THE WINES

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CHIANTI

Chianti Inpendio (pounds 4.95)

Chianti Classico, Podere Il Palazzino, 1993 (pounds 8.50)

Average guesses: Inpendio, pounds 6.60; Podere Il Palazzino, pounds 7. Most tasters spotted these as chianti, and the inferiority of the cheaper version. But they didn't agree on price. "A steal at anything under pounds 10", said Andrew, of the Classico, while Emma ("clean on palate with good firm acidity") thought pounds 6.99 was closer to the mark. Julio liked the wine, and he alone got the price right. For the lesser chianti there wasn't as much enthusiasm, with price-guesses to match. Andrew put it at pounds 6, and commented: "would be good with food." Yet the price guesses averaged out at pounds 1.65 over, which probably says a lot about the perceived over-pricing of entry-level chianti.

PINOT NOIR

Bourgogne Rouge, Vieux St Sorlin, 1994 (pounds 9)

Carneros Pinot Noir, Acacia Winery, 1995 (pounds 12)

Average guesses: Burgundy, pounds 7.35; Carneros, pounds 9.40. Pinot noir is notoriously difficult to turn into good wine at a low price. It is the king of Bur- gundy, and the finest red Burgundy is every wine-lover's dream. Our specimen, however, was not everyone's dream. "Ugh!" wrote Robert. "Med-ium length. OK. Pleasant," said Julio. Andrew said it smelled peculiar but "tastes quite nice", and would be willing to pay up to pounds 8. Only Nick liked it enough to overshoot on the price, guessing pounds 10 to pounds 12. The Acacia had similarly mixed reviews, but moving up a good few notches in quality (as it does in price). A second tasting confirmed the Californian's superiority. It has to be said, however, that no one was really floored by either wine. Lovers of pinot noir should rob a bank or win the Lottery.

CLARET ETC

Mature Margaux NV (pounds 12)

Moon Mountain Estate Red, Carmenet Vineyard, Sonoma, 1990 (pounds 17)

Average guesses: Margaux, pounds 13.80; Moon Mountain, pounds 13.30. This was one of Bibendum's most inspired pairings: two Cabernet Sauvignon-based reds of substantial character. The Margaux is a fascinating wine, blended from small parcels from the properties owned by Lucien Lurton. Though modestly billed on the label it is a very impressive wine, and the panel appreciated it. "Very delicious. pounds 19", according to Nick. "A classy old claret", said Andrew, who guessed "pounds 15 plus - and almost worth it." Emma got the price right, even if she thought the wine itself might be "slightly past it." Julio, on the other hand, preferred the Cali-fornian (his guess: pounds 25), as did Emma; others found it puzzling. It needs time. But the Margaux is a Best Buy.

SOUTHERN RHONE

Cotes-du-Rhone, Chateau Goudray, 1995 (pounds 4.95)

Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Clos des Papes, 1993 (pounds 15.50)

Average guesses: Goudray, pounds 7.10; Cha-teauneuf, pounds 9.60. The wines hailed from the same area but were separated not only by price but by fitness for current drinking. The Cotes-du-Rhone is just right, the Chateauneuf is still very closed up. Nonetheless, most tasters enthused about both. Andrew and Julio broadly identified their region of production. Nick thought the Cotes-du-Rhone "absolutely delicious", and guessed its price at pounds 15. Everyone else went too high - making this wine another Best Buy, and one that elicited astonishment when prices were revealed. On the Chateauneuf there was more perplexity, with general agreement that it needed more time - I would say a couple of years at least.

SPAIN

Tierra de Barros Tinto Joven, Bodegas Castelar, 1994 (pounds 4.50)

Contino Tinto Reserva, 1991, Rioja (pounds 13.50)

Average guesses: Tierra de Barros, pounds 8.90; Rioja, pounds 10.60. There was such a bewildering divergence of opinion on price and quality that I don't know how to summarise the findings. No one guessed the country of origin, and comments on both wines ranged from "Gorgeous!" to "Would not buy at any price." Most tasters recognised that the Rioja was the superior wine, but their underestimate of price points to a feeling that it is not good enough at that level. The Tierra de Barros won enough high marks to make it a guarded Best Buy for lovers of basic Spanish red.

