FOOD & DRINK / Grapevine: Kathryn McWhirter on the best offers at Safeway's Wine Fair

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The Independent Culture
LOOK OUT for some excellent bargains at Safeway's Wine Fair, running in all Safeway stores until 4 June. My selection here is from the 50 wines bought in specially for the fair. Cut-price they may be, but many of them are excellent value, often one-off batches of good wines that are not available in the volumes normally required to stock the shelves longer-term.

Wines under pounds 2 a bottle are rarely up to much, but I liked a Spanish pair, the light, cherry-fruity 1993 Valhondo, Spanish Country Red (pounds 1.99), and the dry, honeyed and slightly buttery 1993 Valhondo Spanish Country Dry White (pounds 1.99). Set your limit at pounds 3, however, and there are far yummier scoops: **1993 Sliven Vat 2462 Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 2.49), a Bulgarian red, has lovely, fresh blackcurrant fruit and some tannin, and *1993 Merlot/Gamay, Russe Region, Bulgaria (pounds 2.69) is a delicious, easy-drinking red with flavours of cooked blackcurrants and honey - stock up for summer parties. There's also a lovely, inexpensive Australian red, **1992 Bosanquet Estate Shiraz/ Cabernet (pounds 2.99), which is soft, light and incredibly minty, with blackberry-raspberry fruit.

Gewurztraminer drinkers should love the zingy, orangey aromatic **1993 Magyar Vineyards Irsay Oliver, Gyongyos (pounds 2.49), made by an Australian in Hungary from a local spicy grape. A pair of inexpensive dry Loire whites is also excellent value: crisp and tangy *1993 Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France (pounds 2.39) with surprisingly concentrated honey and apples flavour from the Chenin grape; and the crisp, gooseberry-scented *1993 Sauvignon Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France, Bahaud (pounds 2.89). There are some white Italian snips, too: *1993 Castelli Romani, Vino da Tavola (pounds 2.49), crisp and faintly musky,

with gentle apple and almond flavours; and the flavourful, nutty, appley *1993 Country Cellars Tuscan Dry White (pounds 2.99).

In the middle price range, **Soave Classico, Campo d'Oro (pounds 3.79), made by a female Chilean 'flying winemaker', has far more flavour than most Soave, with a leafy, tobacco-like character overlaying the typical soft nuttiness. There are two attractive southern French Chardonnays: the lovely organic **1993 Jacques Frelin Chardonnay, Vin de Pays de L'Herault (pounds 3.89), soft, fresh, appley and butter; and **1993 James Herrick Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 4.99), very creamy, crisp and gently tangy. Good Muscadet is hard to find at any price but *1993 Domaine Pierres Noires Muscadet de Sevre-et-Maine sur Lie (pounds 3.69) is excellent value, tangy and aromatic, with lots of flavour.

Tastiest of the mid-priced reds is the ***1990 Domaine Marbrieres, Oak-aged Faugeres (pounds 4.19) from the South of France, a big red with lovely, dark, ripe plummy fruit and quite a bit of tannin. **1993 Le Trulle Primitivo del Salento (pounds 3.89), from Italy's 'heel', is also characterful, with complex, smoky, savoury and berry flavours. And from the Loire, **1993 Bourgeuil (pounds 3.39) is a lovely, lightish red, full of ripe, earthy, raspberry fruit.

Some more expensive wines are also good value in the fair. Best white is the organic Californian ****1992 Fetzer Bonterra Chardonnay (pounds 7.99), soft and creamy, subtle and complex. And the red *****1989 Lindemans St George Coonawarra Cabernet (pounds 7.49) from Australia is even more exciting, with intense blackcurrant, mint and new oak flavours. You could drink this now or keep it for a few years. ****Guy Bossard Vin Mousseux (pounds 6.49) is a lovely, amazingly complex Champagne-method sparkling wine made by a brilliant, organic Muscadet producer. **** El Rocio Manzanilla, Gonzalez Byass (pounds 5.99) is a fresh, light, tangy sherry of immaculate quality.

star ratings: *****superb ****complex, exciting ***excellent **very good *good

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