GRAPEVINE: KATHRYN McWHIRTER ON WHERE TO FIND THE REAL BIN-END BARGAINS
McWHIRTER, Kathryn, The Independent (London, England)
"STOCK clearance!" "Bin-end offer!" "Bargains abound!" It's the time of year when the gentlemanly wine trade tries street-trader tactics. The simplest, inexpensive 1994s are due in from Europe, and the 1993s (not to mention the 1992s) need floggi ng fast. Warehouses are also clogged with a few expensive cases of this, a few pricey bottles of that. Some are still delicious but many are past it and not much fun.
So here are a few basic rules to sort out the real bargains. Never buy non-vintage wines except for Champagne, and even with Champagne beware non-vintage halves. Beware half-bottles in general, in fact. Wine ages much more quickly in half-bottles than infull ones, and there do seem to be an awful lot of half-bottles on offer this year. Steer clear of cheap white wines beyond their first flush of freshness, and pricey red wines from lesser vintages. That means clarets from 1987, 1984 and 1980; less expensive wines from 1983; and Burgundies from 1987 and 1984. And beware - there's a lot of mediocre, feeble Burgundy around.
Mixed-case offers should be treated with the greatest caution. You may get one or two good wines, but you will almost certainly have some eldery shockers as well. Most dangerous of all is the "mixed-case lucky dip".
But there are some interesting offers. Laytons in London NW1 and Andre Simon in London W1 and SW1 are offering the lovely NV Laytons Brut Reserve ( pounds 9.91, down from pounds 13.22). Bibendum (London NW1 and mail order) is listing until 25 February two delicious Riojas, the white 1988 Marques de Murrieta Reserva ( pounds 6.99, down from pounds 8.95) and red 1990 Remelluri Reserva ( pounds 6.99 from pounds 8.98), and two excellent California wines from Saintsbury, the 1991 Reserve Chardonnay ( pounds 11.99 from pounds 14.98) and the 1991 Reserve Pinot Noir ( pounds 14.75 from pounds 18.25).
Safeway's sale, which runs until 4 February, includes a soft, very honeyed 1993 Chardonnay del Piemonte, Le Monferrine ( pounds 2.99 from pounds 3.75), and the best of the "flying winemaker" Hungarian Char-donnays, still in good lemony, oaky, biscuity shape - 1993 Hincesti Moldova Premium Chardonnay ( pounds 3. …