FOOD & DRINK / Grapevine: Kathryn McWhirter on this week's best buys

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The Independent Culture
AS WE edge damply towards the promise of summer, I've been out in search of the best-value white wines to quench the potential thirst. Really on a budget, 1993 Le St Cricq Blanc de Blancs, Germain Pere et Fils (pounds 1.99 Majestic) is unusually nice at this price - crisp, honeyed, just off dry, and quite reminiscent of Sauvignon. It's worth paying a bit more for some delicious real Sauvignons, but at far lower prices than those from New Zealand, or the classic French Sauvignons Sancerre or Pouilly Fume. Crisp, gooseberry-ish **1993 Chateau de Plantier, Entre-Deux-Mers (pounds 3.79 Safeway) is an excellent Sauvignon from Bordeaux, and **1993 Touraine Sauvignon, Domaine Gibault (pounds 3.99 Waitrose), with its crisp herb and gooseberry flavours, is a yummy one from the middle Loire. Or from further south, try the deliciously aromatic, gooseberry-fruity **1993 J & F Lurton Sauvignon, Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 3.99 Safeway) or the similar **1993 Domaine des Fontanelles Sauvignon, Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 3.49 Waitrose). At Tesco, you can even find the 1994 vintage. *1994 Goiya Kgeisje, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay (pounds 3.79) is soft, crisp, easy-drinking young white from South Africa, with grassy flavours from the Sauvignon and honey and butter from the Chardonnay. Two excellent value new whites have just arrived at Marks & Spencer. *1993 Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne (pounds 2.99) is crisp and lemony, and **1993 Domaine Manderville, Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 3.99) good, rich, honeyed and grassy. **Pinot Blanc d'Alsace, Laugel (pounds 3.69 until 1 August, then pounds 3.99 Majestic) is a bargain, fragrant and honeyed, with a Muscaty character.

Another snip is **1993 Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhone, Organic White (pounds 3.49 Safeway), crisp and fresh, with flavours of apples, honey and butter. *1993 Le Pujalet, Vin de Pays du Gers (pounds 2.95 Waitrose) is gentle but still crisp and appley, and the *1993 Vine de Pays d'Oc Chardonnay, Le Gineste (pounds 3.99 Waitrose) is a real bargain - tangy and savoury, with hints of pineapple and candy, like a good, subtle Macon, but cheaper.

NEW Italian wines at Wine Rack, Thresher and Bottoms Up include a couple of unusually characterful whites. **1992 Vernaccia di San Giminiano, Vigna a Solatio (pounds 4.99) has enticing greengagey fruit, tangy acidity, and honeyed, slightly nutty complexity. From the south of Italy, made by yet another wandering Australian winemaker, aided by a New Zealander, **1993 Chardonnay del Salento, le Trulle (pounds 3.99, also available at Safeway) is good, rich and creamy, with honey and pineapple and oak flavours. Another great Italian bargain at Safeway is the soft, figgy ***1990 Salvanza, Sangiovese di Toscana (pounds 4.99), already developing some complex, mature flavours, though still with some tannin. ***1990 San Crispino Sangiovese di Romagna, Ronco (pounds 5.99 Majestic) has wonderful raspberry-and-apples perfume, backed by a dark, savoury character. ***1989 Grifi, Avignonesi (pounds 7.55 Waitrose) is delicious, strong, savoury, rich and tannic. Safeway's **1992 Villa Pagello Merlot, Breganze (pounds 3.49 Safeway) is a snip, soft and attractive and amazingly 'farmyardy' - drink this now, as it won't keep much longer. *1992 Waitrose Monica di Sardegna (pounds 3.29) is excellent value, lightish, figgy and leathery, with a touch of tannin, as is *Country Cellars Puglian Red, Vino da Tavola (pounds 2.99 Safeway), blackberry and plum-fruity with a little oak and a touch of tannin.

BARGAIN of the Gateway/Somerfield Cabernet Sauvignon promotion (running until 19 June) is a **1991 Berri Estates Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 4.25, down from pounds 5.25), lovely blackcurranty and minty Australian red. For lightweight red summer drinking, the soft and minty *Somerfield Australian Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 3.49. down from pounds 3.99) and the Ribena-fruity *Somerfield Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 2.99, down from pounds 3.35) are good value.

SCOTS on the lookout for fine wines for a celebration should enjoy two scrumptious buys from the William Low chain. ****1992 Meadowbank Chardonnay (pounds 8.99) is a big, rich, well-balanced white from Tasmania with delicious pineappley, buttery and yeasty flavours. ****1990 Corison, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 15.95) makes a good pair, with its soft and rich apple and blackcurrant fruit, clove and cinnamon spice, nice oak and a touch of tannin.

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

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