoyable and tastes like Chardonnay, which is more than a lot of Burgundies do. The Petit Chablis 1989 Jean Bonardiere at 31Fr ( pounds 3.69) is not a great or a fine wine and is rather fatter in style than might be expected, but who could ask for more in terms of quality for what is a fairly mature wine from the most modest appellation of Chablis? A much older wine is Chateau Peygeneston 1966 St-Emilion at the unbelievable price of 58Fr ( pounds 6.90). Age cannot improve an ordinary wine, just make it older and in the most basic sense this is an old, ordinary wine, but it is surprising that anything so ordinary could last so long. It smells a little bit of sherry, but still has some fruit. If you want to impress some unsophisticated friends, we suggest you blend one part of this with one part of cheap, young and fruity Australian Shiraz and serve it up in the older bottle, trying to keep a straight face. Cheating maybe, but the result will be infinitely better and it should be a good wheeze. If, on the other hand, you want a Bordeaux to lay down, Chateau de Brie 1991 Medoc at 19Fr ( pounds 2.26) is a tremendous bargain for a serious quality wine that needs another 2-3 years. The Macon Superieur Rouge 1991 Eugene Lebreton at 26Fr ( pounds 3.10) was the only Macon Rouge to pass the tasting test, even though it was the second cheapest, and two of the three most expensive Gamay wines were not from Beaujolais but Macon and yet not as enjoyable as this wine. A real Beaujolais of some maturity that can be recommended is St-Amour 1989 J M Coquenlorge at 28Fr ( pounds 3.33). Not ancient as such, it is somewhat advanced for its years, but its soft fruit and interesting bouquet should be appreciated by those who like old Beaujolais, although it is not a wine for further ageing. The best Beaujolais bargain we found was, however, the Julienas 1991 J M Coquenlorge which, at just 24Fr ( pounds 2.86), was a tad short of coming out equal first in our Gamay tasting in terms of quality. If we were to be hypercritical, this wine has a touch too much oak, but it also has class, is still young, and has plenty of fruit. EastEnders' very greatest,

super-duper bargain is Chateau les Vallees 1989 Bordeaux, which is a rich and stylish claret with a nice touch of creamy-oak that provides the finesse on the finish. We have never heard of this wine before and have no idea who makes it or how they do so, but it is unbelievable quality at an unbelievable price of just 19Fr ( pounds 2.26).

GRAND CRU MAGNUM

Rue Royale, 62100 Calais,

tel: (010 33 21) 34 58 71

Open: Mon 2pm-7.15pm, Tues-Sat 9.30am-7.15pm, closed Sun

Parking: on-street parking

Payment: Sterling, traveller's cheques, Eurocheques, Visa, Access, Mastercard, American Express

Wine tasting: no wines for tasting in store when we visited, but plans to do so

This smart new shop specialises in Bordeaux and is in a good position to do so, being owned by a Bordeaux merchant called Sodicru. From a quick glance there would seem to be an interesting range to browse through here.

Two wines did well in the tasting. The Chateau de Barbe Blanche 1990 Lussac-St-Emilion is a rich-flavoured wine dominated by chunky-chocolatey Merlot fruit. It has a firm finish that will enable the wine to improve for two to three years, after which the chunkiness should give way to a more silky textured fruit. A good wine, but at a cross-Channel price of 49Fr ( pounds 5.83), it only just scraped through for recommendation, whereas the Chateau Cote Monpezat 1991 Cotes-

de-Castillon is a better wine and at 35Fr ( pounds 4.17), a much better bargain. It is a wine of surprising depth of flavour, considering its relatively light body, and it is this balance that gives the wine its finesse. This is a very good quality Cotes-de- Castillon that has already developed some complexity, but will improve.

SUPERMARKETS AND HYPERMARKETS

CEDICO: Rue Delaroche, 62100 Calais, tel: (010 33 21) 96 75 17

CONTINENT: ZUP du Beau Marais,

Avenue Georges Guyneme, 62100

Calais, tel: (010 33 21) 97 99 75

INTERMARCHE: 56 Avenue

Antoine de St-Exupery, 62100

Calais, tel: (010 33 21) 34 42 44

MAMMOUTH: CC Calais Ouest, Fort Nieulay, Route de Boulogne (RN1), 62100 Calais,

tel: (010 33 21) 34 04 44

MATCH: Boulevard Lafayette, 62100 Calais,

tel: (010 33 21) 97 32 59

PG: Avenue Roger Salengro, 62100

Calais, tel: (010 33 21) 34 17 34, and Route St-Omer, 62100 Calais, tel: (010 33 21) 34 65 98

PIDOU CASH & CARRY: 21 Rue Marcel Dassault, 62100 Calais,

tel: (010 33 21) 96 51 62

PRISUNIC: 17 Boulevard Jacquard,

62100 Calais,

tel: (010 33 21) 34 58 05

Extracted from 'The 1994 Cross-Channel Drinks Guide' by Tom Stevenson, published by Absolute Press at pounds 6.99.

(Photograph omitted)

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