The lists that follow are a personal selection, and by no means comprehensive, but they will not steer you too far off course. As a general rule, target prices for short-term wines are £4-£6. For medium-term wines, £6-£12. And long-term wines can cost as much as you like. Sweet wines are more expensive at every level; you will rarely find a really good one for less than £5 per half bottle (a good size to buy) and the best can cost hundreds. Fortified wines are also expensive, but can actually represent superb value because they're relatively unfashionable (apart from port).

RED

FRANCE

FOR EARLY DRINKING

Though commercially embattled by red-hot competition from the New World, France is still, overall, the origin of the best wine on earth. Top choices here: basic beaujolais, côtes du rhône, vin de pays from the Languedoc and elsewhere in the south.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

France, once again, is the first place to look. Many of its best wines are made for ageing. Superior wines from all the areas mentioned above should go on your list, plus the red wines of the Loire (especially Bourgeuil and Chinon); cru bourgeois bordeaux; and burgundy in the £10-£12 price range.

LONG-TERM WINES

France, once again, is the king. Try the best bordeaux, the finest burgundy, and the best wines from the southern (especially châteauneuf du pape) and northern Rhône (hermitage, côte rôtie). Good advice is never so vital ­ and that applies with all these expensive wines.

ITALY

FOR EARLY DRINKING

Italy has a lot more choice if you look outside famous names in Tuscany. Sicily and Puglia are making some fabulous wines, using indigenous varieties such as negroamaro, primitivo and nero d'avola. The value here can be outstanding.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

In Italy, you can start to consider mid-price chianti and some of the other famous names of the north: barbera d'asti, dolcetto d'alba, bardolino, and superior valpolicella are some good names to look for.

LONG-TERM WINES

In Italy, top-class chianti and vino nobile di montepulciano, from Tuscany, are major options, along with the so-called super-Tuscans which break local wine laws (as well as the bank), from Piedmont, Barolo, Barbaresco, and the best dolcetto d'alba and dolcetto d'asti.

PORTUGAL

FOR EARLY DRINKING

Portugal has worked on getting the best out of native grape varieties such as trincadeira, alicante bouschet and touriga nacional. Areas such as Estremadura and Alentejo are among the names to look for.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

Portugal's red wines above basic level almost always benefit from a few years in the bottle. All regions may produce the right stuff, but the Douro, Alentejo, Estremadura, Dao and Bairrada are names to look for.

LONG-TERM WINES

Portugal's red wines above basic levels almost always benefit from a few years in the bottle. All regions may produce the right stuff, but the Douro, Alentejo, Estremadura, Dao and Bairrada are the names to look for.

SPAIN

FOR EARLY DRINKING

Spain may be Europe's best source of low-priced reds, from unfamiliar places such as La Mancha, Toro, Calatayud and Jumilla. The predominant grape varieties will be tempranillo and garnacha. You may find outstanding value for as little as £4.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

Famous names such as rioja and ribera del duero, and the oak-aged reserva wines are traditionally made for keeping. In addition to these, better wines from the Penedès, Utiel-Requena and the Costers del Segre are worth seeking out.

LONG-TERM WINES

In Spain, start with rioja (reserva and gran reserva) and ribera del duero. Some great wines are made in Navarra, sometimes outside the official guidelines and therefore ineligible for official classification as navarra.

CHILE & ARGENTINA

FOR EARLY DRINKING

Chile is the best country in the world for fairly cheap reds, and its most distinctive variety is the French import carmenère. Argentina is nipping at Chile's heels, and its hot grape variety is malbec, another French export that has achieved special distinction here.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

Oak-aged cabernet, merlot, carmenère and syrah from the Maipo and Central valleys are prime medium-term candidates in Chile, as well as silky pinot noir from Casablanca. In Argentina, malbec from Mendoza is the best bet.

LONG-TERM WINES

Chile and Argentina are unproven for longevity but worth a stab. Some are very expensive. You should experiment with top wines in the £12-£20 range.

AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND

FOR EARLY DRINKING

At the lowest level in Oz there are relatively few high-quality bargains, but careful shopping will pay off. Look outside the most famous names (e.g. Lindemans and Hardys) for the most interesting wines.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

In Oz, look to interesting blends (e.g. grenache, shiraz and mourvèdre), and to pinot noir from cool areas like the Adelaide Hills. In New Zealand, look for bordeaux-style blends from Hawke's Bay and Canterbury, and pinot noir from Marlborough.

LONG-TERM WINES

In Australia, try Coonawarra cabernet and Barossa shiraz. In New Zealand, some of the top Hawke's Bay bordeaux blends age spectacularly. But perhaps best of all are primo pinot noir from Central Otago, Martinborough, and Marlborough.

SOUTH AFRICA & USA

FOR EARLY DRINKING

South Africa has not, traditionally, been at its best in the lower price ranges, but this is changing. There are numerous producers making big, utterly satisfying versions of all the major varieties as well as South Africa's own pinotage.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

Big, rich reds from the Cape should all supply rich pickings. The USA also has good choice from around £8, such as Sonoma County zinfandel.

LONG-TERM WINES

In South Africa, try cool-area pinot noir. In the US, wines from Santa Cruz and the coastal areas are good bets.

WHITE

FRANCE

FOR EARLY DRINKING

France is a potential treasure-chest, from simple vins de pays (those from Gascony and the Languedoc are especially good) through superior muscadet "sur lie" and white côtes du rhône based on the peachy viognier grape.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

France offers a lot - lesser whie burgundy, white bordeaux based on semillon and sauvignon blanc, some wines from the Laungedoc and elsewhere in the south, and lesser-known appellations sucha s jurancon sec and limoux chardonnay. Good sancerre also improves with a bit of age, though much is made for early drinking.

