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

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The Independent Culture
THE winegrowers of England are right now squelching and slithering through the mud to bring in this year's damp crop. Three weeks ago the quality looked excellent. Now the flavours of many wines will have been diluted by the rain, and it will be a battle to get the grapes in before they rot. What with all the rain, and ever more acres of vineyard, this is is likely to be the biggest English vintage ever.

So it's good to be reminded of the Indian summer of 1990 by the trophy winner of the recent English Wine Festival, a delicious, sun-soaked dessert wine. The grapes for 1990 Cane End Autumn Glory were attacked by 'noble rot', the fungus that so wonderfully transforms Sauternes and the other great sweet wines of the world. Sweet but not overpoweringly so, and with a nice bite of acidity, it has delicious flavours of apricot, apple and honey. ( pounds 9.50 per half bottle from the vineyard at Cane End near Reading, tel: 0734 722244; pounds 11.14 from the English Wine Centre and Festival, Alfriston, East Sussex, BN26 5QS, tel: 0323 870164.)

Winner of the dry white section was 1991 Sandhurst Vineyard: Seyval Blanc Dry ( pounds 4.95 from the vineyard at Cranbrook, Kent, tel: 0580 850296, pounds 6.50 English Wine Centre) crisp, spicy and lively, but at the same time rounded, honeyed and biscuity from being made in oak casks.

Medium dry winner was 1991 Barkham Manor Schonburger ( pounds 5.20 from the vineyard at Piltdown near Uckfield, East Sussex, tel: 082572 2103, pounds 6.50 English Wine Centre), with delicately spicy, lychee and honey flavours and crisp acidity. The sparkling wine winner was Biddenden Quality Sparkling Wine ( pounds 6.88 from the vineyard in Biddenden, Kent, tel: 0580 291726, pounds 7.96 English Wine Centre), easy-drinking, flavourful and fruity.

GOOD Englishreds are almost non-existent, so the official best red wine of the show was a revelation: 1992 Hidden Spring Dark Fields ( pounds 9.95 from the vineyard at Horam, East Sussex, tel: 04353 2540, pounds 12.04 English Wine Centre) is an elegant, fruity red with raspberry and savoury flavours from the Pinot Noir and plummy flavours from Dunkelfelder grapes. All the above wines are available from the English Wine Centre, direct or by mail order. The vineyards will also supply by mail, or give details of further stockists.

UNTIL stocks run dry, Tesco is selling excellent value litre bottles of Australian Coomallo Ridge Dry White ( pounds 3.59, the equivalent of pounds 2.69 per 75cl bottle). This is just off-dry - but dry white drinkers would scarcely notice - crisp, fruity and honeyed. The white is better than its red mate.