The 50 Best wines; 'TIS THE SEASON TO DRINK BOLLY...
For those about to booze: Anthony Rose, The Independent's wine writer, picks the very finest of the winter's vinous offerings, from the greatest value to the greatest vintage
990 TAITTINGER Comtes de Champagne France
This golden de luxe champagne from Taittinger is a blancs de blancs - in other words, 00 per cent chardonnay, and, as such, one of the most supremely elegant fizzes on the market. A touch of new-barrel fermentation, not to mention six years maturing in cool, subterranean chalk cellars, has added richness and a hint of nutty complexity to this delicious foaming champagne, which, after almost a decade, sparkles, crisp and fresh, like morning dew.
Where from: pounds 75 at Majestic and Oddbins.
995 PIRIE Australia
This is the first release of a stylish Tasmanian sparkling wine from Dr Andrew Pirie, the pioneering owner of Piper's Brook outside Launceston, one of Australia's foremost cool-climate wineries. It's creamy, rich and mouth-filling in the Bollinger style, with honey, vanilla and biscuity notes underscored by a lemony freshness. Partial barrel-fermentation and the addition of some reserve wines lend complexity. Due to hit Tesco shelves in the New Year.
Where from: pounds 8.99 at Swig, Grogblossom, D Byrne & Co, Sandiway Wine Co, Noble Rot Wine Warehouse, Peckham & Rye and The Nobody Inn.
997 CHATEAU DE LA GUIMONIERE LES JULINES Coteaux du Layon Chaume France
No apologies for including no sauternes and not one but two sweet wines from the Loire in this feature. The mouthwatering crisp acidity of the chenin blanc grape counterbalances the immense richness of the sweet wine when it is made, as in this case, from highly concentrated, ultra-ripe grapes. This wine simply oozes luscious, crystallised grapefruit and pineapple flavours with an intensity that's almost hard to believe. Sure it costs, but every little sip is liquid gold.
Where from: Unwins, pounds 9.99, 50cl.
988 LAMOUROUX France
From the classic 988 vintage, this is the second label of the prestigious Chateau Rausan-Segla in Margaux. At its peak of maturity now, it has a wonderfully aromatic bouquet of dark chocolate and cassis, a silky smooth, supple texture and great complexity, which is not surprising given the wine's pedigree and the fact that 988 was a superb, if underrated, vintage in Bordeaux. No need to tuck this one away any longer. Just enjoy.
Where from: Bordeaux Direct, pounds 7.99.
996 LAGUNA RANCH CHARDONNAY California
You won't find the name Gallo in big print on the label here, perhaps because association with the more downmarket varietal Gallo range may be seen to taint this classic chardonnay from the family's Pacific-influenced Russian River Valley vineyards at Laguna Ranch in Sonoma. It's a typical, finely wrought California chardonnay, with in-yer-face richness from low- yielding vines, and a whack of nutty, butterscotch and toffee-popcorn flavours derived from tricksy winemaking techniques. And it works.
Where from: selected Tesco stores, pounds 0.99.
997 CHIANTI CLASSICO Le Filigare Italy
From Le Filigare, a tiny, quality estate in Barbarino Val d'Elsa, in the heart of Chianti Classico, owned by Florentine jeweller and Eric Sykes- lookalike Carlo Burchi, this is one of the sleekest, purest Tuscan reds I know. Made mainly from the sangiovese grape, with a hint of canaiolo, it has a fine bouquet, with beautifully crafted vanilla/oak spiciness and delicate but velvet-smooth, black-cherry fruitiness.
Where from: around pounds -2 at Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Philglas & Swiggott, and Martinez Fine Wines.
998 VERGELEGEN CHARDONNAY Stellenbosch South Africa
With the Helderberg mountain as a backdrop, Anglo-American-owned Vergelegen, in the Cape, is built like a Bond film set: a cylinder bored into a hillside, leaving only the tip visible. It's not just the location that's dramatic. Since Andre van Rensburg joined this modern winery in 998, there's been an equally dramatic surge in wine quality, too. Partially oaked to maintain a lightness of touch, this is a fresh, aromatic, white burgundy-style Cape chardonnay, beautifully balanced and shot through with an opulent streak of vanilla and butterscotch flavours.
Where from: pounds 6.49 at Fuller's and Oddbins.