LONG-TERM WINES

France has one major-league treasure here: white burgundy, 100 per cent chardonnay, which reaches heights achieved nowhere else on earth. The best white rhône and some Alsace riesling will also do well over the long haul. Again, buying well is key here, as in all these top wines.

ITALY

FOR EARLY DRINKING

Italy's soave, verdicchio and gavi are well known names, but Sicilian wines are making a big noise now in white as in red, and the aromatic whites of the northern Alto Adige can be lovely.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

Italy ­ not a strong point, but better gavi di gavi and soave gain from ageing for a few years.

PORTUGAL & SPAIN

FOR EARLY DRINKING

Portugal has no shortage of lively vinho verde, and a number of estates are putting modern technology to use in exploiting local grape varieties such as alvarinho to good effect. Spain is really red-wine territory but there are good cheapies based on the indigenous viura.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

Spain has white riojas which some people love for their oaky richness, and they start showing well after a few years.

LONG-TERM WINES

Heavily oaked white rioja from Spain gets all sorts of intriguing notes over the long haul ­ but they are not to everyone's taste.

AUSTRIA & GERMANY

FOR EARLY DRINKING

Austria makes some of the world's best whites, especially from Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. Germany makes some very simple rieslings which are at their most enjoyable when young.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

Austria's better whites improve after a few years in the bottle.

LONG-TERM WINES

Austria's finest grüner veltliner and riesling are the ones to go for. Grüner veltliner develops well over many years. Though many of the longest-lived German wines are sweet, some dryer styles (spätlese and auslese) age beautifully.

CHILE & ARGENTINA

FOR EARLY DRINKING

Chile and Argentina are awash with sound chardonnay and sauvignon blanc for drinking young, and also increasingly with riesling (Chile) and nutty torrontés (Argentina).

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

Chile and Argentina make some well-oaked chardonnay with some ageing potential. Chilean riesling may also stay the course, but you'll be gambling a little.

LONG-TERM WINES

The very, very top Chilean and Argentinian chardonnays should do well, and at prices that, like South Africa's, come in well below those of the best burgundies.

AUSTRALIA &NEW ZEALAND

Australia's chardonnay can be very good, as can its riesling (at a price). New Zealand sauvignon blanc is expensive but even the cheap stuff can be outstanding.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

Australia loves oaky chardonnay, and when it's good it will improve over five years. New Zealand's chardonnays are often even better than its sauvignon blancs.

LONG-TERM WINES

My money in Oz would go onto top riesling from the Clare or Eden valley. Their ample acidity helps keep them fresh. In New Zealand, again look for top chardonnay unless you want to take a chance with some of the increasingly successful rieslings.

SOUTH AFRICA & USA

FOR EARLY DRINKING

South Africa is doing very well in white as in red, and at prices that sometimes match or beat those of Chile. Chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are the grapes to look for.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

South Africa's better chardonnay should age well. Californian chardonnay tends to be either oaky or more oaky, but when the oak is well applied, in wines that will probably cost more than £10, it's good for keeping.

LONG-TERM WINES

South Africa's cool-climate chardonnay (from areas such as Walkers Bay) should have the acidity to last for many years.

Sparkling Wine

FOR EARLY DRINKING

Spain's cava, France's blanquette de limoux and crémant de bourgogne, and Italy's prosecco are the three top choices in Europe. Good fizz comes also from Australia, New Zealand and California, with a few goodies in South Africa. None of these benefits appreciably from long keeping. Even cheaper champagne of high quality (usually from a supermarket) will improve after a year or so in the bottle.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

Almost any champagne can sit for a couple of years and gain in complexity, but you have to choose carefully if you want to keep it for half a decade. You'll probably be looking at a minimum expenditure of £20, and you should take advice.

LONG-TERM WINES

What applies to medium-term applies even more strongly here. Vintage champagne reaches its peak from around 10 years after the year of production, though in lesser years you might be able to drink it happily after five. Again, get good advice. And note: long-cellared champagne gains in richness and complexity but loses some of the freshness and lively flavours that many drinkers like best, so you have to decide whether you like that quality. To begin with, set aside one bottle for long ageing ­ or buy a very mature vintage (at great cost) to see if it's your cup of tea.

Fortified Wine

This means port, sherry and madeira.

FOR EARLY DRINKING

LBV (late bottled vintage) and tawny port, fino and manzanilla sherry, any madeira.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

As above, except for the sherries ­ which should always be drunk young. Some sherry styles, such as oloroso and amontillado, keep well.

LONG-TERM WINES

Vintage port is the classic here. A few bottles from a range of good vintages should keep you going. These keep for decades ­ though they can also be enjoyed in relative youth.

Sweet Wine

A breed of their own, potentially insipid but sometimes among the world's greatest wines ­ and the best last almost forever.

FOR EARLY DRINKING

Basic muscat wherever it's from (France and Australia are common inexpensive sources), basic sauternes, basic German or Austrian riesling, basic Alsace sweeties. Sweet styles of Madeira and sherry are also a top bet.

MEDIUM-TERM WINES

Good-quality sauternes, Jurançon, German and Alsace sweet wines can all be ready after a few years. So can the best of the New World.

LONG-TERM WINES

If you want longevity, go for the best ­ which are almost always very expensive. Sauternes, and wines from the Loire, Alsace, Hungary's Tokaji, and trockenbeerenausle or eiswein from Austria and the Mosel valley of Germany are top. Vin de paille from the Rhône valley is rare as hen's teeth but glorious. Some Canadian ice wine is wonderful. Buy with good advice. If you do that, you'll have wines that can on improving over decades.

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