Grapevine: Kathryn McWhirter does things by halves

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The Independent Culture
WHEN Jack Wright can drink no white, and his wife can drink no red, one solution is to buy half bottles. It's an expensive solution - you pay nearly pounds 2 more for two halves than for the equivalent full bottle. But if your wine consumption is meagre and you prefer variety to a week of gradually deteriorating leftovers from the fridge, maybe this is a luxury worth paying for.

Outside restaurants, the choice of half bottles (other than sweet wines) is usually poor. Among the supermarkets, Waitrose has the best range. The biggest selection of half bottles is at The Wine Treasury, 899-901 Fulham Road, London SW6, which recently went into partnership with Halves, a company with a stunning mail order list of more than 300 half bottles (Halves Ltd, Wood Yard, off Corve Street, Ludlow, Shropshire, SY8 2PX, tel: 0584 877866).

Remember that wine ages more quickly in halves than in full bottles. (All the following contain 35cl unless otherwise stated.)

My top choice among half-bottle dry whites is ****1992 Shafer Napa Valley Chardonnay, Barrel Select ( pounds 6.19 The Wine Treasury, pounds 6.32 Halves), lovely, soft, creamy, fruity wine with yeasty complexity and toasty oak. ****1990 Zind Humbrecht Herrenweg Gewurztraminer, Alsace ( pounds 6.99 Wine Rack) is not quite dry but should still delight with its ripe, intense flavours of barley sugar, honey and roses. ***1992 Chablis, GAEC des Reugnis ( pounds 3.75 Waitrose) is excellent, classic Chablis. The attractive **Tesco Champagne Brut ( pounds 6.99) was the best of the half-bottle champagnes I tasted. From South Australia, **1992 Koonunga Hill Chardonnay, Penfolds ( pounds 2.99 selected Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up) is rich, ripe and pineappley. **1993 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc ( pounds 3.29 Tesco, pounds 2.99 Victoria Wine) from New Zealand is crisp and gooseberryflavoured. *1992 Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris, au Chateau, Beblenheim ( pounds 3.25 Waitrose) is a big, mouthfilling white with honey flavour and a savoury tang; *1992 Alsace Gewurztraminer, au Chateau, Beblenheim ( pounds 3.45 Waitrose) is lightish and not quite dry, with intense barley sugar flavour. Also good, honeyed and grassy, is the *1991 Marks & Spencer Chablis ( pounds 2.99 per 25cl). The cheapest white option I found enjoyable was *Stowell's Australian Semillon/Chardonnay ( pounds 1.49 per 25cl can Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda and Victoria Wine).

Top among the reds I tasted was a big gutsy Beaujolais, ***1991 Morgon, Domaine des Roches du Py, Cote du Py ( pounds 3.99 The Wine Treasury, pounds 4.43 Halves), with lots of dark, plummy fruit. Another excellent cru Beaujolais is **1992, Saint-Amour, Domaine des Pierres ( pounds 2.99 Waitrose), very aromatic, soft and cherried. **1989 Moulins de Citran ( pounds 4.65 Waitrose) is a good, firm, richly fruity claret. For something unusual, try the **1990 Cahors, Chateau de Gaudou ( pounds 3.39 The Wine Treasury, pounds 3.50 Halves) for its dark strawberry, plum and smoke flavours. ** 1990 Tesco Chianti Classic ( pounds 2.39) is just at the right point of maturity, aromatic and cedary, with a touch of tannin. For a big, ripe, fruity Australian, **1991 Penfolds Bin 2 South East Australian Shiraz-Mataro ( pounds 2.19 Waitrose) with flavours of leather, raspberry and mint toffee is excellent value. *1991 Bardolino, Azienda Agricola Cavalchina ( pounds 3.29 The Wine Treasury, pounds 3.39 Halves) is a featherweight in comparison, cherry and almond-perfumed, soft and attractive. *Sainsbury's Vin de Pays des Cotes de Thau Rouge ( pounds 1.29 per 25cl can) is another easy red with plum and cherry fruit.

Sweet whites are more common in halves. It's just the right quantity even for a dinner party for one final small glass each to round off the meal. An unusually affordable German one is **1989 Goldene Rebe Beerenauslese ( pounds 4.25 Waitrose), grapey, muscatty, raisiny and very attractive. ***Chateau Liot, Sauternes ( pounds 6.59 The Wine Treasury, pounds 6.93 Halves) is more stylish, fairly light, but with lovely, sweet and pungent flavours of lemon, apricot and honey. For a treat, my favourite is the rich but elegant ****1991 Chateau Climens, Sauternes-Barsac ( pounds 10.99 Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up). This is delicious now, but will last for years.

RATING: ****complex and exiting; ***excellent, **very good, *good

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