1966 and all that

wine

If early reports of a good Bordeaux harvest are not exaggerated, expect considerable clamour for the 1996s, especially the Medocs, when wine merchants offer them in the spring. The excellent, if expensive,1995 red and white burgundies, will also be in much demand with offers spanning the next few months.

Few regions will match the south of France for affordable red and white vins de pays. At the same time, syrah-influenced reds from Faugeres, St Chinian, Costieres de Nimes, Roussillon and the Coteaux du Languedoc will give the Rhone a run for its francs.

A millennium-fuelled run on vintage champagnes from the excellent 1988, 1989 and 1990 trio of vintages is a possibility. Beware of sharks milking scare stories of shortages though. And resist apparently unmissable offers of vintage champagne and port, not to mention whisky casks, from shady operators.

The plentiful 1990 vintage is only now appearing on the market with1990 Pommery, Bollinger and Roederer already showing considerable class, while Duval-Leroy Blanc de Blancs and Jacquart look like good bets in the value for money stakes.

Italy has largely weathered the storm of its new price structure although frascati and soave look set for further price rises and chianti will also be dearer. The peninsula's somewhat sparse middle range will at least be fleshed out with some good Puglian reds from the native negroamaro and uva di troia grapes and affordable Sicilian rosso.

Except in Rioja, which enjoyed a third successive quality harvest, Spanish prices should ease. Navarra, Somontano and high quality dry whites from Galicia's albarino grape will be names to watch in 1997.

On Germany's twin track of quality and quantity, estate Mosel riesling will continue to sell, albeit to the converted. Mass market lieb though is likely to be gradually replaced by cleaner, drier "new-wave" German styles such as Asda's Wild Boar Riesling and the ubiquitous Devil's Rock. Austria's revival should see long overdue recognition for its high quality dry riesling and native gruner veltliner.

Eastern Europe has suffered from the long-term neglect of its vineyards and lack of incentives to plant, but Hungary's whites should continue to improve with good value sauvignon, chardonnay and wines from the native harslevelu and furmint grapes.

Thanks to a superabundant 1996 harvest, Australia's recovery from the 1995 blip looks assured with quality chardonnays such as Lindemans Bin 65 and Penfolds Koonunga Hill committed to sticking at under a fiver. Due to worldwide demand, however, expect increases of pounds 1 or more on premium Aussie reds.

Kiwi whites, Marlborough sauvignon blanc especially, will once again make an impact with the 1996 vintage, and the world will wake up to its world-class pinot noir, albeit made in homeopathic quantities, from the likes of Fromm, Giesen and Dry River.

American demand is the likely key to Chilean wine prices. Even if they do increase, Chile will continue to make waves with brilliant value merlot and classy cabernet sauvignon. With names such as Norton and Catena, Argentina too is getting hotter by the hour.

South Africa's producers will continue to respond to the opening-up of markets overseas. Premium reds, however, are in perilously short supply, while the demand for the Cape's cheap white plonk is dwindling. The Cape badly needs to improve its image by fleshing out its scanty middle range.

With a mostly generous 1996 vintage tucked under its belt, and a stronger pound, there is no reason why the wine trade shouldn't keep prices competitive this year. At the same time, clear signs that Britain's wine drinkers recognise - and will pay more for - quality can only trickle back down the supply chain in the most positive way.

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