Who are you calling a lightweight?

They're not title-holders, but these middle-range wines can easily take on the big boys
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Scanning the property pages for a new des res this spring? Unless you're in line for a fat City bonus, forget about Belgravia or a riverside penthouse-cum-gym. Trophy locations, like liquid dreams of Château d'Yquem or Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, always seem to be tantalisingly out of reach. The best that most of us can hope for is that we've had the good sense or fortune to plump for an up-and-coming area; that Bermondsey, Romford or Cricklewood will be tomorrow's Battersea, Fulham or Notting Hill Gate.

Scanning the property pages for a new des res this spring? Unless you're in line for a fat City bonus, forget about Belgravia or a riverside penthouse-cum-gym. Trophy locations, like liquid dreams of Château d'Yquem or Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, always seem to be tantalisingly out of reach. The best that most of us can hope for is that we've had the good sense or fortune to plump for an up-and-coming area; that Bermondsey, Romford or Cricklewood will be tomorrow's Battersea, Fulham or Notting Hill Gate.

The value of wines, too, resides largely in location, location, appellation contrÿlée and location. Pauillac and Pouilly Fuisse, Bordeaux and Burgundy have got where they are today because they've inspired confidence enough over time to warrant a premium. In contrast, the faded glory of German riesling and sherry, like family houses converted into bedsits, offers some good buys before gentrification sets back in. There are even occasional gems to be found in Bordeaux itself, but it doesn't take long for the likes of Pomerol's Lafleur, Clinet and L'Evangile to achieve luxury-apartment status. Forget fancy extravagance, the claret I'd like to have in my cellar is Château Petit Bocq, whose sumptuously fruity 1996, £105 a case (in bond) from Justerini & Brooks (020-7484 6400) is a modern classic in the making.

Like Bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape now comes with greatness thrust upon it by the likes of America's Robert Parker. In the much-touted 1998 vintage, Château de Beaucastel and Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe are on everyone's wish list, and with new cult wines like Beaurenard's Cuvée Boisrenard and Roger Sabon's Cuvée Prestige, they're hardly great value at twice to three times the price of some excellent southern Rhÿnes.

There are some of the latter, though, to be found in Farr Vintner's en primeur offers (020-7821 2000) of the 1998 vintage, most notably the succulently juicy 1998 Cÿtes du Rhÿne Reserve Perrin, £42, the spicy, peppery 1998 Gigondas Domaine de la Bouissiÿre and the superbly structured Vacqueyras Cuvée Lopy Domaine Sang des Cailloux (prices are in bond, so for the final price add duty, delivery at £4 a case and VAT).

With so many middleweight wines weighing in at heavyweight prices today, one of the greatest pleasures for any wine lover is finding a wine that punches above its weight. I discovered one such, a brilliant rioja, the other day at the vaguely North African restaurant, Moro, in London. The 1996 Marques de Vargas Rioja Reserva leapt from the glass with penetrating, sweetly spiced American oak aromas of vanilla and coconut, and then proceeded to unleash deliciously concentrated, pure red berry fruit flavours with ageworthy yet non-aggressive tannins. I couldn't resist shelling out for a case, but supplies - £12.99-£13.99 from Inspired Wines (01299 270064), The Wine Cellar, Hampshire (01329 822733), Direct Wine Shipments, Belfast (028 90 50 8008) - are inevitably limited.

It was a revelation to come across such a handsome wine; not cheap, but worth every peseta. South Africa also offers unexpected good value. A new wine I discovered there last year is Yonder Hill, a tiny property facing the Helderberg Mountain which makes a sumptuous 1998 Merlot (£8.99, Oddbins), but has so far resisted overpricing itself. There are more: like the sumptuously full-bodied, black cherry-rich 1998 Landskroon Shiraz (£6.49, Safeway), and the 2000 Vergelegen Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, which at £9.99 from selected Sainsburys (stocks may now be exhausted) is to my mind the world's best under-£10 sauvignon. Look out, too, for the names of Fairview and Graham Beck. Like new houses in an up-and-coming area, these are new brands in the process of construction. All the marketing and promotional support that goes into maintaining mature brands tend to make them less good value propositions. But thanks to economies of scale, big can be beautiful, too.

Some of Australia's best flavours at the price lie in their top brands. On a crisp Spring day, Penfold's zestily refreshing 1999 Rawsons Bin 202 Riesling (widely available for £4.49-£4.99), is about as good as dry riesling gets under £5. From the same stable, the 1998 Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet (£6.49, also widely available), is an unsophisticated classic red whose full flavour and cinnamon and clove spicy undertones, which even improve with a year or two in the bottle, never disappoint.

And Seaview's Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut (from CWS Retail, Majestic, Oddbins, Parisa, Rhythm & Booze, Safeway, Sainsbury's, Somerfield and Unwins at £8.99) remains a consistently excellent, complex fizz made from champagne grapes which puts many a champagne in the shade. Like the property market, the complexities of wine offer plenty of opportunities to buy well - or not so well. A little bit of research and shopping around can go a long way.

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