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

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The Independent Culture
GO OUT and buy a case of 1990 St Halletts Old Block Shiraz ( pounds 7.99 Tesco) before its producers wake up one morning and realise they should be charging at least twice the price. Tesco's price is especially good - at least pounds 1 less than you would pay elsewhere. This is the most stunning Australian Shiraz I've ever tasted, intensely raspberry-fruity, wonderfully soft and silky, with hints of coffee, eucalyptus, mint and leather. The name 'Old Block' refers to the ancient 'blocks' of Shiraz vines that supply the grapes for this wine: up to 145 years old, compared with a maximum of 40 for most commercial vines. Old vines produce fewer grapes, but a more intense flavour. (The wine is stocked only in the Tesco stores at Amersham, Cheshunt Brookfield Farm, Shoreham-by-Sea, Sandhurst, Colney Hatch, and the Hoover Building in Greenford; but you can ask your local store to order it in units of six from one of the above stores.)

THERE'S been a very inexpensive but very drinkable clutch of oaky red and white Spanish table wines around for the past few years - a good everyday tipple for anyone who's hooked on the oakier style of Rioja. (Don Darias and Don Hugo are the most familiar ones, humble table wines rounded out by oaky flavour that comes from oak chips or oak powder). The best value one at the moment is Casa Barco, Vino de Mesa Tinto ( pounds 2.69 Victoria Wine, due to drop to pounds 2.19 pre-Christmas), remarkably soft and attractive for this price, with pastilly, strawberry fruit and not over-dominant oaky flavour.

BELVOIR Elderflower Cordial is my daily lunchtime tipple - just a splash gives a wonderful fragrance and freshness to fizzy water. Belvoir Estate, around the castle near Grantham in Lincolnshire, also makes brilliant natural fruit cordials from fresh-pressed juice, and has recently extended the range. The new flavours include a ginger cordial made with fresh root ginger and a good passion fruit cordial, the only one of the range made from concentrated juice.

These cordials make excellent Kir-type drinks, mixed with white wine or sparkling wine. 74cl bottles (which go a long way, diluted) cost between pounds 3.45 and pounds 4.50 from selected Sainsbury (elderflower, passion, blackcurrant, strawberry), Booths supermarkets in the North-east (elderflower, passion, ginger), Partridges of London SW1 (elderflower, passion, raspberry, ginger and passion), and many health food shops and stately homes. Harrods Pantry stocks the whole range at pounds 2.65 to pounds 2.85 for the 50cl size. Belvoir Fruit farms will supply by mail order, pounds 14.50 for any three 74cl bottles including VAT, postage and packing. Order by phone on 0476 870286.

'DE-SNOBBING vintage port' is how Oddbins' buyer Nick Blacknell sees the current cut-price Oddbins offer of three mature, ready-for-drinking vintage ports. You might expect to pay upwards of pounds 4 or pounds 5 a bottle more for these elsewhere. 1983 Smith Woodhouse ( pounds 13.49) is big, rich and intensely fruity, and you could keep it another 10 years if you like your port really mature. 1983 Offley Boa Vista ( pounds 11.99) is also big and rich, and would keep another five years. 1982 Quinta do Noval ( pounds 11.99) is an elegant, mid-weight port, nicely balanced and fully mature - it needs drinking up this year. Stocks are expected to last only for another week.

AS CHAMPAGNE look-alikes go, the New Zealand fizzy wines of Daniel Le Brun must be the closest match. In fact, Daniel Lebrun Non-Vintage, at around pounds 10, lean, fine and well-balanced, is far superior to Champagne at that price. Daniel Lebrun, a Champenois by birth, headed for New Zealand 15 years ago after he and his father failed to extend the family vineyards in Champagne sufficiently to support two families. He planted the Champagne grapes in cool-climate Marlborough, made his wines the way his father did, bought all his equipment in France, and burrowed into the hillside to make Champagne-like cellars. No wonder it tastes like Champagne. ( pounds 9.99 Augustus Barnett, pounds 9.99 Co-op Superstores from mid-November, pounds 10.49 Grog Blossom of London W11 and NW5, pounds 10.95 Eaton Elliot of Alderley Edge, Cheshire.)

GO TO any French or Spanish supermarket, and the range of rose wines will far outnumber the dry whites. Roses have a small following in Britain, which is a pity, because they can be as crisp and dry as any white, and the red grapes that give them their colour can also provide characterful alternative flavours for white wine drinkers. Sainsbury's Vin de Pays de l'Ardeche, Grenache Rose (pounds 2.49) is excellent value, light and dry, with floral, almondy and redcurrant flavours, and 1992 Marques de Caceres Rioja Rosado ( pounds 3.59 London Wine of SW10; pounds 4.69 Marco's Wines and Spirits, SW6, SW8 SW13, Leatherhead; pounds 4.80 Wine Society of Stevenage) is far more attractive than most Rioja whites, crisp and dry with lovely rosehip flavour.

UNLIKE the offerings from many former iron-curtain countries, it's rare to find top-class flavours in a Romanian wine. Years of supplying cheap, sweet plonk to the Russians have left the wine industry in something of a mess. But a Western buyer who does discover a star batch can strike a remarkable deal, so keen are the Romanians to sell, and so used are they to selling wine as a nondescript commodity, rather than charging more for the best. One such bargain is undoubtedly the deliciously mature Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Dealul Mare, Romania ( pounds 2.99 Morrisons), which is rich and soft with blackcurrant fruit and hints of tobacco.

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