RICHARD EHRLICH'S BEVERAGE REPORT: GO ON, TREAT YOURSELF

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The Independent Culture
IT'S OLD NEWS by now, and not very big news, but I can't resist mentioning the Glenfiddich Award I won a few weeks ago. Drink Writer of the Year, for musings in these pages. My beautiful booty: a quaich (two- handled drinking cup), a case of the eponymous nectar, and a cheque.

I mention my good fortune partly because I can't stop talking about it, and partly because it's made me wonder what you should buy when you've come into a bit of money. I'm still pondering that question, but one bottle on my list of candidates is a Chilean called Domaine Paul Bruno Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 (John Armit Wines, pounds 12.92, unmixed cases only). This is absolutely massive in impact, intense and concentrated, and will be much better in five years. But decant it before serving next weekend and your guests will approve.

In the realm of white grapes my thoughts will be guided by a steadily growing love for Albarino, which gives us the loveliest fluids emanating from the Rias Baixas (pronounced BY-Shass) region in the north-west of Spain. Albarino is apparently thought by some to be related to Riesling, but to me it has a taste reminiscent of Muscat, and its pungent, exotic fruit can be quite remarkably seductive when the wine is well made.

When mellowed with oak sweetness, as in Condes de Albarei "Carballo Galego" 1996, it is capable of real greatness. This honeyed, supple, plangent beauty can be had from the Wine Bureau (01423 527 772) and Hallamshire Wine (0114 257 1202) for around pounds 10.60. Its unoaked stablemate, Condes de Albarei "Clasico" 1996, is more wallet-friendly at pounds 5.59, and gives the same type of fruit with a little less depth and none of the oak complexity. But with much of the same appeal. Watch out for any good wine from this region; it will not be cheap, but it will be interesting.

If I were just planning to use my new riches to throw a party, on the other hand, I know for certain what the house white would be. Safeway is reducing the price of its Fait Acompli Grenache-Chardonnay 1997, Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, from pounds 3.99 to pounds 2.99 until 23 May. With its fresh, spritzy melony fruit, this can have few equals at the reduced price.

And finally ... Two further field reports on stockists for Madeira, about which this column waxed rhapsodic last week. The Ipswich firm, Wines of Interest (01473 215752), stocks two ancient bottles from D'Oliveira, Moscatel 1900 and Verdelho 1900, at the relatively low price of pounds 175. Yes, the emphasis is on the word relatively; and no, I haven't tasted either one - but that's still an offer worth looking into. Second, and this really is a buying opportunity, Fuller's (0181 996 2085) has a special bottling of Cossart & Gordon's Bual Solera 1845 which they snared a couple of years ago. I am reliably informed that the bottles contain a good proportion of 19th-century wine, and having tasted the stuff I can certify its quality. Warm, raisiny caramel on the palate with a glow from 21 degrees of alcohol and an overall impression of balance rather than sweetness; all that plus a wild, gamy, spicy undertone. You can taste it 20 minutes after your last sip, and you feel privileged to be so doing.

They're selling the Bual Solera for just pounds 40. None of the bottles about which I raved last week costs less than pounds 150. Windfall or no windfall, Fuller's offer has to be regarded as a bargain of epic stature. What's more, they've got a good stock of it and I hope you and I both bag at least one bottle.

WINE BOX

THE WEEK'S BEST BUYS

*Quinta das Setencostas 1996 (pounds 4.99, Oddbins)

*Esporao, Reguengos Reserva 1996 (pounds 6.99, Oddbins)

I've suspected for a while that the next discovery in sexy wines would come from Portugal, and Oddbins seems determined to prove me right. They've sailed up a raft-full of reds and whites, and while my favourite is Pegos Claros 1993 (pounds 7.99), a wine of supple and savoury excellence, the two here are cheaper. Quinta das Setencostas has complex fruit, tart, even astringent at first but revealing loads of earthy berry-rich fruits. The Esporao seems green and raw on the nose, so it's surprising how lushly refined the fruit feels on the palate - a result, no doubt, of fermentation in new American oak. A little deficient in acidity but a remarkable, distinctive and wonderful wine. Both will bring a tingle to weary palates.

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