997 FAMILIA ZUCCARDI Q TEMPRANILLO Mendoza Argentina
Having won the International Wine Challenge trophy for best new wine with La Agricola's Bonarda-Sangiovese, the moustachioed Jose Alberto Zuccardi is now working wonders with the riojan grape variety tempranillo. Here, it's used in La Agricola's upmarket Q (for "quality", don't you know it) range to create a perfumed, spicy Argentinian red with a sumptuous vanilla-spice perfume and satin- smooth, opulent, red-berry fruit flavours.
Where from: selected Tesco stores, pounds 7.99.
999 CO-OP AUSTRALIAN CHARDONNAY Angove's Austraila
Playing a latter-day Robin Hood, the Co-op has done its customers a good turn this year by lopping big money off champagnes. Now it's doing the same with some of its table wines, including this sun-drenched, tropically fruity Aussie chardonnay from Angove's. Whether in this case it's robbing the rich or simply being co-operative is a matter for speculation.
Where from: Co-op, pounds 2.99 (reduced from pounds 4.29 until 6 Jan).
997 TRINCADEIRA PRETA Bright Brothers
Using the relatively obscure native trincadeira grape, Australian winemaker Peter Bright has produced a wine with a distinctive wild-berry fragrance and spice from the Estremadura region. It boasts an almost pinot noir character, excellent clarity of fruit and a genuinely interesting character. The distinctive loganberry-like fruit flavours and robust acidity of this unusual and distinctive Portuguese red make it an ideal complement for a fattier cut of lamb; shoulder, for instance, rather than leg.
Where from: pounds 4.49 at Somerfield and Asda.
988 LANSON Noble Cuvee France
Lanson's de luxe cuvee is one of the classiest vintage champagnes on the market, still remarkably perky and fresh, with an effervescence that seems to expand in the mouth like whipped cream. A complex blend made from around two-thirds chardonnay and one-third pinot noir grapes from the classic 988 vintage, it's layered with expansive, mouthfilling bubbles, remarkable hazelnut complexity and irresistible melt-in-the mouth fruitiness. A year on, it has, if possible, got even better.
Where from: pounds 55.99 at selected Tesco, Thresher and Wine Rack.
LOUIS ROEDERER Quartet Brut non-vintage California
When I was given this Californian sparkling wine to taste blind recently, I was convinced it was a good champagne. It is good, and it is a Louis Roederer product, but it isn't champagne. Louis Roederer relies on the expertise of its bubble master, Michel Salgues, to produce this most stylish of sparkling wines. Using champagne grapes, pinot noir and chardon- nay, which benefit from the ultra-cool Pacific breezes of the Anderson Valley, the addition of oak-aged reserve wines brings extra richness and a delicately toasty over-lay of flavour to this crisp, appley Mendocino fizz.
Where from: Majestic, pounds 4.99 (6 or more for pounds .99 per bottle).
998 CONDRIEU Coteau du Chery, Andre Perret France
Made from the viognier grape, the rich and powerful Condrieu is one of the northern Rhone Valley's best-kept secrets. As expensive as it is rare, and, in the hands of a master like Perret, irresistibly delicious, this enigmatic dry white is fermented in new oak casks, creating gorgeous fruit flavours of apricot, peach and stonefruit, and giving it a sumptuously rich and rounded texture combining power and elegance.
Where from: Justerini & Brooks, pounds 23.
989 LA RIOJA ALTA Gran Reserva 904 Spain
A blend of mainly tempranillo, with small dollops of graciano and mazuelo, this is an exceptional rioja from the brilliant La Rioja Alta. Though beautifully evolved from four years ageing in small American oak casks, this velvety red combines youthfulness of fruit with the complex armchair- leather aromas and savoury flavours of maturity. Close your eyes, and it could almost be fine red burgundy.
Where from: Waitrose, pounds 9.99.
995 VOUVRAY TRIS DE GRAINS NOBLES Domaine Bourillon d'Orleans, 50 cl France
Whether in its dry, medium, sweet or sparkling form, Vouvray is made from the Loire's chenin blanc, which really hits world-class standards in gorgeously hedonistic sweet wines like this one from Frederic Bourillon d'Orleans at Rochecorbon. Here, shrivelling of the super-ripe grapes on the vine caused by the beneficial botrytis mould (hence grains nobles) has created a wine that is both elegant and decadent, with lusciously rich flavours of fresh pears, quince and honey all in liquid crystallised suspension.
