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Get into spirit of Christmas and treat yourself with an array of fine wines.

'Tis the season to be jolly and that's likely to include a festive drink or two. Neil Cammies guides us along the wine aisle A FEW of pointers to start with: champagne means champagne and you can't get away with pale imitations; don't go for wines that are too heavy or you'll be snoozing on the sofa by the time Her Majesty has her say; and finally have a bit of fun and justify your wine budget by remembering you've just spent the equivalent of the national debt of Brazil on a couple of toddlers who are more amused dressing the family pet with antlers and tinsel.

Probably the biggest investment on the 25th is bubbly and there are some great deals to be had. A cellar man at a great champagne house once told me they send their best non-vintage to the home market (France) and to the UK, the next best to their neighbours in Europe and the tail-end elsewhere.

A few months ago I stumbled upon an absolute beaut of a champagne bought on a whim and it's on offer again. The NICOLAS FEUILLATTE BLANC DE BLANCS (made from 100% chardonnay, hence white from white) VINTAGE 1998 is a steal at Asda at under pounds 15, complex, bready yet fresh and punches way above its weight.

To be honest most of the big houses deliver quality, but they do have differing styles. From the lighter LAURENT PERRIER to the big and blousy red grape-dominated BOLLINGER.

Another stunner is BILLECART-SALMON BRUT R...SERVE (Oddbins and Howells, Cardiff, around pounds 25). The small family- owned house produces, across its whole range, some world-class wine and one taste of this, their entry level champagne, will have you gagging to try the rest.

Supermarket own- brand champagne is now not so much of a lottery with the ever-increasing discerning palate of our country's wine drinkers refusing to put up with any old tat.

The star performers at the moment are SAINSBURY'S TASTE THE DIFFERENCE PREMIER CRU VINTAGE 2000 (pounds 22.99), an elegant wine, complex but approachable, and WAITROSE BLANC DE BLANCS NON VINTAGE (pounds 17.99), which is beautifully crisp.

Also worth a mention is PIERRE GIMONNET & FILS PREMIER CRU 'GASTRONOME' (Oddbins, pounds 19.99), which I've been sampling now since 1995, and it is a true food champagne with enough grunt to certainly deal with a smoked salmon starter and beyond.

For those wishing to move away from champagne but still fancy some fizz, Italian Prosecco is a lovely aperitif.

The VALDO PROSECCO DI VALDOBBIADENE MARCO ORO (Sainsbury's, pounds 5.99) is easy to drink and even easier on the wallet.

Another sparkler that must be mentioned is - now for those easily shocked please sit down - an English fizz called NYETIMBER PREMIeRE CUV...E 1999 (Waitrose, pounds 21.99).

It hails from West Sussex and has been turning heads for several years now, constantly mistaken in blind tastings as champagne and is truly stunning gear.

Next up is what to have with your starter. Most people will go for smoked salmon or that perennial favourite, prawn cocktail.

With smoked salmon you can sit a zingy Sauvignon Blanc with it and you should really look no further than New Zealand. We have got a little blase about how consistently good these wines are but this New World quality is making the French wine makers in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fum sit up and take notice.

The JACKSON ESTATE MARLBOROUGH 2005 (Tesco, Oddbins, Waitrose and Majestic, around pounds 9) is bright and zesty with good definition, with a medium length on the palate.

The Marie Rose sauce on a prawn cocktail is a real handful to deal with but while a good quality Chablis is not cheap it is definitely worth the money.

The CHABLIS 1ER CRU VAILLONS 2004 DOMAINE WILLIAM FeVRE (Waitrose, pounds 14.99) and the CHABLIS 'TERROIRS DE CHABLIS' VERGET (Oddbins, pounds 14.49) are two examples of superbly made Chardonnay showing the terroir of the region in all its glory.

For something a little less taxing on the purse strings then look no further than SAINSBURY'S WHITE BURGUNDY (pounds 4.99) - a great mouthful of refreshing, apple flavours that hang around a good while displaying a creaminess on the tongue. It will happily complement either the prawns or the salmon.

I must also give a mention to the 2005 GRNER VELTLINER, OBERE STEIGEN, HUBER (Oddbins, pounds 7.99). This little Austrian beauty is such a versatile wine, fresh and vibrant, that it could just about take on the world, much like that other famous Austrian export, Arnie.

Kvick, kvick vun to ze choppa!

And so to the main event. Having heaved your way across the kitchen with what looks like the finely cooked carcass of something that has escaped from Jurassic Park, you need a wine that will do justice to this seasonal behemoth.

The thing with turkey is the bird's not the problem, it is all the accompanying frippery. What can possibly go with honey roast parsnips, roast potatoes, carrots, brussel sprouts, gravy and cranberry sauce?

I would have to go for a wine that with sit alongside such a meal but not overpower it, so a Pinot Noir would be good but a Burgundy may have just a little too much finesse. So one of my choices is the MATAHIWI ESTATE 2004 PINOT NOIR 'HOLLY' (Oddbins, pounds 11.99). Smoky plum fruit is fragrant and at first quite a light flavour, but then the backbone of oak comes through to fight toe-to-toe with all that veg. Another wine that goes particularly well with the richer leg meat of turkey is rioja. This Spanish favourite is widespread across supermarket shelves but there is a lot of ordinary stuff to be found, so my choice would be a BERBERANA CARTA DE ORO RIOJA RESERVA 2001 (Sainsbury's, pounds 7.99). The spicy fruit coupled with the leathery notes really drum up Christmas feelings and its underlying acidity make it more than up to the task.

Last but by no means least, how about a good old-fashioned Bordeaux? Not the generic 'around a fiver' examples, that tend to be drab, disappointing and give the area a bad name, but a classified chteau that royalty, heads of state and people who like the finer things in life, would imbibe.

ALTER EGO DE PALMER, MARGAUX (Howells, Cardiff, pounds 33.95) is the epitome of a fine Bordeaux. A second wine of the pricey Chateaux Palmer, this has a character of its own, and is super smooth, velvety with plummy Merlot fruit and a real treat.

And after all this overindulgence we can always join the gym in the New Year. Have a cool yule.

Read Neil Cammies' wine column in the Western Mail's magazine every Saturday
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 20, 2006
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