GRAPEVINE: KATHRYN McWHIRTER ON THIS WEEK'S BEST BUYS

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The Independent Culture
What's the most planted grape in the Champagne region? Chardonnay? Pinot Noir? Wrong. The never-vaunted Pinot Meunier vine hogs far more vineyard than either of the famous grapes. In summer, you can't mistake the vines: the really hairy underside s of the leaves look as if they have been dusted with flour (hence the name Meunier, miller). In Champagne, the white wines made from its black grapes - fruitier, tarter and less long-lived than those from its famous cousin the Pinot Noir - are always a n onymously blended with Pinot Noir and Chardon-nay. The Germans and Australians grow it and make it into undistinguished reds, never good enough to make it to a wine shop near you. So it's fascinating to be able to taste what the variety can do, given a l ittle loving care, in the lovely, fragrant 1993 Bonny Doon Le Meunier (£5.99 Oddbins). Pinot Meunier is just one of the unusual French grapes in the Bonny Doon vineyards in California of the rebel winemaker Randall Grahm. His Meunier hasn't the fullness and intensity of Pinot Noir, but it's a stylish, perfumed and immensely drinkable red, full of fresh raspberry fruit. Cavorting paper figures pursue each other around the bottle in a witty play on The Miller's Tale.

The real scoop of Somerfield's French regional wines promotion, running from 25 January to 21 February, is the characterful red 1993 Mas Segala Grand Reserve, Cotes du Roussillon (£3.49, normally £3.99). Best value among the whites is a crisp, lemony 19

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3 Vin de Nosto, Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne Blanc, Grassa (£2.69, normally £2.89). It is worth laying in some 1994 Domaine de la Tuilerie, Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc (£3.49, normally £3.99). Made by Hugh Ryman's Australian team, this honeyed, crisp white is still young, and though nice now will be even better in two to three months. The `star' offer for the first two weeks of the promotion, the red Domaine de St-Julien Vin de Pays de l'Herault, is best avoided, even at £1.39. Wait till 8 Februar y, when this is replaced by a cut-priced red that's a pleasure to drink: Cabernet Sauvignon, Vin de Pays d'Oc, Val d'Orbieu (£1.99, normally £2.99) is excellent value with its soft, blackcurranty fruit.

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