GRAPEVINE KATHRYN McWHIRTER ON CHEAP WHITES AND CHEERFUL REDS

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The Independent Culture
FOR something white, inexpensive and different, one of the very best places to look amongst the new arrivals from the 1994 vintage is the south of France. The Midi traditionally specialised in boring grape varieties, and they are still there, alongside the new vineyards of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The difference nowadays is that modern winemaking methods can impose character on bland grapes such as Picpoul and Terret - grapes that were never before thought worthy of naming on the label. 1994 Delta Domaines Picpoul Terres Fines, Vin de Pays de l'Hrault (£3.79 Majestic) is a lovely example, crisp and tangy like softer version of a good Muscadet. 1994 Terret/Chardonnay, Vin de Pays des Ctes de Thau, Lurton (£3.49 Waitrose) has the gentle softness of Chardonnay combined with a Sauvignon-like crispness from the Terret grapes. Intriguingly musky 1994 Laperouse, Vin de Pays d'Oc, Penfold/Val d'Orbieu (£4.49 Safeway) is a rich, subtle and complex combination of Chardonnay with a variety of southern French grapes.

Also slightly musky, though mostly made from the bland southern French grape the white Grenache, is the crisply lemony but quite rich 1994 Safeway Ctes du Lubron, Ryman (£3.19). Viognier is the reliably musky grape of the south, but they are often over-priced. 1993 Viognier Galet Vineyards, Vin de Pays D'Oc (£5.99 Majestic) is worth the premium for its honeyed, lavender and peach fragrance and refreshing acidity. But at lower prices it is still hard to beat Sauvignon and Chardonnay. For a fresh, tropical- fruit style Sauvignon try 1994 Les Fumes Blanches, Sauvignon, Vin de Pays d'Oc, Lurton (£4.75 Waitrose) and 1994 Chardonnay Aged in Oak, Vin de Pays d'Oc, Ryman (£3.99 Safeway) for a light but stylish, Burgundian- style Chardonnay.

TURN south for top value, inexpensive reds, too. Safeway offer two of the best value ones, 1994 Chteau La Tour de Braud, Costires de Nmes (£3.55 Safeway) is quite tannic, but has the lovely raspberry and creosote flavours of Northern Rhone Syrah; and the firm but less tannic 1993 Domaine Rochevue, Minervois (£3.89 Safeway) has deliciously concentrated strawberry and savoury flavours. Even better, and a bit more expensive, is another Syrah, 1992 Monastre de Trignan, Coteaux du Languedoc (£4.29 Majestic), quite tannic but with lovely, intense raspberry smoky fruit. 1994 Ctes du Ventoux, Les Oliviers (£3.15 Waitrose) is excellent value Syrah in a gentle, very gluggable style. And 1993 Domaine des Schistes, Ctes-du- Roussillon-Villages (£3.99 Majestic), another concentrated red with smoky, raising and tobacco flavours, is also brilliant value.

CHEAPNESS may not be uppermost in your thoughts as you toast the onset of spring. For a really stylish white, try something altogether finer from the South of France: 1992 Domaine Gauby Vieilles Vignes, Ctes-du- Rousillon (£8.99 Wine Rack) is really tangy and mouth-filling, musky and herby with a subtle touch of oak and shows what the local grapes can do with the tenderest of loving care. But at this price, many of the yummiest bargains are Chardonnays, and not French. Top Chardonnays from California, Australia and South Africa are complex and exciting, and excellent value when compared with white Burgundies at the same price level.

Affordably from California, 1992 Jekel Vineyards Gravelstone Chardonnay, Arroyo Seco (£9.99 Majestic) has a lovely balance of ripe, pineappley fruit, attractive oak, fresh acidity and a lovely creamy buttery flavour. 1992 Landmark Damaris Reserve Chardonnay (£12.99 Oddbins) is a bigger wine. It is more pineappley, more oaky, more buttery, still with good, refreshing acidity. These two wines are ready for drinking now, but the intense and complex 1993 Beringer Chardonnay Private Reserve (£14.49 Majestic) and 1992 Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay (£16.99 Majestic) are both built to last. Tuck them away now for a treat in the first spring of the new century.

Some of the best value around amongst the top Chardonnays at the moment are from South Africa. One is the yummy 1993 Reserve Chardonnay, Thelema Mountain Vineyards, Stellenbosch (£8.99 Wincellars, Vilkleneuve Wines of Peebles £9.50 Just in Case in Bishops Wartham) with a good acidity, and the biscuity and buttery flavours of good Burgundy, but riper fruit. And 1992 Chardonnay Reserve, Shaw & Smith (£10.50 Pont de Latour SE1, £10.99 Winecellars, £10.50 by the case only Morris & Verdin) is a wonderful value from Australia, rich and pineappley with subtle oak. The 1993 version of the same wine (£10.99 Winecellars) is even more impressive, bigger and intensely fruity with lots of oak - it will be even better in a year or two.

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