GRAPEVINE / Kathryn McWhirter on bargains around pounds 3

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DON'T GO looking at Kwik Save for wines costing pounds 3.99. They don't exist. All but three (a Champagne and two Australians) cost under pounds 3 a bottle. But what you will find is some wines that taste like pounds 3.99, or even more. Kwik Save's consultant, Angela Muir, has totally reworked its range over the past two years. Kwik Save customers are not alone in their modest spend on wine. It is estimated that about two-thirds of wines sold in all British supermarkets cost pounds 2.99 or less. But I rarely find so many wines to recommend at well under pounds 3 as I did at a recent Kwik Save tasting. Top-value reds at the moment are a lovely, blackcurrant-fruity and oaky **1990 Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon ( pounds 2.49 to 19 September, then pounds 2.67) and a peppery but softly plummy **Minervois ( pounds 2.69); and best-value whites a tangy **1993 Domaine la Gravenne, Vin de Pays d'Oc sur Lie ( pounds 2.69) with lovely appley fruit, and the crisp, tangy, faintly Muscatty **1993 Silver Hills White ( pounds 2.79) from South Africa. A very sweet Spanish dessert wine, **Castillo de Liria Moscatel ( pounds 2.99) is also yummy, marmaladey and soft.

The trio of 'expensive' wines would still have been good value. **1993 Angove's Chardonnay ( pounds 3.97) from Australia has rich, pineappley fruit, and its red mate, **Angove's Butterfly Ridge South Australian Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz ( pounds 3.49), has, for that price, unusually intense, ripe blackcurrant fruit, with an intriguing hint of leather. The **Champagne Brut, Louis Raymond ( pounds 8.59) is also remarkably good. It's not quite dry, soft and pleasantly yeasty.

There are plenty of other bargains. Among the whites, the *1993 Hungarian Country Wine ( pounds 2.39) is spicy and aromatic. There's a crisp, nettley *1993 Bordeaux Sauvignon ( pounds 2.69), and a tangy, crisp *1993 Steep Ridge, Chardonnay/Sauvignon Vin de Pays d'Oc ( pounds 2.79 to 19 September, then pounds 2.89) with a touch of toasty richness. From Chile, *White Pacific Chardonnay/Semillon ( pounds 2.95, arriving mid- September) is attractively soft, with peach and peardrop flavours, and *White Pacific Sauvignon Blanc ( pounds 2.69 from mid-September) crisp and softly gooseberry-flavoured. Reds include a perfumed, gluggable *1993 Cotes du Ventoux Red ( pounds 2.69); a fruity, grassy 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Pays d'Oc ( pounds 2.69); cherry-fruity *Leziria Red ( pounds 2.39 ), which has gone through some bad times but is now delicious again; a fruity, easy-drinking *Vin de Pays de l'Herault ( pounds 2.99 per litre); light, freshly fruity and tobaccoey *1993 Arietta, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ( pounds 2.49); and *Promesa Tinto ( pounds 2.59), a light Spanish table wine with attractive plum-skin and almond flavours.

CHARDONNAY-lovers should take a look at a new selection at Marks & Spencer. The lowest in price, and just short of two stars, is an appley-crisp but also gentle *1993 Italian Chardonnay, Vino da Tavola del Piemonte ( pounds 2.99). Pay pounds 1 more and the **1993 Giordano Chardonnay del Piemonte ( pounds 3.99), likewise unoaked, has a lovely, buttery, nutty character. **1993 Chardonnay Domaine de Mandeville, Vin de Pays d'Oc ( pounds 3.99) is brilliant value, crisp, floral and fruity, as is the **1993 Kaituna Hills Gisborne Chardonnay ( pounds 4.99) from New Zealand, with ripe fruit and refreshing acidity. From South Africa, the **1993 Stellenbosch Chardonnay ( pounds 3.99) is aromatic and tangy, with pineapple, nut and butter flavours. Chardonnay from Burgundy rarely shines at low prices but Marks & Spencer's *1993 White Burgundy ( pounds 4.99) is remarkably attractive for the price, soft and buttery. And the new blend of **Jeunes Vignes ( pounds 4.99) which could have been Chablis if the vines had been old enough to satisfy regulations, is deliciously grassy and buttery. It tastes like the real thing.

A NUMBER of Sainsbury's own-label Spanish wines are excellent value at the moment, but especially so the **1991 Sainsbury's Navarra Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon ( pounds 3.55 for four weeks from 28 August, then pounds 3.95). This has lovely vanilla oak with curranty Cabernet fruit and some savoury flavours. In a lighter, much more delicate style, the red Rioja, **1989 Sainsbury's Rioja Crianza, Bodegas Olarra ( pounds 3.99) is also excellent. The white **1993 Sainsbury's Navarra Viura-Chardonnay, Barrel Fermented ( pounds 3.99 selected stores), honeyed and lemony with vanilla oak will be even better if you tuck it away for six months. *Sainsbury's Vino de la Tierra Blanco, Extremadura ( pounds 2.59), is simpler, almondy and lemony. And there's a very gluggable, redcurranty rose, *1993 Sainsbury's La Mancha Rosado, Castillo de Alhambra, excellent value at pounds 1.99.

STAR RATINGS: **very good; *good