Time to throw sanity out of the window

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Indy Lifestyle Online

At Christmas, value for money plays a diminished role in consumerist contemplations. OK, you're not eager to spend £50 on a sterling-silver toothpick (or so I hope). But if you're buying for someone else, the need to spend your money wisely is not paramount.

At Christmas, value for money plays a diminished role in consumerist contemplations. OK, you're not eager to spend £50 on a sterling-silver toothpick (or so I hope). But if you're buying for someone else, the need to spend your money wisely is not paramount.

In the sphere of alcohol, opportunities for spending money unwisely - or should I say with unthinking generosity? - are almost unlimited. You don't ask yourself, 'Is this worth it?'. You ask: 'Will this taste great, and will it be appreciated by Auntie/the postman/that dish in marketing?'.

With those aims in mind, here's a shopping list for the temporarily unhinged. The recommendations are in two categories: up to £10 and up to £50. All the bottles are good. And, almost all of them are pretty good value for money.

Up to £10, it's nice to buy something more distinctive than just another bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. My choice would be Campbells Merlot 1998 (£8.99, Noel Young, 01223 844 744), a meaty, spicy and densely berried cocktail. The flavours need to develop, so lay it down or decant it.

For something a little more festive, there's Warre's Otima 10 Year Old Tawny (£9.99/50cl, widely available), an attractively and very un-portily packaged fine young tawny, with all the right mellowness to make it beautiful as a lightly chilled aperitif or after-dinner friend. Sweetie two is Blandy's 1994 Harvest Malmsey Madeira (£9.99, Majestic). This is a new idea in Madeira, single-vintage wine released while young and showing loads more unctuous, raisiny smoothness than any low-priced Madeira I've tasted.

At the £50 mark, you would - in a sane and just world - have oceans of famous claret and red Burgundy at your disposal. But the world is neither sane nor just. If you're looking for that bottle of red that will impress the hell out of anyone, I would suggest Staglin Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 (£43.20, Lea & Sandeman, 020 7244 0522). This is one of the greatest wines made in the Napa Valley, and not so expensive as much of the competition. You can also spend £21.74 for a half bottle - and no one will complain, I'm sure.

My final push: a last chance to snap up what remains of the 1990 vintage in Champagne. No vintage since has been as good and ready for drinking now, though it's capable of ageing further. The trio of choice: Bollinger Grande Année Brut 1990 (£41.99, selected Sainsbury's and others), Pol Roger 1990 (£34.99, same stockists), and Laurent-Perrier Grand Siÿcle 1990 (£45, Berry Bros & Rudd, 0870 900 4300). I recently drank the L-P and was bowled over by its exuberant acidity and deep brioche/orange marmalade flavours. Great Champagne. Buy a case and the bottle price goes down to £38.25. Save a sip for me.

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