My Round: Cheap at half the price

Make no mistake, there are bargains to be found in the winter wine sales - and the more you spend, the more you'll save
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Indy Lifestyle Online

For us ordinary mortals, who regard Christmas as the financial equivalent of opening a vein, it seems slightly galling to think of those lucky people who always have money to spend. On my brief foray into January sale-world, I saw them eyeing up - and in many cases actually buying - all manner of expensive stuff. But if I were one of them, rather than the only one of me, I would make a point of sitting down with the January wine-sale listings.

For us ordinary mortals, who regard Christmas as the financial equivalent of opening a vein, it seems slightly galling to think of those lucky people who always have money to spend. On my brief foray into January sale-world, I saw them eyeing up - and in many cases actually buying - all manner of expensive stuff. But if I were one of them, rather than the only one of me, I would make a point of sitting down with the January wine-sale listings.

Some people disagree with me about the January sales. They think that merchants are just trying to offload tired vintages or, even worse, to dump inferior goods that they couldn't sell at full price. In some cases, they may be right. In the cases that I know and love, they are wrong. The January sales have much to offer anyone who still has money left in his or her pocket. Especially if the pockets are good and deep, since many of the best discounts are attached to the best bottles. I've highlighted three good merchants here; if your favourite isn't among them, get in touch with them and ask what's doing. In all the prices listed, the discount is somewhere between 15 and 25 per cent.

For size and variety of discounts it's hard to do better than Berry Bros & Rudd (0870 900 4300, www.bbr.com). As you'd expect from such a blue-blooded firm, much of it is on the expensive side, but the first two Web pages of its eight-page offering contain nothing but wines that could be called everyday stuff by anyone's definition. You have to buy an unmixed case to get the lowest prices, though that won't be too great a wrench with such reliable wines as Montes Reserve Chardonnay 2002 from Chile (£5.90) or Domaine Maris Minervois "la Liviniere" (£6.65), a juicy, oak-free Syrah. My personal picks, however, would be the exceptional Château de Lascaux, Les Nobles Pierres 2000, Côteaux du Languedoc, down 20 per cent to £7.85, and Pinot Gris 2001, King Estate, Oregon (£9.95). The Lascaux is a powerful Syrah/Grenache blend reminiscent of the northern Rhône, the Pinot Gris a floral, complex mouth-filler with fine acidity.

My second stop on the bargain trail is Adnams (01502 727 222, www.adnams wines.co.uk). It has but a single page devoted to its sale, but it's a long page and has ripe pickings starting from little more than £4. A star buy here: the 2001 Grand Moulas Villages, Château du Grand Moulas (£6.95), an exemplary Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages from a good year. It also has some superb Californians, including several of the unbeatable Zinfandels made by Ridge (prices from £9.99 per half bottle). And I also can't resist mentioning one of my star buys from Christmas, the Yarra Yering Dry Red No 1 1999, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia. This really is an exceptional wine, and while no one would call it cheap, at £24.50 (from £27.50) it is worth just the one-time splash.

My final stop is Jeroboams & Laytons (020 7259 6716, www.jeroboams.co.uk), formed by the merger of a wine merchant and a cheese shop. Luxury is the strong suit here: how about a bottle of Hine 1952 cognac at £160, down from £207? But there are loads of good bottles at under a tenner, consider two Australians: Noble Riesling 1999, Vasse Felix, Margaret River (£6.95) and Peter Lehmann Chenin Blanc 2001, Western Australia (£4.50). But my top choice is an unashamed luxury: Esk Valley the Terraces 1998, Hawkes Bay. This is arguably the best Bordeaux-style blend originating in New Zealand; made in tiny quantities, it combines power and finesse in equal quantities. Normal price: £65. Sale price: £45. If I were one of those shoppers I saw in the sales, this is where I'd plonk at least a little of the surplus. *

Top Corks

Three winter whites

Bonterra Roussanne 2002 Oddbins £10.99 One of the Rhône's great white grapes, farmed in Mendocino County (California) to splendid effect. Tangy, aromatic and perfect with grilled chicken.

Tokay Pinot Gris 2000, Grand Cru Brand Threshers and Wine Rack £12.99 An off-dry beauty from the Turckheim co-operative. Intense perfume and a lush, slightly honeyed palate. Sublime.

Bianco di Custoza Garganega 2002 Safeway £4.79 This Italian delivers undemanding, refreshing citrus flavours with faintly mineral undertones. An aperitif or companion to simply cooked white fish.

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