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The Independent Culture
AS THE carols fade and the credits roll at the end of the final This Morning programme before Christmas, corks will be popping in Granada TV's Liverpool studio. There will follow "the kind of Christmas cocktail party that's slightly unruly," says Geraldine Woods, who is choosing the wine for it. "We'll stretch the budget as far as possible, as long as the wine's half decent. We'll get in a few bottles of red and dry white and try it out on six or seven people who happen to be around."

If they asked my advice, I'd recommend Graham Beck Brut (pounds 6.99 Victoria Wine Cellars and Victoria Wine Shops) for the fizz to see the programme out with a bang. From South Africa, it is soft, malty and quite dry, and much more than a match for cheap Champagnes. For a cheap and very cheerful red to follow, I'd go for Sainsbury's Sierra del Sol Tinto (pounds 3.29), a really chunky, easy-drinking wine made in southern Spain by a marauding Australian. Fruity, floral Terre del Sole, Sardinian White Wine (pounds 3.19 Sainsbury's) would make a dry, crisp and characterful white partner.

Meanwhile, at the Lewes Tertiary College in Sussex, student Dana Wag- nerova is organising a farewell Christ-mas party for classmates. She's on the lookout for the cheapest red, an off-dry white and a dry white. "Ideally, it should be very cheap and very good."

For a cheap, good, off-dry white, I'd point her to 1994 Somerfield Niersteiner Spielberg Kabinett, Rudolph Muller (pounds 2.99 down from pounds 3.39 for Christmas), a crisp, honeyed wine that should not wrinkle any noses, even if there is a wine buff in the class. For the dry-toothed, the delicious, fruity, floral 1994 Deer Leap Dry White, Harsevelu, Debro, Hun-gary (pounds 2.99 Waitrose) is brilliant value, well matched by the ripely gluggable red 1994 Debut Merlot, Svischtov (pounds 2.49 down from pounds 2.85, Co-op) or the very Cabernet- fruity Delta Rumanian Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 2.59 Tesco), amazingly rich for the price.

The price rises to pounds 4 a bottle for Aubrey Roberts, a partner in the City solicitors' firm Baileys, Shaw and Gillett. "We always have a Christmas party for 100 partners, staff and a few guests, and my job is to buy the booze. I'm looking for an easy drinking red and white, trying not to offend anyone and please as many as I can. For a white, I'd play safe with a Chardonnay; if I chose a New World, buttery, oaky Chardonnay, it wouldn't go down well: for a party you need something lighter. I'd probably look at Chile or South Africa for price; for reds, I'd certainly look to Eastern Europe, maybe a Pinot Noir or a Rioja"

My red star this Christmas, at just under pounds 4, would be 1994 Baso Garnacho, Navarra (pounds 3.99 Wine Cellar, Berkeley Wines and Adnams of Southwold, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up and Thresher), a fruity and savoury, easy-drinking red from northern Spain. For light Chardonnay, I'd go for 1994 Alasia Chardonnay del Piemonte (pounds 3.99 down from pounds 4.99, most Co-op stores), an elegant, quite complex wine with the slightest touch of oak. But for something fascinatingly different, I'd choose 1994 Orvieto Classico Secco, Cardeto (Waitrose pounds 3.95, also mail order on 0800 413331; pounds 3.99 Wine Cellar and Berkeley Wines). It's a subtle, aromatic Italian white with greengage fruit and musky perfume.

In London, Julie Mews at Babette's Feast produces smart food for parties, organising wines to match with Julian Kirk of Thames Wine Cellars. This year she'll be doing a Christmas party for BBC executives."People don't pay more than pounds 6 a bottle, but they won't drop below pounds 4.50. They want to seem generous, but don't want to be seen to throw money around."

Wines for receptions will be drunk with finger food and shouldn't be too strong, Julian Kirk says. "There's often such a variety of flavours, with eight or nine different canapes, that you want a wine that goes reasonably well with most and isn't too assertive in flavour."

I'd splash out up to pounds 5 a bottle for a smart party like this. Top choice would be the gentle but crisp Chilean 1995 Casablanca White Label Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 4.99 Oddbins, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Co-op, Wine Cellar, Berkeley Wines, Victoria Wines, Waitrose). It's one of the classiest of the new wave of Chilean whites, ripely fruity but more approachable than the acidic Sauvignons of France. For a red, I'd hop across the Andes to Argentina: 1995 Lurton Malbec/ Tempranillo (pounds 4.49 Wine Cellar and Berkeley Wines) is an intensely fruity wine with complex flavours.