For greater Yuletide cheer, spend a bit extra on your bottles. You'll be surprised at the results, says Anthony Rose

If you believe the prophets of doom, we'll be trading down this Christmas, our annual three cheers reduced to a solitary cup. I don't buy that any more than I buy stoking the profits of boom with conspicuous consumption. By all means, let's tighten our belts after Christmas, but Mr Dickens was not wrong: penny-pinching and the Christmas spirit are poor companions.

If you believe the prophets of doom, we'll be trading down this Christmas, our annual three cheers reduced to a solitary cup. I don't buy that any more than I buy stoking the profits of boom with conspicuous consumption. By all means, let's tighten our belts after Christmas, but Mr Dickens was not wrong: penny-pinching and the Christmas spirit are poor companions.

December is when, traditionally, we go a little crazy and spend far more on drink than at any other time of year. We also tend to leave things to the last minute, hoping for that pre-Christmas-sale bargain. There are some good discounts around, especially on champagne, and I'll point out the best. It's a truism to say you get what you pay for, but if you aim for quality rather than quantity, and spend £1 (or three) more than you'd normally spend on a bottle, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much more flavour that extra can bring.

So, this week brings an array of delicious whites I've specially selected for the festive period. Next week, it's the turn of classic reds and their not-so-classic but equally tempting counterparts.

Everyday Chardonnay

White Burgundy is the original source of Chardonnay-mania, and if you're prepared to push the boat out, the mouthwatering rich but dry flavours make this the classic Christmas dry white for the likes of smoked salmon, shellfish and fish generally. Beyond France, Chardonnay has become one of the most compelling and moreish of grape varieties, often with more immediate flavour and opulence than white Burgundy itself, but not always with the structure or complexity of the finest.

For just over a fiver, in the 2000 Ferngrove Chardonnay (£5.99, Oddbins) you can enjoy the tropical-fruit salad flavours of Western Australia refreshed by a nip of cleansing acidity that the cool Frankland River region brings. If you're buying on the net, setting your sights as far as New Zealand, I highly recommend Alwyn Corban's 1999 Ngatarawa Stables Chardonnay (£7.99, virginwines. com) for its complex but lightly-toasted oak flavours, richness and citrus-crisp acidity. Back in Australia (the Orange region of New South Wales) the 1999 Reynolds Moonshadow Chardonnay (£8.99, Safeway) is an appealing dry white with nutty oak richness and spice in equal measure.

Moving on up

From Washington State, the 2000 Gordon Brothers Family Vineyards Chardonnay (£12.50, Marks & Spencer), is an intensely flavoured, burgundian-style Chardonnay with plenty of toasty oak and buttery lees-stirred characters in a well-crafted wine of class and complexity. Corbans 1999 Cottage Block Chardonnay (£14.99, Waitrose), from New Zealand's Marlborough region, combines richness of fruit and oak-derived vanilla-like flavours with burgundian-style finesse.

Treats in store

Traditional Burgundy lovers will get mileage from the 1999 Domaine Bourgeot Santenay Clos de la Comme Dessus (£10.99, Oddbins), a savoury, well-worked example of good-value white Burgundy. Meursault is one of my favourite styles, and the fully flavoured 1999 Meursault les Narvaux, Vincent Girardin (£18.99, Majestic), a richly flavoured, smoky-savoury Côte de Beaune white full of vivacious, lees-stirred flavours with the oak discreetly in the background, is a fine example. At its best, grand cru Chablis at the apex of the Chablis pyramid is as good as it gets, and the 1996 Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses, from la Chablisienne (£22.95, Waitrose), is right up there, a combination of excellent fruit flavour, mineral complexity and classic, cut-throat acidity.

Everyday Sauvignon style

They don't make Graves like they used to – thank goodness. The old-style sweet and sulphurous Graves has made way for a serious dry white, most of the best (and most expensive) of which is from the Pessac-Léognan district of Bordeaux. Good Graves, often a blend of sauvignon and semillon, goes well with seafood, its refreshing snap often best with shellfish or luxurious white-fleshed fish like halibut, turbot and the rich, firm icefish now increasingly found at fish counters.

Moving on up

For a glimpse of the Graves style at an un-Graves-like price, I recommend the rather lovely 2000 Château Recougne Bordeaux Blanc, Cuvèe Terra Recognita (£6.99, Bottoms Up, Wine Rack, Thresher), an aromatic dry white with oak and lees-stirred flavours of tobacco spice and smokiness enveloped in a stylish, dry, apricot fruit richness. Also excellent, the 1999 Château Gaubert Graves (£8.97, Asda), is a true, classy Graves made of pure sauvignon with penetrating aromas and delicate toasted oak adding to the generous layers of fruit flavours.

Treats in store

Look for the the best of sauvignon style from the most southerly sources. Neil Ellis's tongue-in-cheek 2001 Sincerely, Sauvignon Blanc (£6.99, Sainsbury's) pokes fun at Sancerre on the grounds that "imitation is the sincerest flattery", and imitates Sancerre not just in the label but the high-class nettle and gooseberry fruit quality with its opulent juiciness. From Australia's cool Adelaide Hills, 2001 Starvedoglane Sauvignon Blanc (£8.99, Safeway), is a good example of the intense herbal aromas and crisp, dry, minerally characters that can be wrought from the variety. At its best New Zealand remains a yardstick for fine sauvignon blanc; try the 2001 Craggy Range Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (£9.99, Waitrose) an impressively pithy, grapefruity style rich in gooseberry fruit with a crisp, bone-dry minerally aftertaste.

Great white hopes

While Chardonnay and sauvignon represent the enduring classics, there's a move among the world's more progressive producers at least to stand up for local specialities and dangle a variety of new tastes in front of our Chardonnay-jaded palates. Viognier, riesling, albariño and semillon are among the emerging "hot" varieties which, with producers putting a new spin on them, are starting to break the mould.

European aromas

From France's southern vineyards, Domaine Cazal Viel's 2000 Viognier Grande Reserve (£6.99, Bottoms Up, Wine Rack, Thresher), offers the typical honeysuckle aromas and vivid, ripe apricot expressiveness of this northern Rhône variety. An alternative to ubiquitous Chablis, the zip and zing of albariño from Galicia is the perfect foil for shellfish; try the 2000 Pazo de Barrantes Albariño (£9.99, Tesco), dry, aromatic, with intense, peachy fruit ripeness cut by a mouthwatering streak of grapefruity acidity. Also at Tesco, the 1998 Hugel Riesling Tradition (£9.99, limited branches of Tesco) is a fine example of full-bodied Alsace riesling, bone dry, crisp and zesty with an explosion of lime sherbet fruit.

New World answers

From Western Australia, the 2000 Capel Vale Verdelho (£7.99, Sainsbury's; buy 2 = £7.49, Majestic), is a refreshingly crisp, exotically fruity dry white with a zingy, ripe peachy fruitiness and an undertone of spice, well suited to white meats. The 1998 Tim Adams Clare Valley Semillon (£7.99, Majestic), with its cardamom-spice aromas and lemon-zest richness is packed with flavour and true Aussie semillon character. Same grape, different style; 2000 Penny's Hill Goss Corner Semillon (£8.49, Oddbins) is an Australian dry white from McLaren Vale with a richness of flavour and vivid zestiness that carries over, leaving the palate refreshed and saying more please.

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