Drink: White Christmas

Whether you are looking to buy wines for parties, as an aperitif, or just something sweet and sticky to set off the pud, here's our pick of festive whites

Party whites

It's becoming difficult to locate a decent glugging white at under pounds 3, but they do still exist - just. In the crisply fruity style, my vote goes to the aromatic 1997 Woodcutter's White, pounds 2.99, Safeway, the fragrantly spicy 1997 Irsai Oliver, pounds 2.99, Safeway, Asda, and the zingy, bitter-lemon style Sicilian White, pounds 2.99, Somerfield. Angrove's Tea Tree Estate Colombard Chardonnay from Australia, pounds 2.99, Waitrose, is in the riper, tropical-fruit spectrum of flavours.

I'd happily knock back any of these at a party, but at my own bash I'd fork out a bit more. In the little-bit-extra category, you might try the smoky- scented, lemon-fresh Pergola Oaked Viura, pounds 3.49, Somerfield, Asda's attractively soft 1997 Oak-aged Viura, pounds 3.49, or the more rounded, lightly oaky tones of Safeway's 1998 Australian Oaked Colombard, pounds 3.49.

At around pounds 4, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile currently undercuts much New Zealand and Loire Valley Sauvignon at almost twice the price. Under their own labels, Sainsbury's, Somerfield and Safeway all offer zesty-fresh, authentic versions of new vintage Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling fans will like the classic, kerosene-like maturity of the 1991 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett, pounds 3.99 (buy two or more), Majestic, a delicate, appley, off-dry white with lots of Mosel character.

House whites pounds 4 to pounds 8

For around a fiver, you should expect a white wine to show not just quality but a degree of class and character, too. The character of the grape comes across opulently in the 1996 Gewurztraminer, Cave de Ribeauville, pounds 4.99, Majestic, its pot-pourri scents contrasting nicely with the powerful fruit and exotic lychee- like spice of the variety.

The floral fragrance of the 1997 Roero Arneis Castalvero, pounds 4.99, Fuller's, from Piemonte in north-west Italy, matches mouth-filling peachy fruit with the balancing zip of acidity from its cool location close to the foothills of the Alps. From Umbria comes a typical local blend of Procanico, Verdello and Grechetto grapes, the 1997 Orvietto Classico, Cardeto, pounds 4.29, Waitrose. The honeyed ripeness of this clean, fresh and full-bodied dry white is topped and tailed by a faintly nutty, refreshingly bitter twist, making it a versatile partner for fish or pasta.

Spicy, fresh and rich, the 1997 Tokay Pinot Gris, Turckheim, pounds 5.49, Victoria Wine, Martha's Vineyard, is a versatile white which will serve as a smart dry white wine aperitif or as an ideal partner for Thai, Chinese or Malaysian food. More obscure but no less delicious, the 1997 Bleasdale Sandhill Verdelho, pounds 6.99, Oddbins, from South Australia's Langhorne Creek, is an exotic white in which powerful aromas of ripe mangoes lure you into a tropical pineapple and mango fruit salad spiced with oak.

Classic whites for more than pounds 8

In rich but elegant vein, the 1996 Hillstowe Udys Mill Lenswood Chardonnay, pounds 9.99, Oddbins, exemplifies the classy style of Chardonnay emerging from the cool Adelaide Hills, with its special fruit salad-qualities of grapefruit, guava and melon, all worked into a complex dry white.

In more restrained style, the minerally edge and richly textured fruit of the 1996 Chablis 1er Cru Beauregard, Domaine St Julian, pounds 9.95, Waitrose, makes this steely premier cru Chablis brilliant with shellfish. South of Chablis in Burgundy's Cote d'Or, the Carillon family's Puligny-Montrachets epitomise fine white Burgundy and the 1996 Puligny-Montrachet Louis Carillon, pounds 21.99, Wine Rack, from an excellent vintage, is no exception. With its delicate nuttiness, the complexity and intensely flavoured fruit of this stylish Puligny reflects both the quality of the winemaking and the unique character of the vineyard.

For a break from Chardonnay, here are two stylish, unoaked whites. The Puiatti family make a virtue out of dispensing with oak. Rich in pear and apple flavours and crisply defined clarity of fruit, the 1997 Puiatti Pinot Grigio, pounds 9,99, Tesco (top 30 stores), is a fine expression of the grape variety and its cool north-east Italian location. From Alsace, the 1994 Riesling Grand Cru Pfersigsberg, Kuentz-Bas, pounds 12.99, Unwins, is a powerfully aromatic Alsace Riesling whose refreshing spritz and lemon- zest fruit belies a maturity which shows in its creamy richness of concentration and elegantly balanced, dry finish.

Luscious sweet whites

With the rediscovery of traditional sweet wine styles and the emergence of new ones, the range and quality of sweet white wines today is unequalled. Cheapskates with a very sweet tooth can get away with Samos Greek Muscat, pounds 2.99 (half-bottle), Somerfield, a fortified sweet white tasting like a liquid bunch of fresh Muscat grapes squeezed into a glass of brandy. The Co-op boasts an extraordinarily good value German sweetie in the 1997 Kirchheimer Schwarzerde Beerenauslese, pounds 3.99 (half), a rich, slightly smoky sticky made from indeterminate grape varieties, but at this price, do you care?

In the 1996 Coteaux du Layon Forge, pounds 8.99, Fullers, the Branchereau family vineyards in the Loire have produced a lovely sweet wine with aromas of angelica spice and a rich nectarine-like sweetness on the palate, with the typically cleansing acidity of the Chenin Blanc grape.

Sauternes is always expensive, but at pounds 9.75 for a half-bottle, the 1996 Chateau Liot, Sauternes (half-bottle), Waitrose, justifies its price, oozing lusciously rich, barley sugar and honeyed fruitiness tinged with vanilla.

On the subject of oozing, sweet white, devotees mustn't miss out an amazing half-bottle from Oz. The 1997 Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling, Clare Valley, pounds 9.99, Oddbins, is a super-luscious botrytis Riesling with gorgeous flavours of crystallised citrus fruits, the unique bracing freshness of the Riesling grape cutting through the unctuousness of the fruit.

Reds are reviewed on 19 December

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