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Are supermarket wine bargains the real deal?

LATELY I've received queries from readers on wine topics. I'll have a stab at answering them here, once a month.

A On balance, I'd say most red wine benefits from decanting. With old wine, decant carefully, to separate the wine from any sediment that has formed in the bottle. It won't do you or your guests any harm, but it looks unsightly in the glass and can make the wine taste bitter.

My own belief is that decanting also enhances the quality of young reds. In this case it should be done briskly, giving the wine maximum aeration -- you could pour the wine into a jug and then into the decanter.

Q I always thought Montepulciano was a place in Italy. Now a friend of mine tells me it's the name of a grape. Who is right?

A You both are. Montepulciano is a lovely hill town in Tuscany, famed for producing a highly rated red wine called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

This wine is a close cousin of Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, made principally from the Prugnolo Gentile grape, a clone of Chianti's Sangiovese.

The other Montepulciano is a grape variety, late ripening so largely confined to southern Italy, and particularly the Abruzzi region north east of Rome. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is a rounded, robust, easy-drinking red, often very good value.

QThere are wine sales in most supermarkets. Can I find a genuine bargain?

A Certainly. There is a global over-supply of wine. Supermarket buyers are driving hard bargains and we consumers benefit. Some wine even finds its way on to the shelves at below cost price. But don't believe all the bull.

A wine "reduced from ¤15.99 to ¤6.99" is only a bargain if you enjoy it. Don't get suckered into buying a case until you've taken a bottle home and tried it.

Q Is it a waste of money to use expensive wine for cooking?

A Snobs will tell you that Boeuf a la Bourguignonne should be made with wine from Burgundy. Alas, unlike the Burgundian housewife, we are not blessed with a supply of budget Burgundy.

Last week, I cooked one using a bottle of Chilean Merlot I bought for €3.95. And all the guests asked for seconds.

So use expensive wine for cooking by all means. But only if you have more money than sense.

Q I can't stand Chardonnay, I've had an overkill of Sauvignon Blanc and find most Pinot Grigio too insipid. Where do I go next? PS I'm not ready for Riesling.

A Plenty of choice. I'd suggest Gruner Veltiner from Austria and Albarino/Alvarinho from Spain/Portugal. Or aromatic, characterful Verdejo from Spain and Vermentino, originally from Italy but now making inroads into southern France and other places.

Superquinn had a perfectly lovely one, Domaine Astruc, in their French wine sale at €7 -- you wouldn't feel robbed if you paid a tenner.