Where from: Majestic, pounds .49 (reduced from pounds 2.99 until Jan 3).
996 PENFOLDS BIN 389 CABERNET SHIRAZ South Australia
The 996 vintage of this Penfolds classic was one of the stars in the line-up of vintages going back to the 970s that I tasted in Adelaide in September this year. Smoky cedar and vanilla aromas lead into a superbly rich core of cassis and bittersweet chocolatey richness. Youthful now, it will only improve over the coming decade. If you have any 996, 994, 990, 988, 986, 983, 982, or 977 in your cellar, allow me to help you open a bottle.
Where from: pounds 2.99 at Safeway, Co-op, EH Booth, Oddbins, Safeway, Sainsbury's and Tesco.
998 MONTANA RESERVE BARRIQUE-FERMENTED CHARDONNAY Gisborne New Zealand
Better known for its reliable Marlborough sauvignon blanc, the New Zealand giant Montana has this time excelled with a stylish chardonnay from the world's most easterly wine region of Gisborne. Neatly balancing fresh melon and tropical fruit flavours with an oak-derived nuttiness and a refreshing grapefruit and lemon-crisp acidity, this fine dry white deservedly picked up an award as a Wine Challenge wine of the year.
Where from: pounds 7.99 at Oddbins, Safeway, Waitrose, Victoria Wine, Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up.
998 CLOS MALVERNE PINOTAGE South Africa
Since its creation in 926 as a cross between pinot noir and cinsault, pinotage has become the nearest thing to the Cape's own indigenous grape variety. Situated in the Devon Valley near Stellenbosch, Seymour Pritchard's Clos Malverne makes some of the best, and certainly best-value, pinotage in South Africa. This is a deliciously supple example of finely crafted wild red-berry and mulberry fruit, lightly oaked to add spice and polish.
Where from: pounds 6.99 at Wine Cellar, Fuller's, Waitrose, Unwins and selected Tesco stores.
998 ASDA HUNGARIAN GEWURZTRAMINER Hungary
As this clean, fresh and fragrant dry white from the outstanding Neszmely co-operative demonstrates, Hungary's northerly climate is perfectly suited to aromatic grape varieties like Alsace's gewurztraminer. Lychee spicy, with some of the rose petal fragrance and citrus peel of the grape variety, this Hungarian dry white is equally fine on its own or with pate and smoked fish.
Where from: Asda, pounds 3.79. Also available as: 998 Deer Leap Gewurztraminer (above), Waitrose, pounds 3.99; River View Gewurztraminer, Safeway, pounds 3.99; Family Reserve Gewurztraminer and Sainsbury's, pounds 3.99.
998 L'ENCLOS DES CIGALES SYRAH Vin de Pays d'Oc France
The syrah grape of
the northern Rhone is being planted to increasingly good effect in the South of France, where it is slowly replacing the workhorse grapes of yesteryear. A deep, vibrant ruby in colour, there's plenty of ripe blackberry fruit and spice in this exciting Languedoc red; if it weren't for the warm-climate robustness, you could almost imagine yourself in Crozes-Hermitage or St Joseph on the banks of the Rhone.
Where from: Safeway, pounds 4.49.
990 BOLLINGER Grande Annee Brut France
Bollinger may be pricey, but it's always powerfully flavoured. This hedonist's delight from the superb 990 vintage is no exception. A blend of just over two-thirds pinot noir and nearly a third chardonnay, it has a classically toasty-rich bouquet with ambrosial nutty fruit flavours and a wonderfully creamy mousse that fills the mouth with a palette of bottle-matured flavour. Up there with the best of the 990s.
Where from: pounds 4.49-4.99 at Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Sainsbury's and Oddbins.
996 GREEN POINT VINEYARDS BRUT Australia
Moet & Chandon's Green Point is made by the "thinking woman's winemaker", the desirable Dr Tony Jordan. Balanced proportions of champagne grapes, chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes from eight of Australia's cooler regions create a wine with a little bit more richness than champagne at the same age. But with its hints of strawberry, it still retains the classic bottle-developed flavours of brioche and toastiness.
Where from: pounds .99 at Waitrose, Safeway, Thresher Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Victoria Wine and Wine Cellar.
