GRAPEVINE

KATHRYN McWHIRTER'S PARTY SEASON BEST BUYS
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The Independent Culture
SUPERSTAR wines at brilliant prices. That's what I've been trawling the supermarket and wine chains for this Christmas. You could pay considerably more for any of the following and still be getting a good buy.

PARTY PLUS (under £3.50): I tasted wines at over £10 that weren't as good as the best under £3.50. Ideal for parties, these are also quite classy enough for a festive meal. One of the white scoops of is the subtle 1993 Domaine de la Tuilerie, Chardonnay Vin de Pays d'Oc (£3.49 until 2 January, Somer-field), made near Narbonne by the Hugh Ryman team of Australians. Sainsbury's crisp and grassy Chilean Sauvignon Semillon (£3.35) is also a real snip. The bargain German wine must be 1993 Wiltinger Scharzberg Riesling Kabinett (£2.99 Asda), way out-classing its price with its green apple and honey flavours. But the place for yummy wines at really low prices is Kwik Save: best white buy is the tangy apple-fruity Domaine de la Gravenne, Vin de Pays d'Oc (£2.79).

For reds, Bulgaria is good hunting-ground for bargains under £3.50. Kwik Save comes up with a stunner again: 1990 Burgas Bulgarian Cabernet Sau-vignon (£2.59) has lovely, oaky blackcurrant fruit. Safeway's organic 1992 Estate Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Shivatchevo Vineyard (£3.29) also has brilliant blackcurrant fruit and a hint of treacle. 1993 Oriachovitza Barrel Aged Merlot, Bulgaria (£2.99 Wait-rose) is deliciously fruity and oaky. And Safeway's gentle 1993 Chateau La Foret, Bordeaux (£3.49) beats plenty of clarets at twice the price.

FIZZ: Bargain of the season is the rich and delicious Sainsbury's Champagne Blanc de Noirs (£9.95). But Kwik Save again comes up with the cheapest quality Champagne: soft, attractively yeasty Champagne Brut, Louis Raymond (£8.59). But at that price, I'd go for the Californian Scharffenberger Brut (£8.99 Asda), made from Champagne grapes but so much more flavourful, or, even cheaper, Wait-rose's Brazilian Diamantina Brut (£6.95), creamy, soft and malty.

MIDDLE RANGE SUPERSTARS (£3.50-£5): For white wine drinkers, South Africa scoops nearly all the winners here. Try the seductively soft 1993 Vergelegen Chardonnay (£3.95 Sains-bury's), the rich and at this price wonderfully complex 1994 Stellenzicht Chardonnay (£3.99 Waitrose), or the equally delicious 1994 Danie de Wet Green Label Chardonnay (£4.99 Tesco). For something different, 1992 Chateau Tabbilk Marsanne (£4.99 Majestic) from Australia has lovely, rich, apricotty-peachy-lemony fruit, plus an interesting toasty flavour.

Among the reds, you could pay twice the price for the soft, savoury, tar and fruit flavours of 1991 Crozes-Hermitage, Celliers de Noblehs (£3.89 until 2 January, Somerfield). 1988 Tinto Velho (£3.99 Tesco, Majestic) is another stunner, one of Portugal's best reds, lean and elegant but with intense figgy fruit and firm tannin. The rich and figgy Portuguese 1990 Tinto da Anfora, Alentejo (£4.99 Safeway) is also an excellent buy. From Spain, 1990 Cosme Palacio y Hermanos, Rioja (£4.55 Waitrose and selectedSafeway) is a snip, very oaky and quite tannic, but full of fragrant, wild strawberry and blackcurrant fruit.

LUXURY WINES: The best fine claret buys of this Christmas are at Safeway - in about half their stores. Not all the wines in the fine claret offer are ready for drinking yet, but these two will slip down very well: 1992 Chateau de Fieuzal (£9.99) is soft,ripe and not too tannic, with toasty oak and tobacco; and 1988 Chateau Lynch-Moussas (£11.49 selected Safeway) is more mature, soft and easy, with ripe blackcurrant and cedar flavours. Equally delicious from less prestigious places are the ripe, soft 1990 St-Joseph, Cuvee Medaille d'Or, Caves de Saint Desirat (£7.99 Somerfield); the piercingly minty and blackcurranty 1992 Goundrey Langton Cabernet/Merlot (£5.95 Waitrose), from Western Aust-ralia; the 1992 Peter Lehmann Cabernet Sauvignon (£6.75 Waitrose), the epitome of New World Cabernet; and the dark, savoury 1992 Chateau Reynella Basket Press Shiraz (£6.45 Waitrose) from South Australia.

Top value whites are the wonderfully gooseberry-fruity 1994 Jackson Estate Sauvignon Blanc (£7.95 Wait-rose), or the richer more exotic 1993 Paliser Estate Martinborough Sauvig-non Blanc (£8.99 Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up), both from New Zealand; thecomplex, Burgundian-style 1992 Rex Hill Kings Ridge Oregon Chardonnay (£5.99 Oddbins); and the intense, concentrated but also light and elegant 1990 Grand Cuvee, Chablis Premier Cru, La Chablisienne (£10.99 selected Somerfield) .

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