After the impressive autumn Waitrose tasting, I decided to splash out on a few bottles of the seductively toasty 2002 Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Champagne and 2007 Vincent Paris Cornas, a deliciously spicy, peppery northern Rhône syrah. When Waitrose announced 25 per cent off all wines bought by the case for the week ending 10 November, it was a great opportunity. But I questioned why they hadn't given enough notice of the discount for me to let Independent readers in on the deal. The same had just happened when M&S announced a half-price offer on its Guillaume de Gand Champagne. When I asked why, both cited "sensitive information" they didn't want competitors to pick up on. Might not a simple embargo have done the trick? Let's hope they remember next time round.
Going online, I found out that the 2007 Vincent Paris Cornas was conspicuous by its absence. I made some enquiries and was told it would appear on the last day of the offer. I kept my powder dry on the Le Mesnil champagne so that I could order the two together. After checking the site during the day, eventually the Cornas appeared at 7pm. I ordered half a dozen and tried to complete my purchase with six bottles of champagne. Out of stock. As a consumer I share the frustrations of readers who go looking for recommended offers only to find that the wine is sold out or otherwise unavailable. With so many special offers around this Christmas, there will be some bargains worth having, but you do often have to get in there early – and even then you may find yourself frustrated.
Champagne leads the pack at Christmas, not only because it's a festive fun drink, but because this year the champagne houses are desperate to balance a massive recession-induced surplus. Waitrose are selling the toasty-rich, strawberryish 2004 Duval Leroy Blancs de Blancs Vintage at £14.99, half-price, until Tuesday, after which their appetisingly appley Champagne Bredon, from the well-respected champagne house of Piper & Charles Heidsieck is reduced to £13.99, down from £20.99. Marks & Spencer, one of the high street's best champagne retailers, has £5 off (till 1 January), its consistent Oudinot, now £14.99, as well as the creamy 2002 St Gall Vintage Grand Cru, now £21.99, and £10 off the rich, biscuity 1998 Orpale, now £40. For partying on a budget, Marks' Cava Prestige Brut, normally £7.49, now 2 for £10, is excellent value.
Price cuts also create a good opportunity for bargains on the posher champagne houses. Among the recent best, Pol Roger Réserve NV Brut is £24.99, when you buy two, £39.99 (£23 at The Wine Society), until 4 January, ditto Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV, while Taittinger Brut, also on cracking form, is on special deal at £23.90, Tesco, and £23.99 at Majestic and Oddbins; the £6 off Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve at Waitrose brings it down to £22.99. Tesco is also selling the fine, stylish 2002 Champagne Heidsieck & Co Monopole Silver Top at £120 for 6 bottles, down from its normal half-case price of £204, while for excellent value party bubbles, it has the refreshingly citrusy Cesarini Sforza Cuvée Brut Riserva from Trentino at the equivalent of £6 a bottle for a case of six compared to the £12 a bottle list price. Watch this space for more great festive deals.