995 CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET er Cru Les Chenevottes, Prosper Maufoux France
From the premier cru vineyards of Chassagne Montrachet in the Cote de Beaune, this is a luxurious white burgundy from the negociant company of Prosper Maufoux. Showing the first signs of maturity with its rich yellow-gold hue, this stylish dry white has an enticing bouquet of almonds and beeswax, while the grilled-nut, almost praline-like character follows through onto the palate. It's intense, hugely rich, and becomes more honeyed by the minute.
Where from: Bordeaux Direct, pounds 8.99.
996 ZINFANDEL BRANDLIN RANCH Mount Veeder, Napa Valley California
At 4.4 per cent alcohol, this is a big boy by any normal standards - but then it's impossible to judge wines made from California's great heritage of zinfandel vines by normal standards. From 70-year-old vines at Peter Franus's mountain vineyard on Mount Veeder Powerful, this spicy, intensely flavoured red, with its sumptuously rich, brambly/loganberry flavours and well-judged oak, is a classic example of old-vine zinfandel from the Napa Valley.
Where from: pounds 9.95, Selfridges and Uncorked.
998 CHABLIS ER CRU CoTE DE LECHET Daniel Dampt France
This is an ultra-stylish chablis from the premier cru site of Cote de Lechet, a wine with stonefruit and mineral aromas, and the extra richness of concentrated chardonnay grapes cut by a fine blade of steely, lemony acidity. Daniel Dampt has emerged as one of the finest modern exponents of great chablis, and this classic, and classy, bone-dry white of terrific character shows precisely why.
Where from: Haynes, Hanson & Clark, pounds .60.
989 CAMPILLO RIOJA Gran Reserva Spain
Campillo is a modern, pagoda-like Spanish winery and one of Rioja's few estates to produce wine entirely from its own surrounding vineyards. Made from the tempranillo grape and aged in small French and American oak casks, this is a silky, mature Gran Reserva showing good concentration and some of the leathery, almost aniseed-like characteristics of a decade of evolution in cask and bottle.
Where from: pounds 3.99, Unwins.
998 SAINT-VERAN Domaine des Deux Roches France
Well-made Saint-Veran has consistently proved the value alternative to Pouilly Fuisse, its better-known, neighbouring appellation in the Maconnais. This dry white is a good example from one of the best producers in the region: a crisp, well-defined, modern white burgundy. It is fermented in stainless steel for optimum freshness, bringing out the delicate, buttery flavours of the chardonnay grape with just a touch of underlying nuttiness.
Where from: pounds 6.99-7.49 at Fuller's and Oddbins.
998 CONO SUR MERLOT RESERVE Colchagua, Rapel Valley Chile
It's hard to beat good Chilean reds made from the merlot grape of Saint- Emilion and Pomerol renown. This youthful red, made by Adolfo Hurtado at Concha y Toro's Cono Sur winery in Chimbarongo, is fermented to maximise the appealing sweet cassis-richness of the merlot grape, then subjected to a short maturation in French oak casks to add a note of spiciness to the blend.
Where from: pounds 5.99, Asda.
999 35 SUR SAUVIGNON BLANC Chile
In a short space of time, Chilean sauvignon blanc has knocked spots off the competition for good value. This is a refreshing and fragrantly exotic cocktail of crisp, tropical grapefruit and ripe, luscious, gooseberries with a sancerre-style nettley edge, made by Brett Jackson at San Pedro in Chile's Lontue Valley.
Where from: Morrisons, pounds 4.9; pounds 4.49 at Sainsbury's, Safeway, Waitrose, Thresher Wine Shops, Victoria Wine, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up.
999 ARGENTO MALBEC Argentina
A striking package can be a cover-up for something less than interesting. Not so here. Despite the designer bottle, this malbec, from Argentina's quality-conscious Catena group, exceeds expectations, with a deliciously juicy and succulent berry-fruit quality that brings Italy's barbera to mind. The fresh, nippy, mulberry fruitiness is the perfect counterbalance to the olive oil-based richness of pasta or risotto dishes.
Where from: pounds 4.99 at Sainsbury's, Thresher Wine Shops, Victoria Wine, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up.
