Vine Trail is one of the many small independent wine merchants springing up like chanterelles to compete with the high- street chains. Nick and Cath Brookes' Bristol-based company specialises in delving off-piste into high quality, little-known French domaines, whose wines are too few in number for the supermarkets to deal in.

At a London tasting before Christmas, there wasn't one bad wine. At the affordable end of the spectrum, the 2002 Château Sainte Marie, Entre-Deux-Mers, £6.50, was a revelation with its zingy, fresh-mown grass aromas and luscious, New World-style fruitiness. Among the reds the 2002 Carignan Vin de Pays des Coteaux de Peyriac from Domaine Rougié, £6.75, offered delightfully juicy and concentrated, spicy fruit from sumptuous old vine carignan.

On a more serious note, among the dry whites, the 2001 St Péray Les Figuiers from Bernard Gripa, £14.75, was an extraordinarily rich northern Rhône blend of roussanne and marsanne, while the classic, full-flavoured 2001 Pouilly Fuissé Clos Varambon, from Château des Rontets, £13.95, offered terrific bang for buck.

Among the many fine reds, the 2000 Vacqueyras Cuvée Azalais from Domaine le Sang des Cailloux was outstanding, while the 2000 St-Joseph from Pierre Gonon, £12.95, displayed tarry, antiseptic, true northern Rhône syrah undertones.

Vine Trail, 266 Hotwell Road, Bristol, BS8 4NG (0117 921 1770/www.vinetrail.co.uk)

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