NORTHERN RHONE

Crozes Hermitage, Domaine du Colombier, 1995 (pounds 8)

Hermitage, Domaine des Remizieres, 1991 (pounds 17)

Average guesses: Crozes Hermitage, pounds 7.10; Hermitage, pounds 9.60. This was one of the clearest cases in which time was not on our side - or the wines' side, more precisely. Most of the tasters found something strange in the smell of the Crozes, with violently mixed opinions on flavour. The Hermitage won happier remarks - "luscious", "pleasantly fruity", "pounds 12 - maybe more". When the tasting was finished and we were comparing notes, everyone found much more in both wines: the result of their having had a couple of uncorked hours. My tasting at home later bore out this impression.

CHARDONNAY

Bourgogne Blanc, Latour Giraud 1994 (pounds 8.50)

Yeringberg, Yarra Valley, Australia, 1994 (pounds 12.50)

Average guesses: Burgundy, pounds 4.80; Yeringberg, pounds 6.70. There was no enthusiasm for the Burgundy, and after tasting it several times, over the course of a few hours, I could see why: this wine had very little character. Andrew said: "I wouldn't have this at any price, though it probably sells for pounds 8." The Australian was "much better", said Robert. He guessed that it came from the New World, though he still wouldn't pay more than pounds 8. No one except Emma (the professional) thought it worth the money even though she had originally guessed the price at a mere pounds 6.49! I'm on her side: this is a wonderfully fat, full chardonnay.

GEWRZTRAMINER

Lawson's Dry Hills, New Zealand, 1995 (pounds 7.50)

Alto Adige, Alois Lageder, 1995 (pounds 8)

Average guesses: Lawson's, pounds 6.55; Lageder, pounds 4.20. They were way off on the Italian wine, and hardly anyone had a good word to say about it. "Quite horrible", said Nick. But I am sure we were tasting it too cold. Julio was the dissenter, guessing at pounds 6.50 but suspecting it could be more. Emma pointed out that the Alto Adige is a region where production costs are high. The New Zealand version got mostly better marks, though on first tasting there was a feeling that its nose promised quality that wasn't there on the palate. On the second tasting after the wine had warmed up, everyone agreed that it was much the better wine.

SPARKLING

Deakin Estate Brut, Australian Sparkling Wine NV (pounds 6)

Champagne Pommery Brut Royal NV (pounds 19, on special offer for pounds 14.99)

Average guesses: Deakin, pounds 10.40; Pom-mery, pounds 11.70. There were wild divergences of judgement here, with some tasters really disliking the Pommery. I thought they were wrong: I tasted the wines blind and could immediately spot the champagne. Even those who spotted it (such as Emma, who praised its "yeasty nose and biscuity finish") underestimated the price. I think this is because champagne is, by nature, an expensive wine. Whether it's worth it - well, that's a matter of opinion. Less controversial was the Deakin, which most liked. Nick thought there wasn't much to choose between them. While I disagree, the VFM in the Deakin is very impressive. A clear Best Buy.

SWEETIES

Recioto di Soave Suavia, 1992 (pounds 11.50/37.5cl)

Cypres de Climens, Sauternes, 1992 (pounds 13.50/50cl)

Average guesses: Soave, pounds 7; Climens, pounds 9. This pairing was the hardest to get a handle on. A couple of tasters ad- mitted that they don't greatly like dessert wines and rarely drink (let alone buy) them. Only Emma, our token pro, was bowled over. "Delicious" she exclaimed about the Recioto. The Sauternes she liked less, "not as intense", but praised it anyway and guessed at pounds 13 as opposed to pounds 14 for the Italian. I would give the Sauternes a cautious Best Buy mark, on the basis that top bottles from this greatest of dessert-wine areas invariably cost an arm and a leg. The Recioto might be recommended with the proviso that it will not appeal to all.

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