990 POL ROGER France
Drawn from 8 grand and premier cru vineyards, with a blend of three- fifths pinot noir grapes and the balance chardonnay, this is a luxurious vintage champagne with a rich, delicately smoky-malty bouquet and infinite layers of tantalising, silky-rich bubbles. A cushion of pinprick bubbles waltzes on the palate, while the stunning fruit quality gives this creamily textured fizz an ethereal character. One of the class acts of a landmark vintage.
Where from: Sainsbury's, pounds 34.99; Bottoms Up, pounds 34.95.
996 SOUTH RIDGE CUVeE MERRET England
From Ridge View Estate at Ditchling Common in Sussex, this is one of those rare creatures: a high-quality English sparkling wine made from the champagne grapes chardonnay, pinot meunier and pinot noir. It's a classy fizz, with a subtle, biscuity bouquet, showing complex, yeast-derived, bottle-aged flavours on the palate, with a tangy, bone-dry finish adding finesse. Order now before the champenois find out about it.
Where from: Bordeaux Direct, pounds 2.99.
997 PULIGNY MONTRACHET ER CRU CLOS DE LA GARENNE Duc de Magenta, Louis Jadot France
Stunning quality white burgundy from the premier cru vineyards of one of burgundy's greatest white-wine exponents, Jacques Lardiere, the winemaker at Louis Jadot. This is classic Puligny Montrachet in the Cote de Beaune, with a magnificent bouquet of glorious hazelnut-and-honeyed richness, and a flavour that both builds on the palate and lasts. White burgundy doesn't get much better than this.
Where from: Unwins, pounds 4.99.
996 MONTHELIE ER CRU Chateau de Monthelie, Monthelie er Cru Sur la Velle, Eric de Suremain France
The craft of the aptly named Eric de Suremain has produced a fine red burgundy from the region's pinot noir grape in one of the Cote d'Or's most underrated appellations, Monthelie. Intensely coloured for pinot noir, this is a raspberryish-red burgundy with undertones of new oak spice and wild red-berry fruits. It has the backbone for ageing, but is soft and succulent enough to enjoy now, particularly with venison or a meaty game bird.
Where from: Justerini & Brooks, pounds 23.
997 SPRINGFIELD ESTATE CHARDONNAY Methode Ancienne France
The wax seal and heavy-duty bottle of this New World chardonnay are both indications of winemaker Abrie Bruwer's homage to burgundy's Cote de Beaune. The wine itself, from the Breede River, near Robertson, is a revelation. Its minerally complexity, stylish French oak handling and concentration of fine white burgundy matches Puligny Montrachet at its own game, but beats it by some distance on price.
Where from: selected Sainsbury's, pounds 2.99.
998 FELTON ROAD PINOT NOIR New Zealand
We're not talking Felton Road, London W3, but Bannockburn in Central Otago, in New Zealand's near-polar south, tongue-in-cheekily referred to on the back label as New Zealand's Cote d'Or. Felton Road Pinot Noir is one of a new generation of tantalisingly seductive Kiwi reds, packed with spicy cherry and blackcurrant aromas and a silky, seductively fruity palate, with the clarity you'd expect from New Zealand's cool, picturesque lake district.
Where from: Haynes, Hanson & Clark, pounds 3.85.
998 POLISH HILL RIVER RIESLING Clare Valley Australia
Riesling (aka Rhine riesling) is a German grape variety, but it's often at its finest outside the Vaterland: in Alsace, Austria and Australia. The Clare Valley, north of Adelaide, is home to many of Australia's best dry rieslings, like this rich, dry and full-bodied white, with its delicate lemon- and lime-zest perfume and minerally, citrus-like flavours. The Aussies may not know this, but it could have been made for smoked salmon.
Where from: Safeway, pounds 7.99.
997 ARCHIDAMO RE DI SPARTA PRIMITIVO DI MANDURIA Pervini Italy
The ancient town of Manduria, in Puglia, is home to the primitivo grape, currently a hot proposition in the USA - because, on close inspection, it turns out to be the same variety as California's zinfandel. Pervini is one of the best exponnets of primitivo in this vast region, and this southern Italian red shows why: it has a sweet, spicy, nutmeg-and-candied- peel bouquet, with deliciously concentrated, super-plummy fruit and backbone.
Where from: pounds 6.99 at EH Booths supermarkets in Lancs & Yorks, and Peckhams in Glasgow & Edinburgh.
