A smart person's guide to party wines

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Indy Lifestyle Online

At least 25 per cent of people overspend their budget at Christmas, according to a recent report on debt. But Christmas should be a time of good cheer and hospitality, so you shouldn't need to count the bailiff among those trying to knock your door down. Be the consummate cheerleader and buy your party wines wisely, well and in good time. As ever, this is the time of year when the high street buzzes with bogofs (buy-one-get-one-frees), promotions and special deals, so take advantage wherever possible. For your party wines, budget wisely, aiming for versatile, crisp and fruity whites and reds with enough flavour and smooth texture to be happily drunk either on their own or with food.

Hats off, as ever at Christmas, to the Co-op whose Christmas deals start on Monday. Among them, the 2003 Vistamar Sauvignon Blanc (down to £2.99 from £3.99), stands out for its elderfloral scents and juicy gooseberryish zing, while the grassy zip of the 2002 Atlantique Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire (also £1 off, at £3.99), is enhanced by handsome-looking packaging. Only Majestic matches the Co-op at the chirpy cheap end of the market, with an appley dry white, the 2002 Cuvée du Richard, Vin de Pays Du Comté Tolosan (£2.99). Majestic also has good deals on both the ripe and buttery 2002 Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay and the tropical Sauvignon from the same stable (both £3.99 when you buy any two Chileans). Meanwhile Waitrose has lopped £1 off the crisply fruity 2002 Douglas Green Chardonnay from Western Cape (£3.99).

The cheapest drinkable red on the market (£2.52 to be precise) is the cherryish Asda Argentinian Red. 'Nuff said. There's a bit more class though to the peppery, blackberry-fruity 2002 Gran López Campo de Borja, Tinto (£3.59, Waitrose), and the 2002 Palmento Nero d'Avola (£3.99, Safeway) should get a look in both for its smart packaging and easy-drinking, plummy ripe fruit. Also at £3.99, Tesco's South African Merlot Shiraz offers gluggy, berry-fruit flavours, screwcapped for extra convenience. As for under-a-fiver clarets, the best option is not a claret at all but the Bordeaux-style 2001 Cono Sur Reserve Merlot, Waitrose, whose supercharged, plummy blackcurranty fruitiness gives immense bang for buck at £4.99, down from £6.99. Finally, a classy little star from an independent merchant, the 2002 Domaine Coudoulet, Marsalan, Vin de Pays de l'Hérault, Berry Bros & Rudd (London SW1, 0870 9004300; £5.27 bottle/case), a remarkably juicy, blackberryish red from the Languedoc.

On the non-champagne fizz front, look out for good deals on cava. Most guests should be quite happy guzzling the palatable, lemonadey Asda Cava, £2.92, from Codorniu - try mixing it with the same amount of grapefruit juice for a quick festive cocktail. If you like a touch of sweetness in your fizz, you should enjoy the Nottage Hill Sparkling Chardonnay/Pinot Noir, especially at its reduced price of £4.99 (from £6.99), starting at Sainsbury's on Wednesday. More traditional but also good value, the 2001 Philippe Michel Crémant du Jura (£4.99, Aldi) is a fresh and tangy "champagne-method" chardonnay well worth seeking out. Reaching pauper's champagne levels, the yeasty-rich Blanquette de Limoux from Waitrose (£6.99) is one of the best-value alternatives, while Jansz NV Premium Cuvée (£10.49, Oddbins) is a fine tangy Tasmanian fizz, whose complexity, richness and tongue-tingling aftertaste I actually mistook for champagne at a wedding this year.

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