FOOD & DRINK / Grapevine: Special wines for Christmas quaffing

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The Independent Culture
WHEN goose was our traditional Christmas bird, before the Victorians turned to turkey, claret was the traditional red to serve with it. The combination is brilliant, especially if the claret is young and fruity. Some of the best claret bargains this year are at Safeway, who have reduced a number by pounds 3 a bottle until the end of the year. Best value of all is the 'second wine' of fifth growth Chateau Cantemerle: ****1990 Les Trois Moulins de Cantemerle ( pounds 5.49 reduced price) has lovely, soft, ripe, blackcurranty fruit, attractive oak and a faintly 'farmyardy' complexity. Slightly more delicious still (nearly five stars) is ****1988 Chateau Malescaut de St Exupery, Margaux ( pounds 9.99 reduced price), classy, wonderfully fruity and perfumed, with some tannin but drinkable now. My other favourite would make a good Christmas present: ****1991 Chateau Beychevelle ( pounds 9.99 reduced price) is very oaky and ripely blackcurranty, and needs to mellow a few years in the cellar. (These are all available in about half the 355 Safeway stores.) ****1990 Chateau Beaumont. Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois ( pounds 5.95 Sainsbury's until 8 January, then pounds 7.45), is a delicious young claret with lovely coffee, oak Chateau de Francs, Bordeaux Cotes de Francs ( pounds 7.99 Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up) is powerful, velvety and plum-flavoured. ****1989 Chateau Fourcas Loubaney, Listrac ( pounds 8.90 Justerini & Brooks of London SW1 and Edinburgh), richly fruity, oaky and quite tannic, good now or to keep; and the rich, velvety 'third wine' of Chateau Latour, ****1991 Pauillac ( pounds 8.99 William Low), classy, elegant and oaky, very drinkable now, though it will improve for a few years. Of course, clarety flavours don't have to come from Bordeaux - everyone grows Cabernet and Merlot: Australia offers ****1991 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon ( pounds 4.99 Oddbins), minty-ripe, smoky and concentrated; ****1990 St Hallet Cabernet Merlot ( pounds 6.95 selected Sainsbury's), yummily soft, with plum and blackberry fruit; ****1990 Penfolds Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon ( pounds 7.99 Oddbins, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up), oaky and ripely blackcurranty; ****1990 Lindemans Pyrus Cabernet/Merlot ( pounds 9.99 Oddbins), opulent wine, with coconutty oak and blackcurrant fruit; or a couple of years older, ****1988 Lindemans Pyrus ( pounds 9.95 Sainsbury's), honeyed and blackcurranty, with a hint of farmyard.

Having chewed my way through a pre- Christmas stuffed turkey with a table-full of open wine bottles, I conclude that turkey goes with just about any red; I shall be plumping for my current favourite, a top Shiraz from Australia or a northern Rhone. Try a glassful of wonderfully concentrated, smoky and blackberry-fruity *****1991 David Wynn Patriarch Shiraz ( pounds 9.25 Adnams of Southwold, pounds 9.99 Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up), or *****1990 Ralph's Shiraz ( pounds 9.99 Oddbins), with complex flavours of mint, blackberry, coffee and toast. But you don't have to pay nearly a tenner. ****1988 Tulloch Shiraz ( pounds 4.99 Oddbins) is nearly as good and stunning value with its mature, smoky, tarry flavours. ****1989 Wynns Cabernet/Shiraz ( pounds 6.99 Safeway) is also superb value, tasting of concentrated blackcurrant and treacle. Or try ****1990 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz ( pounds 7.45 Sainsbury's, pounds 7.49 Oddbins, Threshers Wine Rack and Bottoms Up), a lovely, classic, Shiraz with minty complexity.

