Rather than see a small fortune in the best brut fizz disappear down the family hatch, it is legitimate to go for something less ambitious
The respected wine buyer, James Rogers, now sadly deceased, claimed the ideal Christmas lunch drink was beaujolais nouveau. Presumably this was on the grounds that more special bottles are better saved for the run-up to Christmas, this year a whole weekend, and to lubricate post- Christmas triste.

Yet however much I agree with the Rogers hypothesis, in practice I never find myself going along with it. No matter how many pre-prandial mince pies and toasts in fizz have anaesthetised the tastebuds, no matter how many Christmas presents, party poppers, crackers and children are under my feet, I still find it impossible to get the most out of Christmas without contemplation of a special bottle or three.

Which does not necessarily mean that the long-suffering host to an extended family of prodigal second cousins and wishfully-forgotten in-laws should rush to the cellar, except by way of escape perhaps. Rather than see a small fortune in the best brut fizz disappear down the family hatch, it is legitimate to go for something less ambitious. Even here though, only a little extra spent will more than double the all-round pleasure. The Scrooge alternative is to adopt the Tricky Dicky Nixon strategy of secretly decanting a great claret into a Bulgarian cabernet sauvignon bottle specially earmarked for yourself.

So, in an attempt to cater for as many varying tastes and budgetary priorities as possible, here is a selection of fine, finer and finest wines for Christmas. This week I concentrate on whites, both dry and sweet. Next week it's the turn of red wines and that most traditional post-prandial drink, port, and good value alternative stickies.

Value For Money Whites

1994 Somontano Chenin Blanc pounds 3.99, Tesco. This chenin blanc star, an affordable new wave dry white from Spain's Somontano region, is refreshingly fruity with a grapefruity twist

1995 Winelands Chenin Blanc pounds 4.49 Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up. This fragrant, new-vintage dry white shows the richness and melon-like flavour derived from South Africa's limited resources of ancient chenin blanc vines. Pick up the 1994 King's Canyon Sauvignon, too, if you can find any left

1994 Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay, Casablanca pounds 4.49, Safeway. Made by David Gonzalez at Concha y Toro, this is a fresh, vibrantly juicy, ripe Chilean chardonnay with a deft touch of oak for balance and clean, crisp grapefruity acidity

1994 Forest Ridge California Chardonnay pounds 4.49, Victoria Wine. This California chardonnay has an appealing, delicately oak-derived smoky bouquet with subtle, toasted ripe fruit characters and cool climate elegance

1995 Casablanca White Label Sauvignon Blanc, Curico pounds 4.99, Oddbins, Waitrose. Ultra-fresh, full-flavoured new vintage melon and gooseberry-flavoured in which the wine's fruit richness is cut by cleansing acidity.

1995 Goundrey Western Australia Chardonnay pounds 4.99, Asda. On cracking form, this well-priced, opulent chardonnay with a citrusy freshness is underscored by tropical fruit notes.

Foothills of fine wine

1993 Chateau Carsin, Cuvee Prestige pounds 6.95, Waitrose. Smoky Graves-like new oakiness on the nose gives way to a palette of typical Bordeaux sauvignon and semillon flavours

1993 Monopole, Barrel-fermented Rioja pounds 5.99, Safeway. This richly concentrated, fresh and intensely fruity white rioja with its enticingly nutty barrel-aged characters is the best I have tasted in ages

1994 Penfolds Barrel-Fermented Semillon pounds 6.99, Victoria Wine Cellars and Wine Shops, Majestic Wine. Seductively rich and fudge-like, the tropical semillon character shines through the oak veneer to produce a characterful drop

1993 Stoneleigh Chardonnay pounds 6.99, selected Tesco stores. From Marlborough in New Zealand, this is an extremely attractive, well-made chardonnay with plenty of buttery, burgundian-style richness and zippy fresh fruitiness

1994 Saint Veran Les Chailloux, Domaine des Deux Roches pounds 7.99, Oddbins, Fuller's. A richly flavoured white burgundy with quality and character that hints at Pouilly Fuisse.

Fine wine peaks

1993 Montagny 1er cru, Jean Marc Boillot pounds 9.95, selected Sainsbury's. Slightly smoky on the nose, this almost lusciously fruity dry white Cote Chalonnaise burgundy is rich and peachy with an intensely flavoured ripeness

1993 Chablis 1er Cru Beauroy pounds 9.95, Waitrose. This is a super chablis with a full-flavoured, flinty character and full of subtle minerally flavours based on pure quality fruit ripeness

1993 Domaine de Roally, Macon-Vire pounds 9.99. Peatlings shops, East Anglia, London (01284-755948). Similarly, this stylish chardonnay from Henri Goyard's estate derives its richness not from oak but from wonderfully pure fruit concentration

1993 Matanzas Creek Winery Sonoma Valley Chardonnay pounds 13.99, Bottoms Up. A deftly oaked California chardonnay whose peachy, spicy fruitiness is luxuriously textured by oak-fermentation complexity and balancing acidity

1992 Meursault 1er cru Le Poruzot Dessus, Domaine Charles et Remi Jobard pounds 22.91 case/bottle, Lea & Sandeman, London SW10 (0171-376 4767). Fabulous, classic premier cru Meursault from a great year, this has an intensely- flavoured, yeast-lees-derived, oatmeal-like richness, superb balance and lingering flavour.

Sweet whites

1993 Kirchheimer Schwarzerde Beerenauslese Zimmermann-Graeff pounds 3.99-pounds 4.35, Majestic, Waitrose. Floral bouquet and crystallised grape flavours characterise this cleansing dessert white blend of Bacchus, Ortega and Kerner

1990 Chateau Bastor-Lamontagne pounds 8.99, half, Waitrose. This Waitrose stalwart performs best in classic Sauternes years such as 1990, producing a wonderfully luscious, uncloying honey and barley sugar treat.