FOOD & DRINK / Grapevine: Kathryn McWhirter samples some summer offers

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The Independent Culture
YOU will be amazed at the quality of a new pair of Riojas, white and red, that have just gone on sale at Majestic Wine Warehouses. The price is pounds 3.99, but they taste like pounds 6 or more. The red ***1987 Vinedos d'Avalos Rioja Crianza Tinto is rich and full of cherry, plum and wild strawberry fruit, with some mature flavours (1987 was a good year in Rioja, unlike in France). The white ***1987 Vinedos d'Avalos Blanco Crianza tastes like classy Graves, fresh, light, honeyed and crisp, with a lovely bready character. Most Riojas are blends of wines bought in from all over the region, but these come from a single, small estate owned by the Rioja firm of Berberana.

A REAL snip for Champagne drinkers is the ***Veuve Delaroy Champagne Brut Reserve (pounds 8.99 reduced from pounds 10.96) in the summer Champagne offer at Bibendum. This is lovely, soft, chocolatey Champagne with some attractively mature flavours (and better than the more expensive Albert Beerens Champagne, also reduced). The offer runs until the end of July. Also on special offer at Bibendum until the end of June is a pair of wines from one of the best growers in Touraine in the Loire Valley, Henry Marionnet. The aromatic, cherry-fruity red **1993 Touraine Gamay, Domaine de la Chamoise is unusually rich for a Loire Gamay, and the white **1993 Touraine Sauvignon, Domaine de la Charmoise is lightish, fragrant and gooseberry fruity, with the highish acidity typical of the Loire. Marionnet is hot stuff at home in France, and his wines command a premium. Bibendum has reduced them to pounds 4.98 from pounds 5.98 until the end of June. Bibendum is at 113 Regent's Park Road, London NWI 8UR (071-722 5577); it will also supply by mail order.

LAYTONS is offering readers of the Independent on Sunday a 10 per cent discount during June on its 1993 white Burgundies from brilliant young producer and merchant Jean-Marie Guffens, from his firm of Verget. Prices range from pounds 105.75 to pounds 293.75 per case (which may be mixed) for wines to be shipped to Britain next December or January. Buying claret en primeur (pre-shipment) has in recent years turned out to be a dead loss - you can often buy the wines cheaper when they reach the shops than when you bought them. But it's still worth tying up your money in 'futures' of white Burgundy. While nearly all the top clarets come in vast quantities, there may be only a few barrels of a particular, stunning Burgundy. Some sought- after Burgundies may simply no longer be available in a year to three years' time, when they will start to be ready for drinking. Laytons is also offering a free bottle of ****1992 Saint-Romain Verget (normally pounds 9.60) to anyone who buys a case or more from the 1993 offer. This is on sale now at Laytons, super-ripe and grapefruity, with subtle oak and rich fruit, rather New World-like, but subtle. Also excellent value is Guffens' rich and pineappley ***1992 Macon Loche, Verget (pounds 6.51), lovely wine for this appellation, with butterscotchy complexity. Laytons, 20 Midland Road, London NW1 2AD (071-388 5081) also sells by mail order.

THE Northern supermarket chain of Morrisons is always a good place to find low-price bargains. It's rare to find a white under pounds 3 that tastes really characterful, but the southern French *1993 Terret, Vin de Pays des Cotes de Thau, J & F Lurton (pounds 2.99), quite weighty but crisp, is really different, with its lovely, smoky, musky greengage and honey flavours. *1992 Flohnheimer Adelberg Kabinett, Johannes Egberts (pounds 2.59) is a good alternative to Liebfraumilch at a very keen price, fresh, flowery and sweetish, with a nice acidity. And *Comtesse de Lorancy, Donatien Bahaud (pounds 2.49), made in the Muscadet region from a combination of Spanish and French white grapes, is nearly dry, fresh and attractive, lemony with a hint of peardrops. For a white treat, **1993 Chateau Saint Galier, Graves (pounds 4.29) is a gentle, crisp and subtle white Bordeaux, with lovely biscuity oak. Really gluggable among the reds, *1990 Merlot Special Reserve, Dealul Mare, Romania (pounds 2.99) is soft, ripe and plummy, with a tobaccoey character. For oak lovers, the fruity Spanish *1991 Jaume Serra Tinto Crianza, Tempranillo, Penedes (pounds 2.99) has quite strong, savoury oak flavour. And worth the extra, *1993 Solana Cencibel, Valdepenas (pounds 3.99) is reminiscent of plums and plum skins, firmer and more concentrated.

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