Recession? What recession?

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Recession? What recession? According to the Champagne Information Bureau, which takes the nation's economic pulse by the number of bottles of fizz we drink, imports to the UK are already up nearly 40 per cent on the same period last year. They are likely to reach pre-millennium consumption figures by the end of the year. Or sooner, if the latest offer from Wine Rack and Bottoms Up is anything to go by. Better even than buy one, get one free, they're both offering up to 50 per cent off 80 champagnes, including some of the best prestige champagnes on the market, as the two high-street chains clear out the old millennium stocks to make way for... more champagne.

In its "Pop go our champagne prices" offer, best buys include Le Mesnil Champagne NV, down from £15.99 to £7.99, the thoroughly consistent Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, slashed from £23.99 to £11.99 and two vintage fizzes, the 1995 Le Mesnil Champagne, down from £21.99 to £10.99 and the 1991 Pommery Vintage champagne, from £27.99 to £13.99. If you've always wanted to try a deluxe champagne but felt too daunted by the price, you could get stuck into Lanson's great 1988 Noble Cuvée Champagne, half-price at £27.49 from its list price of £54.99, or Taittinger's amazing 1989 Comtes de Champagne Champagne, down from £75 to £37.50. The offer lasts until Tuesday (or until stocks last). To save a wasted journey, first ring your local store for details.

Across the road, meanwhile, Oddbins, the admirable high-street chain, continues to do what it has always done best – finding small parcels of wines, in this instance from the South of France. The 1999 L'Hospitalet Summum Blanc, £6.99, from the winningly named La Clape appellation is an interesting fruit salad and cream of Mediterranean white varieties, the 2000 Dom -aine de Saint-Antoine Costières de Nîmes Rosé, £4.99, an elegantly dry style and the 2000 Les Sorcières Clos des Fées, £7.49, a big, rich, chocolatey mouthful of fruit from the former Parisian sommelier Hervé Bizeul. By their nature, these bin ends are limited, but your local store may be able to get stock for you if they've run out.


2000 Cono Sur Viognier, £4.99, Unwins

After chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, good, affordable viognier is the latest hostage captured by the New World and starting to send shivers down the spines of producers in its heartland of Condrieu in the Rhône. This Chilean dry white from Rapel is a finely-crafted example. A floral, hon- eysuckle fragrance and a delicious, apricot-like fruitiness. Suits white meats such as pork and chicken.

2000 Pirque Estate Chardonnay, £7.50, Marks & Spencer

The top Chilean winemaker Alvaro Espinosa, formerly of Carmen Estate, has taken his talents to Pirque Estate in Maipo Valley, where, along with Cec-ilia Guzman, he has come up with an appealing, full-flavoured chardonnay with fresh spritz and melony fruit, offset by a touch of spiciness from partial fermentation in French oak. Try it with Thai green pork or chicken curry.

2000 Pouilly Fumé, Chatelain, £8.99, Waitrose

Made from the sauv-ignon blanc grape like Sancerre, a good Pouilly Fumé such as this classic dry white from Jean-Claude Chatelain should show not just the nettley fragrance and gooseberryish fruit qualities of the grape, but an underlying minerally quality with the slight smokiness of gunflint to add complexity.


2000 Cabernet Sauvignon, Casillero del Diablo, normally £4.99, but £3.99, Safeway (to 22 September) and Thresher Wine Shops (from Tuesday until the end of the month)

This is a typical, youthful, soft, Chilean red from the giant Concha y Toro with lots of sweet blackcurrant pastille-style fruitiness and a touch of mint. Being in the first flush of youth, it's about as far from mellow fruitfulness as you'll get, but at this one-off price, a useful red to bring on the season of mists.

2000 Porcupine Ridge Syrah, £6.49, Somerfield

South Africa's Marc Kent put the tongue-twistingly named Boekenhoutskloof on the Cape map with an outstanding syrah in 1997. This is his more affordable second label red, which, with its smoky, spicy fruit tinged with oregano and marjoram, tastes like a fine Mediterranean syrah. Get your hands on a bottle to experience the character now emerging from the Cape with the Rhône Valley's red grape. Try it with guinea fowl, pheasant, or, if you're pushing the boat out, roast grouse or hare.

2000 Don Pascual Reserve Tannat, £6.99, Sainsbury's

Just as the malbec grape of Cahors has performed better in Argentina than its own French homeland, the tannat from the French south-western region of Madiran is the latest red grape to show its true qualities in the New World, in this instance Uruguay. This deep-hued, caged animal of a red pulsates with a vivid blackberry fruit quality, excellent richness and bite and calls for suitably robust stews like cassoulet.


1992 Jacquart Champagne, normally £23.99, but £15.99 if you buy three or more bottles, Majestic Wine Warehouses (or £47.99 for magnums and £31.99 buying 3 or more)

A deserving gold medal winner at this year's International Wine Challenge (the results are published this week in the new issue of Wine magazine), this is a beautifully evolved, luxurious vintage blend of chardonnay and pinot noir champagne that comes from the Jacquart leviathan, boasting toasty, truffley, aromatic complexity and mature, nutty flavours in the traditional, English-toffee style.