Kicking off with a festive price cut, the 1996 Chablis Les Barbottes, Louis Michaud, reduced from pounds 7.49 to pounds 4.99, Fuller's, is an attractively appley, unoaked, distinctly cool climate Chardonnay with appealing, zingy, fresh fruitiness and a clean, crisp aftertaste. No reductions on the 1996 Jurassique sur Sol Bourgogne Blanc, pounds 4.99, Oddbins, from Jean-Marc Brocard, but this elegantly Chablis-like northern Burgundy Chardonnay with its attractive fruit and a delicate, minerally streak is well worth the asking price.
In aromatic dry white style, from South Africa, the 1997 Kleine Zalze Sauvignon Blanc, pounds 4.99, Safeway, is a pungently grassy Cape Sauvignon from the Stellenbosch region with plenty of zesty, grapefruity flavours and surprising weight and richness for a dry white under pounds 5. Fragrant, too, but in the potpourri spectrum of Alsace's Gewurztraminer grape, the 1995 Santa Rita Gewurztraminer, pounds 4.99, Majestic, is a full-bodied, dry white with plenty of exotic lychee and spice fruitiness.
And, for a change, a Sherry. Now that so-called British, South African and Cyprus "Sherry" have been outlawed, Sherry's Fifties something image is gradually changing as the genuine premium stuff from Jerez in Spain begins to get some of the recognition it deserves. Served lightly chilled, a half-bottle of Sainsbury's Aged Amontillado, pounds 3.49, from Barbadillo, will make a great appetite-whetter with the genuine nutty character, burnt toffee richness and elegant dry finish of true Amontillado.
Dry whites over pounds 5
At only just over a fiver, the 1995 Domaine de la Baume Chardonnay/Viognier from Australia's BRL-Hardy, pounds 5.29, Safeway, is an excellent value, ripe peach and banana-like blend of 60 per cent Chardonnay with 40 per cent Viognier, partially fermented in oak barrels for added subtlety. By comparison, the 1997 Fairview Chardonnay, pounds 6.49, Oddbins, from the versatile goatherd and cheesemaker Charles Back, is uninhibitedly New World in style, combining aromas of sweet coconut icing with fine caramel and fudge-like richness and flavour.
Also from the Cape, the aromatic fragrance and zing of the 1997 Neil Ellis Elgin Sauvignon Blanc, pounds 6.45, Sainsbury's, adds a crisply defined zestiness to the deliciously ripe gooseberry fruitiness of what, if you shut your eyes, could easily be Sancerre. Contrast this with the real thing, the sumptuously rich and concentrated 1996 Sancerre Cuvee Flores, pounds 9.49, Fuller's, from Vincent Pinard. His name may mean plonk in French but this fragrantly grassy, richly concentrated, delicately flinty Loire Valley Sauvignon is anything but.
Sauvignon becomes a little less aromatic but more textured as you head south from the Loire to Graves territory. The 1995 Chateau Haut-Gardere, Pessac-Leognan, pounds 9.95 Waitrose, is a classic Graves blend of 50 per cent Sauvignon Blanc with some Semillon and Muscadelle, with excellent fruit flavours - a subtle oak treatment. You'll find a suitable New World counterpart in the 1995 Amberley Semillon, pounds 9.49, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, a sumptuous, barrel-fermented Western Australian Semillon, with fresh, textured herbal fruit characters and elegant complexity.
From Burgundy, the 1994 Chateau de Maligny Chablis, Premier Cru Fourchaume, pounds 9.99 (down from pounds 12.49), Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up is a fine example of minerally, bone dry Chablis, with the freshness, mineral character and weight associated with Chardonnay from this northern Burgundy appellation. And from California, the 1995 Fetzer Chardonnay Reserve, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma-Carneros, pounds 12.99, Safeway has a rich, Burgundian complexity to it derived from fermentation and lees-stirring in American oak barrels, with excellent fruit concentration, sweet toasty oak characters and fine, fudge-like intensity of flavour.
From Germany, the 1996 Wittman Westofener Rotenstein Huxelrebe Auslese, Rheinhessen, pounds 7.99, Oddbins, is an aromatic and lusciously honeyed sweet white with a refreshingly crisp spritz to add tongue-tingling grapefruit and lime zestiness. This unusual German white could be wheeled in mid-morning and drunk on its own as an aperitif or to help wash down a few mince pies. It goes without saying that this, and the following sweet wines, should be chilled down to be enjoyed at their best, but not so deep frozen as to mask the fruit.
Rhine Riesling is Germany's best grape, but since the EU relaxed its Fortress Europe approach to Australian sweet, wines, we can now enjoy Aussie late-harvest Riesling at a fraction of the price of its European counterpart. The fruit in the 1995 Lindemans Botrytis Riesling, Coonawarra, pounds 5.99, half-bottle, Oddbins (limited stock), is lusciously full of the zest of crushed limes and oranges, teasing the palate out of its sugary torpor like a cleansing splash of cologne. Brown Brothers 1995 King Valley Late Harvest Riesling, pounds 6.99, halfbottle, Waitrose, is another fine expression of late-picked Riesling with voluptuous dried apricot-like fruit in concentrated liquid form.
Sauternes may be the classic dessert white, but as it becomes increasingly expensive, good value alternatives are worth seeking out. Mandy Jones, an Australian winemaker working in Cadillac, has produced a ripe and luscious late-harvest Sauternes alternative in the 1995 Chateau Carsin, pounds 6.95, Sainsburys, whose richness of peachy fruit is spiced with oak for added weight and texture. And at Sainte Croix du Mont, the 1995 Chateau La Rame, Sainte Croix du Mont, reduced from pounds 9.99 to pounds 8.99, Majestic, oozes luscious crystallised liquid fruits.
'Tis the season of course to get merry, and most retailers are worth exploring for their competitive seasonal fizz offers. Value starts with the 1996 Hardy's Nottage Hill Sparkling Chardonnay, pounds 6.99, Safeway, a creamy, mouthfilling sparkling wine with a light toastiness and very full- flavoured peachy fruit, suggesting longer ageing than the six to nine months this fizz has spent on its yeast lees. With its stylish balance, if it had been made in France, it would have been called blanc de blancs champagne.
In champagne itself, Fuller's is offering three for the price of two on its Brossault Brut NV, the equivalent of pounds 7.99 a bottle, which makes this crisp, appley champagne one of the best cut-price champagne deals around. Thresher, along with Wine Rack and Bottoms Up, is giving a bottle of 1990 Lanson away when you buy three (it's normally pounds 23.99) as well as discounting Laurent Perrier, Pol Roger and Piper Heidsieck by 20 per cent a case. Nicolas is offering 20 per cent off a handful of its champagnes with no minimum purchase, bringing the consistently rich and complex Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, for instance, down from pounds 19.95 to pounds 15.96.
Oddbins has re-introduced 15 for the price of 12 on some lines, while Majestic has a clutch of champagnes on discount. The best offer is on the 1990 Pol Roger, whose 20 per cent discount brings this creme de la creme from the landmark 1990 vintage down from pounds 30.49 to pounds 24.39. Buy a case, sample a bottle over Christmas and keep the rest of this effortlessly classy, pale golden vintage fizz, with its savoury bouquet of coffee and toastiness and delicately mouthfilling mousse for the millennium
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