998 L'ENCLOS DOMEQUE MARSANNE ROUSSANNE Vin de Pays d'Oc France
Marsanne and Roussanne are the northern Rhone's two sister-grape varieties, which grace white Cotes du Rhone and the rare white Hermitage. In the south of France, where the Mediterranean sun shines kindly on them, they can be turned into heady concoctions of fragrant fruit and opulent peachy ripeness - like this dry Languedoc white, which has undergone a gentle fermentation in the barrel for extra smoothness and nutty flavour.
Where from: Waitrose, pounds 4.99.
997 VALLONE SALICE SALENTINO Italy
From the baroque southern Italian city of Lecce, in the Salento peninsula, the Vallone sisters make some of the best-value southern Italian reds using the local negroamaro grape. With a little help from ace consultant Severino Garofano, this is a delicious rosso, made from negroamaro with a dash of malvasia nera. There's a rustic, animal whiff to it, and plenty of ripe raisin and mulberry-like fruitiness.
Where from: pounds 4.99 at Victoria Wine, Thresher Wine Shops, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up.
993 CHARLES HEIDSIECK Brut Reserve Mise en Cave France
Although it rather cheekily sticks the year on the label, the highly successful new Mise en Cave range launched by Charles Heidsieck is in fact a non-vintage champagne taking advantage of a clever but legitimate marketing wheeze. Fortunately, the quality of the fizz lives up to expectations, with floral aromas, nutty, honeyed nuances of flavour and a smooth texture combining richness with finesse.
Where from: Waitrose, pounds 22.49 (reduced by pounds 5 for Dec).
JACOBS CREEK SPARKLING CHARDONNAY Pinot Noir non-vintage Australia
Jacob's Creek Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir is a welcome and thoroughly affordable new addition to Australia's best-known brand. Using champagne grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir, mainly from the 996 vintage, this is a well-made, nutty, honeyed fizz with tropical citrus-fruit notes and a fair bit of style for the asking price.
Where from: Co-op; pounds 4.99 (reduced from pounds 6.99 until 6 Jan 2000); discounted at a number of other retailers at pounds 5.99.
998 PRAGER RIESLING SMARAGD Ried Achleiten Austria
The steep, rocky slopes over the Danube in the Wachau region provide some of the world's prime sites for fine dry riesling, and Prager's reputation is second to none. This is a superbly fruity yet elegantly dry Austrian smaragd (meaning it has to achieve exceptional levels of ripeness) made from the riesling grape, with exotic scents of lime and grapefruit zest, and a rich, opulent super-ripe mango-like fruitiness that could almost be cloying - were it not undercut by a steely blade of balancing acidity.
Where from: Morris & Verdin, pounds 22; Noel Young Wines, pounds 20.99.
993 BRUNO DI ROCCA Acuti, Vecchie Terre di Montefili Italy
This smart and sexy red from Roccaldo Acuti's Montefili winery in Chianti Classico is one of the new breed of supertuscans, a vino da tavola "outlaw", with cabernet sauvignon as the dominant grape variety rather than sangiovese, the Chianti grape. Using new French oak to add polish, it's a rich Bordeaux-meets-Chianti-style blend, with powerful aromas of tobacco leaf, vanilla and spice, richly flavoured with cassis and black cherry. Plenty of backbone and at the same time a considerable degree of finesse.
Where from: Majestic Wine Warehouses, pounds 28.50 (limited stock).
997 PETALUMA CHARDONNAY Piccadilly Valley Australia
The man who brought you Croser, one of Australia's best sparkling wines, Brian Croser is either a genius or a power-crazed egomaniac, depending on your point of view. Even his detractors would have to concede that this is one of Australia's best chardonnays. Having moved his source of grapes from warm-climate vineyards to the cool Adelaide hills around Piccadilly, Brian has achieved increasing degrees of peachy, melon-flavoured elegance, while retaining the buttery richness and restrained tropical fruitiness of Australian chardonnay at its best.
Where from: pounds 4.99 at Oddbins and Waitrose.
996 BLACKWELL SHIRAZ Australia
From the creators of the cult Barossa Valley shiraz, Old Block, this is an intensely aromatic red made from the same grape and also using old shiraz vines. The aromas are of pepper and cinnamon spice, and rich blackberry fruit tinged with mint. The structure is firm but not excessively tannic, with a backbone of sweetness and power. You might call it a chip off the old block, in which case, mate, you might not be far wrong.