The red appellations of the northern Rhone, such as Hermitage and Cornas, are always expensive, but you may feel that the *****1990 Cornas La Geynale, R Michel ( pounds 14.99 Tanners of Shrewsbury) justifies its price, with its superb chocolatey, malt and raspberry flavour and soft but substantial tannin. There are, however, some wonderful bargains and yummy flavours to be found in the lesser appellation Crozes-Hermitage: best buy is the very full- ****1990 Crozes-Hermitage, Cave des Clairmonts ( pounds 5.75 Waitrose), but the ****1991 Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine Barret ( pounds 6.99 Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up), darkly concentrated, tarry, chocolatey and fruity, is also excellent value, as is the ***1991 Crozes-Hermitage, Bernard Chave ( pounds 7.65 Lay & Wheeler), intensely raspberry-fruity, coffeed For those who prefer to drink dry white wine with their turkey, the following are my five-star whites: they would also be impressive served as an aperitif. Try serving a comparative pair of yummy 'new' and 'old' world Sauvignon Blancs: *****1992 Domaine de Grandchamp Sauvignon, Bergerac ( pounds 5.95 selected Sainsbury's) and *****1993 Jackson Estate Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand ( pounds 6.99 Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, pounds 7.95 selected Sainsbury's), both wonderfully, intensely herby and gooseberry-fruity. My other top wines are Chardonnays: *****1993 Danie de Wet Grey Label Chardonnay, South Africa ( pounds 4.99 Sainsbury's), with very intense pineapple fruit and butterscotch, toast and butter flavours; *****1992 Montana Church Road Chardonnay, New Zealand ( pounds 7.95 selected Sainsbury's, pounds 7.99 Oddbins), ripe flavours of pineapple, biscuit and butterscotch; and *****1990 Franciscan Chardonnay Oakville Estate, Cuvee Sauvage, California ( pounds 9.99 Oddbins), rich, soft and 'Burgundian'.

The following are also delicious: ****1991 Riddoch Chardonnay, Katnook Estate, Australia ( pounds 5.99 Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up), pineappley and oaky; ****1991 Tasmanian Wine Company Chardonnay ( pounds 7.99 selected Sainsbury's), perfumed and ; ****1992 Wild Horse Chardonnay, California ( pounds 7.99 Oddbins), buttery and biscuity; ****1991 Chardonnay, St Helena, New Zealand ( pounds 8.25 Lay Wheeler), savoury and oaky; ****1991 Chardonnay Buitenvervachtin South Africa ( pounds 8.25 Lay & Wheeler), elegant, subtle and complex, and ****1990 Petaluma Chardonnay Australia ( pounds 9.99 Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up), subtle but rich, toasty and creamy.

Fine German Kabinett is my favourite white wine for goose, especially one served with a sweetish, fruity sauce; the acidity cuts the fattiness, and the flavours blend well. touch of sweetness in Kabinett also goes well with ham and it makes a brillianty light and elegant aperitif. And happily, it is relatively low in alcohol. Provided it's a traditional one, not the more alcoholic trocken (dry) or halbtrocken (medium-dry), Kabinett is the least alcoholic of all the German wines (typically between 7.5 and 9.5 degrees, compared with 11.5 to 13.5 for most dry ). These are some of the best value German Kabinetts: ****1992 Durkheimer Spielberg Riesling Kabinett, Kurt Darting ( pounds 5.49 Oddbins), brilliant value, rich, floral, appley and honeyed; ****1991 Haardter Mandelring Scheurebe Kabinett, Muller- Catoir ( pounds 6.99 Oddbins), tremendous, spicy, grapefruity concentration; ****1990 Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett, von Hodvel ( pounds 7.15 Wine Rack, Bottoms Up), brilliant, concentrated flavours of honey, apple and currant; ****1991 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett, Selbach-Oster ( pounds 7.99 Lay & Wheeler), crisp and very ; ****1991 Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett, Fritz Haag ( pounds 9.99 Lay & Wheeler), elegant and honeyed; brilliant value while on special offer, ***1988 Falkensteiner Hofberg Riesling Kabinett, Friedrich Wilmhelm Gymnasium ( pounds 3.89 until 4 January, then pounds 5.39 Victoria Wine), flavours of honey, grapefruit and apple.

STAR RATING: ***** superb; **** complex and exciting; *** excellent.