Food & Drink: The grapes of quaff

For 12-day consumption, Anthony Rose avoids his favourite wine merchant s and heads for the supermarket shelves
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The Independent Online
Traditionally, two-fifths of the year's wine purchases are made this month. Christmas is a time for celebrating with special wines, but the choice of good house and party wines is equally important. Over this week and the next, I have selected a wide variety of wines from the most important retailers across the country, with the accent on quality and versatility. This week I will cover the supermarkets, next week the high street.

ASDA

Colourful labels and value for money are the keys to the Asda range, which is flourishing under the dynamic buying duo of Philip Clive and Nick Dymoke-Marr.

Whites

Asda's 1992 Muscadet de Sevre-et-Maine sur lie, Domaine Bossard, pounds 4.49, is a classic, dry, organic muscadet with a refreshing prickle on the tongue and toasty flavours. From Victoria's Goulburn Valley, Mitchelton's 1993 Unoaked Marsanne, pounds 4.99, weaves subtle magic on the tongue with its melon and honeysuckle flavours. Fulfilling the role of cracking white burgundy, the 1993 Domaine des Deux Roches, St Veran, pounds 6.49, contains the richness, length and the kind of delightful flavours with which Pouilly Fuisse used to seduce. And Germany's 1992 Niersteiner Pettenthal Riesling Auslese, von Metternich, pounds 6.99, bursts with flavours of mango and grapefruit, finishing with a post-prandial cleansing tang.

Reds

Among its more affordable reds, Asda's 1993 Chilean Cabernet Merlot, pounds 3.49, with its malty bouquet and claret-like fruit, gives Australia a run for its money, while the new vintage of the well-priced estate chianti, 1991 Quercia al Poggio, pounds 4.99, made by top Tuscan winemaker, Maurizio Castelli, is a worthy successor to the 1990, its herby flavours redolent of sangiovese, while the spicy French oak adds smoothness. Asda wine buyer Mr Dymoke-Marr calls the cherryish, richly oaked 1990 Rosso delle Miniere, Montescudaio, pounds 6.99, his indulgence. Why not make it yours?

M & S

Working hard to pull its socks up, M&S has made significant progress this year by daring to look beyond the safe names.

Whites

For a taste of chablis at a non-chablis price, the ever popular Jeunes Vignes, pounds 4.99, delivers in abundance, while the excellent lemony, butterscotchy 1994 Stellenbosch Chardonnay, pounds 3.99, is excellent value. Meanwhile, Yves Pages' grassy l993 Bordeaux Sauvignon, pounds 3.49, is one of the best white bordeaux around at the price.

Reds

From Spain, the 1990 Gin Calesa, Costers del Segre, pounds 4.99, is a rich red smothered in smoky oak with plenty of flavoursome underlying fruit. The 1987 Chateau Gazin, pounds 14.99, made from merlot picked before the rains, is a sumptuously juicy pomerol, while, for a classic red burgundy, try the 1991 Beaune Premier Cru, Clos de la Feguine, pounds 16.99.

SAFEWAY

Safeway's strength lies in innovation, sometimes with mixed results. But its eastern European range is second to none.

Whites

A good example of Safeway's success in Hungary is the 1993 River Duna Pinot Gris, pounds 3.49, a smoky, spiced dry white with unusual richness and concentration. From Chile, the 1993 Santa Carolina Special Reserve Chardonnay, pounds 5.99, is a full-flavoured example of the popular grape variety with excellent citrus intensity, freshness and good concentration.

Reds

The Safeway Hungarian Merlot, pounds 2.99, is reminiscent of the trailblazing pounds 1.99 medal winner. I suggest trying the decanting trick on this bargain-basement red and surprising guests with the sheer quality and smoothness of this appealing wine. Give in to the seven-year itch and uncork the 1987 Valdepenas Reserva, pounds 3.39. Like a mature rioja, it reeks of vanilla from its tenure in oak casks, while the fruit engages the palate with its mature flavours and supple texture. Also from Spain, but youthfully different, the 1992 Berberana Tempranillo, pounds 3.99 (also at Somerfield), has the appeal of vigorous youth, the classic vanilla smokiness from new, toasted oak enhanced here by smooth, silky 100 per cent tempranillo fruit. For something classy to accompany Christmas lunch, the scented, musky merlot-dominated 1989 Chateau Laroze, Grand Cru St Emilion, pounds 9.99, is one of seven up-market clarets on which Safeway is offering a pounds 3 a bottle reduction.

SAINSBURY

For combined quality, value and range, Sainsbury pulled away from the competition last year - and, for the moment, is hanging on to its lead.

Whites

A dry white bordeaux with grassy, asparagus hints would normally suggest sauvignon, but the attractive 1993 Chateau l'Ortolan Entre-Deux-Mers, pounds 3.95, is made from the semillon grape. Also semillon-dominated, but with a dollop of sauvignon, the 1992 Chateau Carsin, Bordeaux Blanc, pounds 5.45, (pounds 6.45 for the Cuvee Prestige if you buy at Waitrose) is a mouthwatering, smoky graves-style dry white with grapefruity depth of flavour and a touch of toasty oak, made by Australian winemaker Mandy Jones. Lovers of Italian dry whites should get plenty of mileage from the well-rounded and drinkable 1993 Frascati Secco, pounds 3.75, produced by Geoff Merrill for Sainsbury's last year, while on special offer at pounds 4.69 a litre, Sainsbury's Fino is an appealing, savoury dry sherry.

