Wine: Red-letter days

Anthony Rose gives his guide to seasonal reds
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Reds under pounds 5

To start, a contrast in styles: from the Cape, a Beaujolais lookalike in the 1997 Kleinbosch Young Vatted Pinotage, pounds 4.99, Safeway, the ideal Christmas glugger with its juicy cherry and strawberry fruit flavours. More robust in style, the 1995 Fitou, Domaine de la Sabatiere, pounds 4.49, Sainsbury's, from the excellent Cave de Tuchan Co-operative, is an exhilarating Languedoc blend brimming with the angostura spice and thyme-like aromas and flavours of the Mediterranean.

It's not easy to find attractive, mature claret under pounds 5, but from the estate of the aptly named Monsieur Noel and his partner M Badard, the 1990 Chateau St Germain, Premieres Cotes de Blaye, pounds 4.99, Majestic, fits the bill with a rustic twist of faintly astringent tannin to enliven the soft, ripe, mellow, Merlot-based fruit. The 1994 Maipo Valley Santa Carolina Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Rosa Vineyard, pounds 4.99, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up (down from pounds 5.99) with its undertones of mint and blackcurrant fruitiness coated with vanilla oak, is Chile's fruit-laden riposte to claret.

It's not often that the Co-op upstages Oddbins or Majestic, but in the case of Marques de Grinon's 1996 Dominio de Agrelo Malbec, on offer at pounds 4.99 compared to pounds 5.99 at Oddbins and Majestic, it does just that. With its overlay of coconutty American oak, this Argentine red wine is spicy and tarry with a pure, damsony fruit core to it. And down pounds 2 also to pounds 4.99, the 1991 Baron de Ley Rioja Reserva is mature, gamey Rioja whose finesse comes from a blend which includes a proportion of the "experimental" Cabernet Sauvignon and ageing in French, rather than the more usual American oak casks.

Reds pounds 5-pounds I0

Pinot Noir, whether from Burgundy or the New World, is expensive, but when it shines, it makes the most seductive of all red wines and the perfect foil for the traditional fare of Christmas. With its youthfully juicy red fruits flavours, the 1996 Chorey-Les-Beaune, Paul Dugenais, pounds 6.95, Sainsbury's, is very attractive at the price. Occasionally, it's possible to find New World Pinot Noir under pounds 10 with the weight, character and complexity of good red Burgundy. From Chile, the 1995 Cono Sur 20 Barrel Pinot Noir, pounds 9.99, Fuller's (pounds 10.49, Safeway), is a rare example, a rich and complex red Burgundy lookalike with lovely length of strawberry and mulberry fruit flavours.

The Rhone is also worth exploring at Christmas time for robust flavours to match turkey and game. Safeway's 1995 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, pounds 8.99, is still young, but, from the best vintage in the southern Rhone since 1990 and Font de Michelle, an excellent property, this is sweetly heady, intense stuff with richness and deliciously spicy fruit. Also on the youthful side, the 1996 Clos St.Michel Chateauneuf- du-Pape, pounds 9.95, Guy Mousset, Waitrose, is aromatically peppery with fine blackberry fruit and firm backbone. Now that the award-winning 1995 Maglieri McLaren Vale Shiraz, pounds 7.99, Tesco, has finally crossed the ocean, try this heady, blackberry-spicy Aussie red as a richly fruity, robust Rhone substitute.

As wines, like policemen, get younger, it's easy to forget that there's still a market for styles which traditionally demand patient cellaring, especially in the case of Bordeaux from the annus mirabilis of 1990. The cellaring's been done for you in the case of the mature clarets Majestic teased out of the Scandinavian drinks monopoly's closing down sale. If you like your claret mature, try a punt on the 1990 Saint Emilion, Chateau de Lisse, pounds 7.99, Majestic, a sweetly ripe Right Bank claret, in which the Merlot is nicely concentrated and at its perfect peak for drinking over Christmas. Just right now too, the 1993 Baron de Brane, Margaux, pounds 9.99, Victoria Wine, displays some of class of the main Chateau Brane- Cantenac label with its perfumed cedar spice and Margaux elegance.

Burgundy and the Rhone are good matches for game, but don't overlook Italian reds. Aglianico is the quality red grape of Campania and the 1993 Aglianico delle Vulture Valle del Trono, pounds 8.99, Majestic, a fine, mellow, leathery Italian rosso whose oak cask maturation lends both suppleness and structure to the distinctive flavour of the grape. Also softened now by age, the savoury bouquet of the 1991 Chianti Classico Riserva Poggio a'Frati, pounds 7.99, Waitrose, with its smoky oak veneer and undertone of mint, is enhanced by the savoury vanilla and aniseedy quality of the fruit.

