wine: Santa's little helpers

Now is the time for Christmas bargain hunters to check out the cut-throat competition
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The Independent Culture
If the price is right, they all come down. At Sainsbury's, prices have tumbled from pounds 4.79 to pounds 3.82, Safeway from pounds 3.69 to pounds 2.98, Tesco pounds 3.39 to pounds 2.83, Asda from pounds 1.11 to pounds 0.99 - and that's just the shares. A miserable end-of-year stock market performance has not, however, blunted the appetite of supermarkets for a merry Christmas ding-dong. Multi-savers, promotions and other discounts kick in from now until the New Year, offering Christmas bargain hunters ample opportunity to check out the cut-throat competition.

Although the demise of the drinkable pounds 2.99 bottle is at hand, there are still decent bottles to be had at the sharp end.

At Waitrose the pick of the bunch starts with the 1994 Deer Leap Dry White, Harslevelu, Debro, pounds 2.99, a Hungarian white made from native Harslevelu grapes, with a whiff of angelica spiciness and rounded fruit.

Asda stakes its claim with a zingy, grassy Alto Plano Chilean White, down from pounds 2.99 to pounds 2.69, until after Christmas. Its red counterpart, the youthful, strawberry-fruity Alto Plano Chilean Red, also pounds 2.69, made at Cono Sur by Ed Flaherty, is equally good value. Still in the invigorating young-vatted style, Asda's1994 Liubimetz Merlot Premiere, pounds 2.69, a new- wave Bulgarian red with plenty of juicy, ripe blackcurrant fruitiness, is a steal.

Safeway has a palatable cheapie white in Jacques Lurton's soft, if simple, 1995 Mendoza White, pounds 2.99, but the real bargains are to be found in the reds. Down from pounds 3.15 to pounds 2.49, the 1994 Safeway Corbieres offers herby, perfumed Mediterranean spiciness. The 1994 Safeway Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, reduced from pounds 3.49 to pounds 2.79, is a deliciously juicy, capsicum-scented riposte to cheap claret. At the other end of the price spectrum, as part of its Classic Six Pack Offer, the 1992 Sarget de Gruaud Larose, spice-laden second label of the fine St Julien classified claret, is pruned from pounds 12.99 to pounds 9.99 and the stylish 1993 Meursault also down pounds 3 to pounds 6.99. Pick up a six-bottle carry-case and you earn an extra five per cent discount.

Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up offer a saving of pounds 1 on two bottles of the new vintage of Penfolds' intensely flavoured 1995 Rawson's Retreat Bin 21, a blend of semillon, chardonnay and colombard. The same applies to the fresh-faced, blackcurranty 1994 Rawson's Retreat Bin 35 Cabernet Shiraz.

Tesco has clipped up to pounds 2 off more than 100 wines in the range. The delightfully perfumed, juicy, lime marmalade-like 1995 Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling, goes from pounds 5.49 to a bargain pounds 4.49 until New Year's Eve. Affordable reds include their vividly succulent Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, reduced from pounds 3.99 to pounds 3.49 and the juicily ripe Italian 1994 Casale del Giglio Shiraz, from pounds 3.99 to pounds 2.99.

Marks & Spencer has entered into the spirit of Christmas by lopping pounds 1 off all champagnes and most ports until 31 December. The elegant, aperitif- style Veuve de Medts 1er cru Brut, at pounds 12.99, is excellent value. If you can afford it, go for the ultra-stylish, in-form Chevalier de Melline Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay Premier Cru Brut, pounds 14.99, an alluringly honeyed, textured mouthful with mature toasty, cashew nut flavours.

Nicolas shops offer 20 per cent off a selection of champagnes. Tesco also offers 12 bottles of Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve for the price of nine, at pounds 175. One of the most tempting festive fizz offers is from Fuller's, who are reducing seven vintage champagnes to their non-vintage prices if you buy two or more bottles. The distinctively toasty 1988 Moet et Chandon, for instance, drops from pounds 23.99 to pounds 17.99, the classy1989 Roederer from pounds 29.99 to pounds 21.75 and you can taste them all in Fuller's 65 shops next Saturday.

If you haven't already done so, now is the time to place orders for mail order wines. Quality independent wine merchants with substantial Christmas selections include: Adnams, Southwold (01502-727222); John Armit Wines, London W11 (0171-727 6846); Bibendum, London NW1 (0171-916 7706); Lay and Wheeler, Colchester (01206-764466); Laytons/Andre Simon shops, London NW1 (0171-388 4567); Thomas Peatling, Bury St Edmonds (01284-714466); Tanners, Shrewsbury (01743-232007)