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"STOCK clearance!" "Bin-end offer!" "Bargains abound!" It's the time of year when the gentlemanly wine trade tries street-trader tactics. The simplest, inexpensive 1994s are due in from Europe, and the 1993s (not to mention the 1992s) need floggi ng fast. Warehouses are also clogged with a few expensive cases of this, a few pricey bottles of that. Some are still delicious but many are past it and not much fun.

So here are a few basic rules to sort out the real bargains. Never buy non-vintage wines except for Champagne, and even with Champagne beware non-vintage halves. Beware half-bottles in general, in fact. Wine ages much more quickly in half-bottles than infull ones, and there do seem to be an awful lot of half-bottles on offer this year. Steer clear of cheap white wines beyond their first flush of freshness, and pricey red wines from lesser vintages. That means clarets from 1987, 1984 and 1980; less expensive wines from 1983; and Burgundies from 1987 and 1984. And beware - there's a lot of mediocre, feeble Burgundy around.

Mixed-case offers should be treated with the greatest caution. You may get one or two good wines, but you will almost certainly have some eldery shockers as well. Most dangerous of all is the "mixed-case lucky dip".

But there are some interesting offers. Laytons in London NW1 and Andre Simon in London W1 and SW1 are offering the lovely NV Laytons Brut Reserve ( £9.91, down from £13.22). Bibendum (London NW1 and mail order) is listing until 25 February two delicious Riojas, the white 1988 Marques de Murrieta Reserva (£6.99, down from £8.95) and red 1990 Remelluri Reserva (£6.99 from £8.98), and two excellent California wines from Saintsbury, the 1991 Reserve Chardonnay ( £11.99 from £14.98) and the 1991 Reserve Pinot Noir (£14.75 from £18.25).

Safeway's sale, which runs until 4 February, includes a soft, very honeyed 1993 Chardonnay del Piemonte, Le Monferrine (£2.99 from £3.75), and the best of the "flying winemaker" Hungarian Char-donnays, still in good lemony, oaky, biscuity shape - 1993 Hincesti Moldova Premium Chardonnay (£3.29 from £3.79). Also at Safeway's from flying winemakers, and well-preserved, are the rich, meaty, not-quite-dry 1993 River Duna Pinot Gris from Hungary (£2.79 from £3.49), the crisp, honeyed 1993 Czech Pinot Blanc (£2.99 from £3.49) and the 1993 Badger Hill Barrique-fermented Chardon-nay (£3.49 from £3.99).

From Fuller's (until 26 February), I'd take a punt on 1992 Heggies Viognier (£6.99 from £8.99) and 1990 Chateau Gaudrelle Vouvray (£4.99 from £6.49) among the whites, plus any of the German Kabinetts - all vintages of the Eighties that should be in fine drinking order from respected producers, and down by 80p-£2 a bottle to between £3.19 and £4.99. Best bets among the reds are 1988 Salice Salentino Riserva (£3.99 from £4.99) and Chateau de Paraza Minervois (£3.59 from £4.49).

Lay and Wheeler of Colchester (shops and mail order) has a long and tempting list of bin ends (up to 31 January). Clarets abound, including 1991 Chateau Langoa Barton (£9.95 from £10.95), a star in this light vintage, and 1990 Chateau Cissac 1990 (£9.25 from £10.25). In white Bordeaux, 1993 Chateau de Costis, Entre-Deux-Mers (£3.45 from £4.95) and 1990 Chateau Nicot, Cuvee Speciale Futs de Chene (£4.95, not in the current regular list) are tempting. Other bargains are the very ripe red Burgundy 1989 Saint-Aubin Cuvee Paradis, Hubert Lamy (£6.94 from £9.95), and Lamy's white 1991 Saint-Aubin, La Princee (£7.45 from £9.95). Olivier Leflaive's 1992 Rully (£7.95 from £8.75) is a good price for a very good year; 1987 Chablis Premier Cru Vaillon, Defaix (£11.75 from £13.50) is a good buy, too. You might also scoop some of the delicious, concentrated 1991 Crozes-Hermitage, Graillot (£7.80 from £8.95) and the mature red Tuscan 1989 Barco Reale, Capezzana (£5.50), plus some lovely sweet Loires, young and mature, and fine German wines.