Even East-Enders drink wine, says Anthony Rose
It may not have had quite the dramatic impact of Phil hitting the bottle or the under-age lager louts being ejected from the Vic in Albert Square, but the nonchalant manner in which the Mitchells of EastEnders polished off a couple of bottles of claret over Sunday lunch was something of a watershed. The message that one of Britain's best-known, working class families is comfortable with a bottle of wine over a meal must have rung celebratory tills throughout Tescos and Kwik Saves, not to mention Bordeaux.

Chateau Lafite it wasn't, of course, more likely it was Kwik Save's highly gluggable 1996 Cuvee VE Claret, Calvet, pounds 2.95, that Grant and Tiff were lapping up. But it showed that the social barriers to drinking wine have, by and large, gone. Wine, or at least the everyday stuff most of us drink, is now as much a commodity as cornflakes or Chicken Jalfrezi. At Tesco, Judith Candy, one of the wine-buying team, even feels there's still some way to go. "Wine is an acceptable, everyday beverage, but we're just on the edge of making it a mass-market drink."

Reflecting its new popular status, wine has become a tool in the soap director's armoury. In the hands of the twenty-something lawyers in the cult series, This Life, wine flowed like Highland Spring. When Miles's father pointedly cracked open a bottle of Riesling to celebrate his son's engagement, everyone had to know it was a Riesling and not Chardonnay. And no ordinary Riesling, either, for Miles's Dad. More likely an elegant Mosel estate white - the petrolly, honeyed 1989 Geisenheimer Mauerchen Riesling Spatlese, Schonborn from Waitrose, pounds 5.95, for instance.

Despite EastEnders' modern approach to wine, it would be failing in its job if it didn't flex its working-class muscle on occasions. Predictably, Barry's efforts to impress Vanessa by wining and dining her in a posh French restaurant faltered. "I'll have your best," said Barry optimistically, in an effort to get the supercilious sommelier off his back. "Which one would that be, sir?" The superb 1992 Chablis Premier Cru, Les Lys from Daniel Defaix pounds 15.80 at Tanner's of Shrewsbury? The thrillingly voluptuous 1994 Gevrey-Chambertin, Les Cazetiers, Bruno Clair, pounds 28, from Justerini & Brooks in London's Saint James's? We'll never know, because Barry and Vanessa didn't wait to find out.

Further north in Brookside, there's still a degree of residual snobbery attached to wine-drinking. After being sent up by middle-class Ollie and Max for serving wine at a party in plastic cups, Ron Dixon ordered red wine in Max's restaurant, flaunting it in mock middle-class mimicry. But wine flows plentifully in Brookside Close's kitchen and dining rooms. Susannah's gossips, for instance, were regularly lubricated by a dry white wine, a gooseberryish New Zealand alternative to Sancerre, perhaps, such as Sainsbury's 1996 Sanctuary Sauvignon Blanc, pounds 6.49.

It's not just social intercourse whose wheels are liberally oiled in TV soaps. "I believe in booze. It's a great leveller," said Anna in This Life. "That's true, it brings everyone to the floor eventually," replied her boss. "Shall we order another bottle?" As a peace offering after yet another tiff with Simon in EastEnders, Tony produces a bottle picked up from the other Vic, Victoria Wine, perhaps the smoky, tropically fruity 1996 Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay, pounds 4.99, to lure Simon to the bedroom. Back in Brookside Close, Bel needed a few drinks to summon up the Dutch courage to hop into the sack with Mike Dixon after a row with husband, Ollie. Bel and Ollie needed yet more of the stuff to get into reconciliatory mood, although there was a sting in the tail. When the wheel turned neatly full circle, Ollie ended up back at Bar Brookie, drowning his sorrows with a bottle of wine

White of the Week

1996 Trio Chardonnay Concha y Toro, pounds 5.49 Thresher Wine Shops, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up. A blend of Chardonnay by Ignacio Recabarren, who was commissioned for the project by Chile's biggest winery, Concha y Toro. Eschewing oak, Recabarren has achieved the creamy texture of this chablis-style dry white by regularly stirring the grape lees during the wine's stay in stainless steel. The result is food, friendly and elegant, with undertones of pineapple and crisp, lemony acidity - a well-deserved International Wine Challenge white wine of the year.

Red of the Week

1993/4 Uno Fuera Cabernet Sauvignon, pounds 4.99, Oddbins (Bin-end). When Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux and Bruno Prats of Chateau Cos d'Estournel started Vina Aquitania in 1990, a 25-hectare joint venture near Santiago with Chilean Felipe de Solminihae, they dreamt of creating a pounds 10-plus Bordeaux-style rouge in double-quick time. Not a pounds 10 red yet, Uno Fuera, literally "a one-off", is still an appealing supple, mint and liquorice- like Chilean wannabe claret.