WINE BOX; THE WEEK'S BEST BUYS

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The Independent Culture
I am writing at a desk piled high with details of offers for 1996 Bordeaux "en primeur", and with press cut-tings on the wisdom of buying. Deadlines being what they are, the offers may be obsolete by the time you read this. Even though prices are insanely high, well heeled drinkers and speculators are snapping up the top classed growths in a frenzy. Naturally, they're crazy to do it. Just as they were crazy to buy the 1995s. Which have now doubled in price. It make you sick, unless you're rich enough to spend pounds 800 for a case of wine you won't drink until 2010.

If you're not that rich, consider a modest purchase of a 1996 petit chateau or cru bourgeois. One that catches my eye is Chateau Pitray, a Cotes de Castillon I've drunk with pleasure in earlier vintages. This one's pounds 39 a case in bond from Layton's (0171 388 4567), or pounds 37.50 for three cases or more, and pounds 35.76 from Christopher Piper Wines (01404 814139). That translates into a per-bottle cost of around pounds 6 once all extra charges have been paid. By way of comparison, Mouton Cadet 1993 costs pounds 6.99 a bottle at Sainsbury's.

For drinkers with minds focused on the here and now, three summery suggestions. Somerfield Cava has been reduced from pounds 5.29 to the absurdly low price of pounds 3.29 until 15 July, and that's what stock market people call a buying opportunity. This is decent stuff in its category, perfect for making kir royale. Sparkle-free but even more distinguished is a stunning Domaine de Tariquet Sauvignon Blanc 1996, from a property that makes consistently good wine at reasonable prices. The price in this case is pounds 4.79; it's exclusive to Threshers (including Wine Rack and Bottoms Up). If you paid pounds 7.99 for this level of classic Sauvignon Blanc fruit, grassy and rich at the same time, you would not feel hard done by. Snap it up while stocks last.

On a less serious level, but immensely enjoyable, is a brand-new South African from Tesco. Goiya Kgeisje 1997 is a Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc blend (in- creasingly popular in the New World), and the grapes in question were still growing just a few months ago. Not surprisingly, extreme youth gives this delicious potion a zing-filled freshness that is totally irresistible. Check it out at pounds 3.99. And dig the cool label.

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