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

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BRITISH RAIL'S InterCity trains may not match the speed of the other super-trains of Europe, but as far as wine quality is concerned they have recently zoomed light years ahead. You'll have to survive four hours on Lambrusco or a boring white Colli Albani if you take the Pendolino from Rome to Milan. The German and Spanish super-trains do a bit better, but the French TGV wine choice looks limited and uninspired. The inspiration for BR's new wine list (InterCity only, but buffet as well as restaurant cars) came from BBC Food and Drink Show presenter and wine writer Oz Clarke. You could organise yourself a comparative tasting of Chardonnays on the four-hour journey from London to Edinburgh. They are all good, from the light, ripely fruity house white, 1992 Hardy's Nottage Hill Australian Chardonnay (pounds 8.90, pounds 5.95 per half, pounds 2.99 per quarter) to the pricier, fresh, soft and pineappley 1992 Domaine de Rivoyre Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 12.95, pounds 6.95 per half), an intensely flavoured 1991 Yaldara Barossa Valley Chardonnay (pounds 13.95, pounds 7.25 per half) and a lovely 1992 Newtonian Chardonnay (pounds 14.95) from California, big, ripe and complex and the best of the range. (The Chardonnays are better than the Sauvignon.) Among the reds the best value are the two most expensive, 1990 Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Cave de Tain l'Hermitage (pounds 12.95, pounds 6.95 per half), rich and dark, but soft and chocolatey with ripe, blackberry fruit, and, best again, 1989 Newtonian Cabernets, fine, oaky, complex and silky-rich. Prices, BR crow, are down compared with their previous, undistinguished list. But the mark-ups seem unnecessarily high to me - though you would spend even more as you whizzed past the vineyards on the French TGV. One solution is to pop into Safeway on the way to the station; there you can buy a bottle of that same Domaine de Rivoyre Chardonnay to drink on the train for pounds 4.99 instead of pounds 12.95. But don't forget your corkscrew.

THERE'S a new clutch of good Loire wines at Sainsbury's this month. 1990 Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur Lie Premiere, Jean Douillard (pounds 5.45) is a bit expensive for a Muscadet, but this one is very special - fatter and riper, with delicious melony and greengage flavours. 1992 Pouilly Fume Le Bouchard, Foucassier is an excellent, flinty white with gooseberry fruit. Loire reds can taste too grassy and under-ripe, but the 1990 Saumur Champigny, Domaine des Hauts de Sauziers (pounds 6.95) has flavours of raisins, earthy raspberries, honey and chocolate, with a touch of tannin.