Where from: Australian Wine Club, pounds .99.
999 VILLA MARIA RESERVE CLIFFORD BAY SAUVIGNON BLANC New Zealand
There's no sauvignon in the world quite like Marlborough sauvignon in full cry. As well as two more simple whites, Villa Maria produce two reserve styles from low-yielding grapes of the best quality. It's always a toss- up between Wairau Valley and Clifford Bay from the cool Awatere Valley, but for now my scales are marginally tipped in favour of the latter, whose green-bean pungency and intensity of passion-fruit flavour create an assertive and stylish New Zealand answer to Pouilly Fume.
Where from: Oddbins, pounds 9.99.
998 VACQUEYRAS MONTIRIUS France
This is a southern Rhone Valley blend of old grenache vines with syrah and mourvedre, and is made with no synthetic chemical fertilisers or pesticides. A ruby-purple red, it has smoothly rich and powerful blackberry fruitiness and spicy aromatics; a youthful, robust, winter-warming wine that is bursting with fruit and flavour. Its stablemate from neighbouring Gigondas is also well worth seeking out.
Where from: selected Tesco stores, pounds 9.99.
HIDALGO MANZANILLA La Gitana Spain
Based at the picturesque seaside town of Sanlcar de Barrameda, Hidalgo produces a fine range of sherries, from dry, tangy fino to the nutty aged Amontillado Seco Napoleon. This classic manzanilla benefits from ageing in sherry butts in the solera system, in which the older wine is regularly topped up with younger, and the blend withdrawn from the cask at floor level. The result is a sea-breeze-fresh, bone-dry white, whose aromatic, yeasty character gives it an appetisingly savoury, almost Marmitey bite. Hold a drop back to liven up the soup or sauce.
Where from: Majestic, pounds 4.99 (reduced from pounds 5.99 until 3 Jan).
998 TERRA MATER ZINFANDEL /SHIRAZ Maipo Valley, Chile
This sumptuous, powerful Chilean red from the Maipo Valley, south of Santiago, marries two unusual grape varieties for Chile - the zinfandel grape of California and the Rhone Valley's syrah - in an intriguingly exotic, Rhone-like blend. The colour is deep ruby, the aromas perfumed and spicy, while the fruit is deep in damson and blackberry jam-like qualities. A voluptuous red that's hard to resist, even harder once you've tried it.
Where from: pounds 4.99 at Sainsbury's and Safeway. STOCKIST NUMBERS
NB: 'The Independent' cannot guarantee availability
Adnams, Southwold, Suffolk, 0502 727220; Asda, 0500 00055; Australian Wine Club, 0800 856 2004/ 76893; Bordeaux Direct, Theale, Reading, 089 030903; Bottoms Up, 0707 385000; Co-op, 06-83422; D Byrne & Co, Clitheroe, 0200 42352; EH Booths, Lancs & Yorks,, 0772 2570; Fuller's, 08- 940 247; Harvey Nichols, 07-235 5000; Haynes, Hanson & Clark, Gloucester, 045 870808, & London SW, 07-259 002; Grogblossom, NW6, 07-794 7808; Justerini & Brooks, SW, 07-493 872; Majestic, 0923 298200; Martinez Fine Wines, Ilkley, 0943 60324; Morris & Verdin, SE, 07- 357 8866; Morrisons, 0924 87565; Noble Rot Wine Warehouse, Worcs, 0527 575606; The Nobody Inn, Devon, 0647 252394; Noel Young Wines, Cambridge, 0223 844744; Oddbins, 08-944 4400; Peckham & Rye, Glasgow and Edinburgh, 04-445 4555; Philglas & Swiggott, SW, 0207 924 4494; Safeway, 0622 72987; Sainsbury's, 0800 636 262; Sandiway Wine Co, Cheshire, 0606 882 0; Selfridges, 07-629 234; Somerfield, 0845 603 0999; Swig, London NW3, 07 43 442; Tesco, 0800 505555; Thresher Wine Shops, 0707 385000; Unwins, 0322 2727; Uncorked, 07-638 5998; Victoria Wine, 0707 385000; Waitrose, 0800 88884; Wine Cellar, 0800 83825; Wine Rack, 0707 385000
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