Over pounds 10

It's a little early, admittedly, to be drinking top-quality 1995 northern Rhones and Bordeaux, but if, via New World Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, your palate lusts for pure youthful fruit, try a bottle of 1995 La Demoiselle de Sociando Mallet, pounds 10.75, Wine Rack, Bottoms up or 1995 Chateau Lynch- Moussas, 5eme Cru Classe, pounds 12.49, Oddbins, a nubile, seductively stylish young claret. With the same caveat, from the northern Rhone, the 1995 Cornas from Chapoutier, pounds 12.95-99, Waitrose, Oddbins (pounds 11.13 at seven for the price of six), exhibits classic Syrah fragrance, spice and concentration of black fruit flavours, making this a richly fruity, supercharged northern Rhone of considerable intensity and power. With young wines, decanting a few hours before drinking will help ease the tannic springs.

Reverting to mature claret, the 1990 Chateau La Vieille Cure, Fronsac, pounds 10.95, selected Sainsbury's, is a classically mellow, Merlot-based Saint- Emilion lookalike with subtly integrated oak and voluptuously rich fruit from one of the best vintages in recent years. Or go for the relative maturity of a top-quality Chateauneuf-du-Pape from the southern Rhone. Paul Avril's l993 Clos des Papes, pounds 15.49, Victoria Wine Cellars, is powerfully rich, sweet and heady, almost porty in fact, with classic spice and sensually textured, peppery fruit.

Back in Burgundy, the 1994 Beaune Premier Cru Les Teurons, Morot, pounds 16.99, Majestic, is authentic, modern red Cote de Beaune Burgundy but not so modern that the fruit is smothered by oak. This is a seductively juicy, extremely drinkable premier cru red with the aromatic, sweet red fruits juiciness of the Pinot Noir grape in the ascendant. From the same vintage, and an excellent estate in the Cote de Nuits, the 1994 Vosne Romanee Les Beaumonts, Domaine Bertagna, pounds 16.45, Sainsbury's, selected stores, shows the sumptuously vivid, wild strawberry fruitiness of the Pinot Noir grape with a delicate overlay of spicy oak.

Port et al

Port is traditional, of course, at Christmas and for many, myself, I confess, included, this will be one of the few occasions during the year that a whole bottle of the sweet, sticky stuff is knocked back. If you've cellared vintage port, you'll no doubt be applying the port tongs to the 1975s, the 1980s and perhaps the 1983s and 1985s. If you're buying single quinta, tawny and traditional Late Bottled Vintage are the best-value alternatives. In the case of vintage, single quinta, or traditional LBV ports such as Warre's, stand the bottle up for at least 24 hours and carefully decant a few hours before serving.

1984 Warre's Traditional LBV, pounds 13.99, Victoria Wine, is just what it says, a traditional-style Late Bottled Vintage Port which throws a deposit and therefore needs decanting. It's very fragrant with lovely mature rich plum and raisin fruit, a real Christmas pudding of a port. From the same vintage, the 1994 Graham's Malvedos, pounds 17.99-pounds 19.99, Co-op, Victoria Wine, is another single quinta port with sumptuously rich fruit and heartwarmingly raisiny richness combining complexity, flavour and smooth, superripe fruit in a magnificent glass of wine. Buy it at the Co-op for pounds 17.99 and they throw in a bottle of Cava.

Fonseca Guimaraens is not strictly speaking a single quinta Port. No matter. The 1983 Fonseca Guimaraens Late Bottled Vintage, pounds 14.45, Waitrose, is a lusciously mature, concoction of liquid raisin, prune, toffee and walnut. As an alternative, try the Fonseca Aged 20 years Setubal, on special offer at pounds 14.99 at Majestic, where it's normally pounds 15.99. The intense creme brulee and coffee aromas of this Madeira-like fortified sticky are followed on to the palate by a lingering smoky coffee and toffee-like fruitiness. If you're the solitary port lover in the family, venture into the New World and revel in Penfolds Magill Tawny, pounds 5.99, Safeway, Victoria Wine. Standing in its cute, dumpy-looking half-bottle, it's a little gem, full of raisin and coffee fudge-like sweetness and spice

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