Reds

For a good, affordable red, I would plump for the attractive sweet rusticity of Sainsbury's South African Cape Red, pounds 3.29, a typical cinsault/pinotage blend. The 1993 Domaine Saint Marc Syrah, Vin de Pays d'Oc, pounds 3.35, a rich, almost chocolatey southern red, will make a good all-purpose house red over the Christmas period, while the 1992 Chateau Hauterive le Haut, Corbieres, pounds 4.95, has pistachio and spice aplenty and an extra touch of class. Sainsbury also has a fine claret in the shape of the luscious, merlot-based l989 Chateau Lalande d'Auvion, pounds 5.95. Devotees of red burgundy can choose between Rodet's 1990 Chateau de Rully Rouge, pounds 8.95, which offers a genuine burgundian pinot noir at a reasonable price, or Georges Noellat's stylish and gamey 1987 Vosne Romanee, down from pounds 11.95 to pounds 9.95.

SOMERFIELD

If you blinked, you may have missed the fact that Gateway has become Somerfield, where buyer Angela Mount has an eye for good value.

Whites

The 1994 Berri Estates Unwooded Chardonnay, South Australia, pounds 3.99, is full-flavoured with melon and tropical fruit. It beats most macon any day. The exception that proves the rule, the 1993 Macon Blanc Villages, Georges Desire, pounds 4.49, is a surprisingly rich, flavourful mouthful of chardonnay with buttery notes and a wealth of flavour. The 1993 Domaine des Salaises, Saumur Rouge, pounds 3.99, made entirely from the cabernet franc grape, is a perfumed Loire red whose lively rasberryishness could almost be mistaken for a young claret. As distinct from the Mediterranean blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre aged in oak of the 1992 Chateau de la Valoussiere, Coteaux du Languedoc, pounds 3.99, a robust southern classic. When I first tasted the 1992 Preece Cabernet Sauvignon, pounds 5.99, (top 100 Somerfield stores and also at Majestic), I was not entirely convinced, but I have become a convert to this blackcurranty, ripe yet elegant Australian cabernet sauvignon.

TESCO

Expansionist Tesco's range needs some judicious pruning. The new world producers, however, particularly Australia, New Zealand and Italy, are among its stronger areas.

Whites

The 1993 Oxford Landing Sauvignon Blanc, pounds 4.79 (also at Waitrose), has hallmark aromas of asparagus and green bean. This Australian white is a masterpiece of grassy sauvignon blanc with a New Zealand-like pungency thrown in. The 1992 Meursault from Arthur Barolet, pounds 7.99, is on the lean side, but there is enough hazelnutty, buttery character to make it a fair buy.

Reds

From the south-west of France, the 1989 Domaine de Lanestousse, Madiran, pounds 4.99, is an excellent, savoury ripe blend of cabernet franc and the local tannat grape. The 1992 Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Shiraz, pounds 7.99, is intensely aromatic with a blanket of clove and cinnamon overlaying the Aussie wine's rich blackberryness, while the 1982 Campillo Rioja Gran Reserva, pounds 9.99, is a mature Spanish red. Finally, with mince pies or nuts, try Tesco's rich and tangy Finest Madeira, pounds 6.99.

WAITROSE

On sheer class and originality, Waitrose's hit rate takes it to the top of the quality tree.

Whites

For easy party drinking, try the 1994 Cape Dry White, Paarl, pounds 2.99, or the fragrant, spicy dry white 1994 Nanya Estate Riesling/Gewurztraminer, pounds 3.49, a pot-pourri of opulent, smoky bacon-like fruit. From southern France, Le Gineste 1993 Chardonnay, pounds 3.99, has the richness of sun-fattened New World chardonnay. If that sounds exotic, allow yourself to be seduced by the lychee fragrance captured in the l993 Waitrose Alsace Gewurztraminer, pounds 5.45, a no-holds-barred loving rose-petal cup. Equally full-flavoured and deceptively powerful, the 1993 Baldivis Chardonnay, pounds 7.99, from Western Australia, is a peachy spicy chardonnay.

Reds

For party reds, the best choice is between the pleasantly aromatic 1993 Cape Dry Red, pounds 2.99, and the soft, fruity 1994 Angove's Nanya Estate Malbec/Ruby Cabernet, pounds 3.49. If ever I said beaujolais was overrated and overpriced I would be happy to drink the 1993 Fleurie, Roland Dagneau, pounds 3.25 half-bottle, while eating my words. This is a concentrated cru beaujolais full of juicy, raspberry fruitiness. Rioja is a popular, affordable alternative to claret and burgundy and the 1990 Cosme Paiacio Rioja, pounds 4.55, with its characteristic smoky whiff of vanilla and ripe strawberry, is likely to please most palates. From Waitrose's claret selection, I would pluck the 1990 Chateau Biston-Brillette, Moulis, pounds 8.95, a fine classic medoc with real fruit concentration and class which could usefully be decanted a few hours before serving. Australia's riposte, the 1992 Goundrey Langton Cabernet/ Merlot, pounds 5.95, is the epitome of an elegant Western Australian claret-style red, with added aromatics and fleshy fruit. For gamey dishes, try the 1992 Leasingham Shiraz, Clare Valley, pounds 5.75, a strapping Australian red whose delicious blackberryness melts in the mouth.

Next week: Christmas buys from high street wine stores

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