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TREAD carefully if you're out to find wines at really barrel-scraping prices in the sales. Most of the best-tasting bargains in the high street this month will cost you somewhere between pounds 3.99 and pounds 5.99 a bottle. Many of the cheaper wines are there because they are tiring, or because they were never any good in the first place. But there are some good budget buys.

The cheapest red I'd heartily recommend is Kwik Save's 1993 Macedonian Country Red (pounds 1.97 from pounds 2.39). Made by a flying winemaker in a now independent part of former Yugoslavia, this is amazing value for a ripe, raisiny red with a bit of character. 1993 Cuvee de Cerf, Domaine des Nobles Terres, Costieres de Nimes (pounds 2.99 Majestic till 12 Feb), from the south of France, had originally been ordered by a Danish wine retailer, who then pulled out. That left this firm, fruity bottle of red lumbered with an unsaleable Danish back label - hence the price. Other inexpensive reds worth seeking out are Morrison's mature Australian 1990 Saltram Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 3.49), and the Co-op's spicy, cherry-fruity Aus-tralian 1995 Kingston Shiraz- Mataro (pounds 3.49 down from pounds 3.79 till 28 Jan).

Star of January's cheap white offers is a very attractive South African Franschhoek Chenin Sauvignon Blanc, Valley of the Huguenots (pounds 2.99 from pounds 3.99 Safeway), with gentle, grassy flavours, crisp acidity and heaps of fruit. Buy this week - Safeway's wine sale ends on 21 January. Other good buys at Safeway are the Australian-made Portuguese white 1994 Bright Brothers Fernao Pires-Chardonnay, Ribatejo (pounds 2.99 from pounds 3.69), with intense flavours and a touch of oak, and the modern, flavourful Italian 1994 Grave del Friuli Pinot Grigio, Gaetana Carron (pounds 2.99 from pounds 3.49). Look out also for 1994 Lurton Vin de Pays d'Oc sur Lie (pounds 2.99 from pounds 3.69 Oddbins), Domaine Argentier Terret (pounds 2.99 from pounds 3.49 Victoria Wine) and Somerfield Chardonnay Vin de Pays d'Oc (3.49 from pounds 3.99).

The latter apart, Somerfield's cheaper sale offerings are not exciting. But there are some real bargains among their more expensive wines. Some are available only in about 150 stores, but you can can order a full case from any store. There's 1990 Riserva di Fizzano, Chianti Classico, Rocca delle Macie (pounds 5.33 from pounds 7. 99), or, for the sweet-toothed, the 1990 Chateau Bastor Lamontagne, Sauternes (pounds 5.66 from pounds 8.49 per half). A real scoop from Australia is the ripe, blackcurranty 1991 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 5.33 from pounds 7.99).

Elsewhere, too, Australia is a reliable source of bargains, especially at Oddbins, who tie with Somerfield for most tempting wine sale of '96. Odd-bins have bin ends of the rich 1993 and 1994 Peter Lehmann Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 4.99 from pounds 6.49) and 1991 Yalumba Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet (pounds 5.99 from pounds 7.49), while the 1994 Mount Hurtle Grenache Rose (pounds 3.99 from pounds 4.99), one of the world's best, most flavourful and fruity dry roses, is reduced just for January. For Australian whites, I'd snap up the buttery 1993 Rothbury Cowra Chardon-nay (pounds 3.99 Morrisons), and at Oddbins the rich, fat 1992 Mitchelton Reserve Marsanne (pounds 4.99 from pounds 6.99).

Oddbins scores again in Spain, with two good reds, 1991 Cosme Palacio Rioja (pounds 4.99 from pounds 5.49) and 1993 Palacio de la Vega Cabernet Tempran- illo, Navarra (pounds 3.79 from pounds 4.19), while the lovely oaked white Rioja Marques de Caceres Antea drops from pounds 4.99 to pounds 3.99. At the Co-op until 28 January I'd go for the oaky, nicely maturing red 1987 Senorio de Nava Tinto Crianza (pounds 5.29 from pounds 5.89), and at Fullers, the 1992 or 1993 vintages of Augustus Chardonnay (pounds 7.49 from pounds 8.99), a characterful Spanish Chardonnay.

Among Chilean wines, snap up the toasty, pineappley Errazuriz Special Reserve Chardonnay (pounds 4.99 from pounds 5.99 Oddbins). Safeway's 1994 Santa Carolina Reserva Chardonnay (pounds 4.99 from pounds 6.29, until 21 January) is less complex, but very good value.

Safeway has my top French tip with (till 21January) an elegant and aromatic claret, 1993 Domaine La Turque Bel-Air, Cotes de Castillon (pounds 4.99 from pounds 5.79). And for a really ripe and concentrated, spicy southern French red, try Oddbins' 1993 Mas Cal Demoura (pounds 5.99 from pounds 6.99).

At Majestic (where the sale lasts till 12 Feb), I'd load up some South African 1995 Klein Constantia Sau-vignon Blanc (pounds 4.99), a smoky Sau-vignon with tangy acidity and lovely fruit - one of South Africa finest.