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) .Reuse content