FOOD & DRINK / Grapevine: Kathryn McWhirter on some daring wines for the new year

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BORED with Chardonnay? Sick of Sauvignon? So few other white grapes have the flavour to compete. Resolving to drink something different in 1994, I've been hunting affordable and delicious whites made from something else. **1993 Santa Julia Torrontes, Mendoza ( pounds 3.99 selected Waitrose)

is an amazing, dry yet flower-scented white from Argentina, where the Torrontes, an obscure northern Spanish grape, has taken root in a small way. Two native Portuguese white grapes, the Fernao Pires and the Trincadeira, go into the **1992 Falcoaria, Almeirim ( pounds 4.29 selected Safeway), a fine, elegant, lean white with hints of orange and butterscotch, made in the Tagus valley inland from Lisbon. The lovely, crisp, tangy **1992 Jacquere, Vin de Savole ( pounds 4.55 Waitrose) from the French Alps has greengage and unusual savoury flavours from the Jacquere grape, which is practically exclusive to Savoie. Austria's gently spicy Gruner Veltliner grape is generally best drunk young, but the **1991 Gruner Veltliner, Lenz Moser ( pounds 3.99 Waitrose) is still remarkably fresh and tasty. The Chenin Blanc isn't exactly an obscure grape - it makes lakes of rarely inspiring dry and off-dry whites in the Loire and South Africa. But here's one, from Western Australia, that beats all but the Loire's expensive best; ****1992 Hardy's Moondah Brook Estate Chenin Blanc ( pounds 4.95 selected Sainsbury's and Grape Ideas of Oxford and London NW6, pounds 4.99 William Low, selected branches of the Co-Op, pounds 5.49 Gateway and Somerfield) has amazing, ripe, appley fruit, and flavours of honey and coconutty oak. Top Tesco stores sell the same wine labelled Tesco Western Australian Chenin Blanc ( pounds 4.99).

Still feeling adventurous? Here are some reds from Portugal, Italy and Spain that taste completely different. ****1989 Cartuxa, Alentejo, Fundaca & Almeida ( pounds 5.99 Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up), made from three local red grape varieties in a former monastery in southern Portugal, is a lovely, complex red with intense flavours of strawberry and plum, mint and tobacco. Grown near Lisbon, the gutsy, oaky, herby-savoury ***1990 Quinta da Pancas, Vinho Maior da Reserva, Alenquer ( pounds 5.99 Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up and the top Safeways) has some Cabernet as well as the local Periquita grapes.

Over to central Italy, east of Tuscany, ***1992 Farnese Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ( pounds 4.75 Bordeaux Direct of Windsor, Reading, Beaconsfield, Bushey and Woking), has really rich, soft 'dried fruit' character. The southern Italian ***1988 Salice Salentino, Taurino ( pounds 4.99 Gateway and Somerfield) is also very individual, rich, figgy and fruity. From Spain, ****1986 Contino Rioja Reserve ( pounds 9.49 Wine Rack, Bottoms Up) is one of the few Riojas made from the grapes of a single vineyard - most are blended from a wide area. The vineyard site is superb, the winery immaculate, the result a red much richer than most Riojas, with subtle, complex flavours of eucalyptus, mint, currant, oak, chocolate and blackberries.

The South of France is also a source of interestingly flavoured reds. This is a stunning one: ***1990 La Cuvee Mythique, Vin de Pays d'Oc, Val d'Orbieu ( pounds 4.99 selected Safeways) is wonderfully perfumed, with flavours of plums and flowers, and some tannin. ***1992 Chateau de Violet, Cuvee Clovis, Minervois ( pounds 4.79 Wine Rack and Bottoms Up) is also very perfumed, soft and easy drinking, with flavours of strawberry, orange and flowers. ***1991 Vacqueyras, Cuvee des Templiers, Domaine Clos des Cazaux ( pounds 6.99 Tanners of Shrewsbury) is like Chateauneuf- du-Pape in miniature, rich, dark and intensely blackberry and raspberry-fruity, with some tannin; and the ***1990 Vacqueyras Cuvee des Templiers, Archimbaud-Vache ( pounds 7.95 Lay & Wheeler) is also full-bodied, with tarry fruit and coffee and savoury flavours. For mini Cote Rotie at affordable prices, try ***1992 L'Epervier, Domaine de Ribaute Syrah, Vin de Pays d'Oc ( pounds 4.75 Bordeaux Direct), which is lovely, soft, malty and intensely raspberry-fruity.