Grapevine: Kathryn McWhirter's cross-Channel wine choice

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The Independent Culture
BRITISH supermarket buyers have a better nose for good wines than their French counterparts. That's my conclusion after coming back from Boulogne and Calais with a dozen duty-free wines from each of the six leading stores. Quality was very mixed.

There are some wonderful bargains. A typical saving is between pounds 1.30 and pounds 2 a bottle (even at today's poor exchange rate) compared with wines of similar quality here. Not all prices are lower than you would find in Britain. The cheapest delicious wine I found cost Fr11 ( pounds 1.30); below that there was only one that I thought drinkable (all of 67p from Leclerc - see next month's 'Grapevine').

Expect to find far more reds than whites, with half the range from Bordeaux. (Claret is the favourite tipple of the northern French.) Steer clear of the Blue Nun, Piat d'Or and Lambrusco, bought in specially for us. Here is my selection from the two best Channel-ports supermarkets. I'll review the others next month.

PG

PG Liane is 500m from the Seacat in Boulogne. There are three others in the town, three in and around Calais, one at Loon-Plage near Dunkerque, 29 in the Pas de Calais departement.

This up-market northern chain of supermarkets, not hypermarkets, was the big discovery of the trip. Our wine case was of a very high standard, with some very good bargains. Fruit, vegetables and charcuterie are also excellent; cheese and fish are quite good.

REDS

***1988 Chateau Moulin Riche, St Julien (Fr69 / pounds 8.31, saving pounds 2- pounds 3) The 'second wine' of Chateau Leoville-

Poyferre, rich and soft, with lots of new oak and ripe fruit. For now, or to keep a couple of years.

**1990 Chateau Ventenac, Cabardes (Fr11 / pounds l33, saving pounds 2.40) The scoop of the trip - a lovely, fragrant, black cherry-fruity red, very easy drinking but impressively rich for this price.

**1990 Vieux Domaine de Taste, Cotes de Bourg (Fr26 / pounds 3.13, saving pounds 1- pounds 2) Good, fruity, oaky claret, pleasantly firm and medium bodied.

**1990 Chateau Moulin Saint-Claire, Puisseguin-St-Emilion (Fr26.90 /

pounds 3.24, saving pounds 2.50) Characterful, firm claret with good fruit and flavours of honey, raisin and (agreeably) horses]

*1990 Cotes du Rhone, Cave de Beaumes-de-Venise (Fr16 / pounds 1.93, saving pounds 1.20) Good, simple, peppery red with raspberry fruit.

*1991 Chateau de Luc, Corbieres, Cuvee Gastronomique (Fr13.40 /

pounds 1.60, saving pounds 2) Soft, easy-drinking with good fruit and smoky character.

WHITES

***1989 Chateau Fontpudier, Monbazillac (Fr43.50 / pounds 5.24, saving pounds 2) Delicious, Sauternes-style, rich, sweet wine with complex flavours of honey, apricot and coconut.

*1991 Pinot d'Alsace, Blanck Freres (Fr23.50 / pounds 2.83, saving pounds 1.40) Crisp, honeyed, grapey-flowery.

*1991 Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur Lie, Chateau de la Cassemichere (Fr27 / pounds 3.25, saving pounds 1.25) Very fruity, floral-fresh, lemony-tangy.

*1991 Morlieres Muscat, Vin de Pays de L'Herault (Fr16 / pounds 1.93, saving pounds 1.25) Crisp, dry, fruity, aromatic.

AUCHAN

Auchan has outlets in Boulogne, Dunkerque and Cherbourg, and 48 stores all over France. Huge, bright and cheery, it is worth a detour for its wonderful food, and the wine shelves look impressive. The selection is huge (half Bordeaux, including many top chateaux) and due to expand further next month. During February you can buy five bottles and get one free. But too many of the inexpensive wines we bought were dull or no more than adequate - with a couple of exceptions.

REDS

**Cairanne, Domaine Le Serre, Cotes du Rhone Villages (Fr24 /

pounds 2.89, saving pounds 2) Delicious, warmly fruity with some complexity.

**1989 Chateau Girard-Tiffray, Lussac St-Emilion (Fr34.95 / pounds 4.20, saving pounds 1.30) Good, lightish-weight claret with ripe fruit and a touch of tannin.

(Photograph omitted)

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