Listing the fine, finer and finest whites for the celebrations
The refreshingly aromatic sauvignon blanc grape is versatile enough to double as an aperitif white or to match seafood courses, and the not too green vegetable dishes. It's also good with goat's cheese. From Jacques Lurton at San Pedro, the bouquet of the1996 Castillo de Molina Sauvignon Blanc, pounds 4.49, Safeway, suggests new-mown lawns, while the zest is held in check by full-bodied tropical fruitiness. Exotic lemongrass and tropical citrus fruits dominate the character of Kym Milne's South African1996 Rylands Grove Sauvignon Blanc, pounds 4.99, Tesco. And sticking out a mile from run-of-the-moulin white Bordeaux, the pure, grapefruity zing of the sauvignon blends excitingly with the textured semillon richness in Joel Bonneau's 1995 Chateau Haut Grelot, Premieres Cotes de Blaye, pounds 4.99, Fuller's. A more unusual aromatic aperitif white, the 1996 Norton Torrontes from Argentina, pounds 4.49, Oddbins, is an intensely fragrant, almost muscat-grapey style with a whiff of fennel and excellent weight.

Germany's estate wines continue to provide the ultimate in appetising aperitif wines with the ripe fruit concentration and acidity to handle the likes of smoked salmon and chicken dishes, too. The youthful spritz on the 1995 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling from Dr Wagner, pounds 5.45, Waitrose, signals juicy, lime-like fruit on the palate with the off-dry sweetness held in check by crisply balancing acidity. The elegantly crisp, off-dry1993 Trittenheimer Altarchen Riesling Kabinett from Grans Fassian in the Mosel, pounds 6.29, Majestic, boasts intense, lime-rich fruitiness and incisive, green apple acidity, while the off-dry sweetness of the 1994 Forster Pechstein Riesling Kabinett, pounds 7.99, selected Thresher, from Reichsrat von Buhl, is sliced through by a refreshingly bitter twist of citrusy acidity. The 1995 Sancerre Les Bonnes Bouches, Safeway, down from pounds 8.99 to pounds 6.99 for the festive season is classy Sancerre whose nettly character and juicy fruit is supported by a backbone of mouthwatering acidity.

For a first- or main-course fish dish, or a white to go with a vegetarian or white-meat course, try Australian semillon, which can achieve heights of ripeness, character and flavour European producers can only dream of. The 1995 Peter Lehmann Semillon, pounds 6.99, Safeway, is a smoothly rich, opulently fruity, subtly barrel-fermented Barossa Valley answer to white graves. Penfolds 1995 Old Vine Barossa Valley Semillon, pounds 6.99, Tesco, is full- flavoured, honeyed semillon with vanilla spice and nutty complexity. If you're looking for something really distictive, try the 1993 De Bortoli Rare Dry Botrytis Semillon, pounds 8.99, Waitrose, which has an intense oriental spice bouquet and flavours suggesting lime marmalade, only it's stylishly dry. Using the hermitage grape varieties, marsanne and roussanne, the1995 St Peray Blanc from Bernard Gripa, pounds 8.99, Majestic, is a classic northern Rhone blend with lovely purity of peachy, intensely flavoured fruit.

Chardonnay is versatile enough to go well with most fish but richer examples will also happily cope with chicken and turkey dishes. From Portugal, the1995 Fiuza Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay, Vinho Regional Ribatejo, pounds 4.49, Asda, is a ripe, new-wave, southern Portuguese chardonnay whose smoky, toffee-fudge notes are underlined by citrusy, pineapple fruitiness. Kym Milne's Italian job, the 1995 Chardonnay Vigneto di Caramia, pounds 5.99, Safeway, is seductively rich, fruity and buttery enough to cope with white meats. From South Africa, the smoky aromas of the California-style1996 Haute Provence Chardonnay, pounds 6.99, Oddbins, are the overture to a complex dry white with toasty oak and multi-dimensional flavours. In the tropical fruit spectrum, the 1995 Saltram Mamre Brook Chardonnay, pounds 6.99, Waitrose, is rich in exotic fruit with spoonfuls of toffee-fudge flavour and teasingly fresh acidity. From California, the1994 Calera Chardonnay, pounds 9.99, Majestic, is a well-crafted, nutty, powerfully ripe example of its type with plenty of underlying buttery richness and authentic elegance. By way of a no- holds-barred contrast, Best's 1995 Great Western Chardonnay, pounds 10.69, Unwins, is a vanilla and caramel-scented Victorian chardonnay whose smoky oak and peach-like flavours are neatly underscored by cool climate, lemony acidity.

There's a lot of underachieving basic macon around, but the 1995 Macon Vinzelles, Les Cailloux Blancs, pounds 5.99, Victoria Wine, is a deliciously creamy exception. Reduced from pounds 7.99 to pounds 5.99, Safeway's1994 Safeway Chablis, Cuvee Dom Yvon Pautre, is an accomplished chablis from the excellent La Chablisienne co-operative with a deft touch of oak for extra nuttiness and a degree of complexity not normally found at this level. The 1995 Saint Veran, Domaine des Deux Roches, pounds 6.49, Asda is an irresistible, partially oaked southern white burgundy with lees-derived dollops of buttery- rich fruitiness.

The1995 Saint Veran Domaine Des Deux Roches, Les Terres Noires, pounds 8.49, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, is an intensely spicy, highly concentrated dry white with creamy fruitiness in abundance. With its typical minerally chablis character and the excellent concentration of premier cru chablis, the1993 Chablis, Montee de Tonnerre, Brocard, pounds 9.95, selected Sainsbury's, a steely, youthful premier cru chablis from Brocard, is a find at under pounds 10. Waitrose has its own premier cru stunner in the 1994 Chablis Premier Cru Beauregard from Domaine St Julien, pounds 9.95, a tightly wound white with excellent concentration and flinty character. The 1994 St Aubin Premier Cru Les Combes from Morey-Blanc, pounds 12.99, Majestic, is a ripe, complex, still youthful chardonnay, while the 1994 Meursault Premier Cru Les Narvaux, Morey Blanc, pounds 19,99, Majestic, is a modern classic with delicately spicy oak overlaying the seductively nutty fruit flavours.

With Christmas pudding, try a refreshingly spritzy Moscato d'Asti or Gonzalez Byass' dark brown, nutty, fruitcake-rich Matusalem Oloroso Viejo, pounds 9.99, half-bottle, Safeway. Any of the following luscious sweeties drunk on their own offer an alternative to pudding: the1995 Coteaux du Layon, Chaume, Domaine des Forges, pounds 8.99, Fuller's, a rich, honeyed, concentrated Loire sweetie from the excellent 1995 vintage, while its more unctuously rich alter ego, the 1995 Coteaux du Layon Saint Lambert, Domaine Sauveroy, pounds 17.99, Oddbins, is fabulously rich with the honeyed complexity of honeyed botrytised grapes oozing onto the palate. For real Sauternes from a great vintage, the 1990 Domaine de la Foret Tete de Cuvee, Sauternes, pounds 16.95, Waitrose, is a floral, opulent blend of seductive Danish-pastry-like vanilla and almond-centred richness. Although oozing with superripe gooseberry- laden fruitiness, the unctuous richness in the green-gold 1994 Ungsteiner Herrenberg Scheurebe Spatlese, pounds 6.49, Oddbins, from Rheinpfalz whizz-kid Kurt Darting, is refreshed by the grapefruity flavours of the scheurebe grape

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