The best buys in store for February.

1996 Chardonnay Histonium, reduced from pounds 4.99 to pounds 3.99 until 28 February, Somerfield (top 200 stores). This modern, barrel-fermented Chardonnay from the Abruzzi region of Central Italy combines the twin talents of winemakers Giorgio dalla Cia and Gerd Stepp, who've come up with a refreshing dry style with a smoky hint of American oak and nicely defined, crisp Chardonnay fruitiness. Not terribly Italian, but then neither is the price.

1996 Rowan Brook Chardonnay Reserve, pounds 4.99, Asda. From grapes grown in Chile's cool Casablanca Valley, this was the last vintage made by one of Chile's best young winemakers, Canepa's Andres Ilabaca, before he was seduced from his post by Santa Rita. A layer of sweet, toasty oak adds complexity to the intense, tropical-fruit flavours of this well- priced Chardonnay.

1997 David Traeger Verdelho, pounds 7.99, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up. If you see this Portuguese grape at all in Australia, it tends to come as an opulent style from the warmer vineyards of Western Australia's Swan Valley. With this Victoria Verdelho, David Traeger has produced

a full-bodied, dry white with apricot- like flavours and a refreshing streak of limey acidity. It's unusual, delicious and has the capacity to develop complexity with age.


1997 Argentinian Bonarda, pounds 3.49, Asda. Bonarda is one of the more exotic grape varieties of Italian origin up Argentina's billowing sleeve. As the Argentinian bandwagon gathers momentum, this is the kind of lusciously juicy, affordable red with its spicy, angostura-like aromas and an Italianate twist of acidity we can expect to see - and drink - a lot more of this year.

1996 Abbotts Cumulus Shiraz, Minervois, pounds 4.99, Victoria Wine. Made by Australian Nerida Abbott from old Syrah vines, hence the preference for the Shiraz name, this deep-hued, warming Languedoc red shows plenty of classic aromatic pepper spiciness with sweetly ripe blackberry-fruit flavours and a rustic, dry aftertaste which will soak up winter casseroles like blotting paper.

1995 Chateau Carsin, Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux, pounds 6.95, Sainsbury's. Another Australian, another woman - this time, winemaker Mandy Jones, who has brought her talents to bear on this youthful, modern blend of Merlot and Cabernet grapes from the excellent 1995 vintage in Bordeaux. The result is an expressive claret, richly endowed with mocha oakiness and an emphasis on suppleness of texture and fresh- fruit flavours.


1990 Lanson Gold Label Brut, pounds 23.99, Oddbins (buy 2 get 25 per cent off - pounds 17.99). The enticing aromas of this pale golden fizz from the landmark 1990 vintage are dominated by the sweet spiciness and alluring red-fruit characters of the Pinot Noir grape, while the palate is full-flavoured and toasty with a rich creamy texture and stylish balance.

Not to be sniffed at on St Valentine's Day, and it has the staying power to grace next year's big occasion, too