Best of 2006 bunch
In the course of a year I get to taste hundreds of wines. I take notes and award each a score based on good value for money - something different with distinctive flavours and a sense of where it sprang from.
Here's my pick of the best of the bunch (note: prices, availability and vintage may have changed since tasting).
St Mont 2005 Cotes de Mont, France, an upfront floral and spicy white, mostly from the gros manseng grape, £5.79 Marks & Spencer. From the same region and grape, but even more concentrated, comes Domaine Chauhape Chant des Vignes Jurancon Sec 2005, £9.95 at James Nicholson.
Palandri Estate 2005 semillon/sauvigon blanc from Australia, £5.99 at Stewarts Wine Barrels. Or trade up to the Palandri Estate chardonnay at £7.49 and the Palandri (not Estate) 2002 cab sauvignon, £9.99.
Cono Sur Pinot Noir Chile, from Stewarts Wine Barrels and Tesco. At around a fiver, it bounces with cherry-raspberry fruit.
Yvecourt Merlot-cabernet, Tesco. For under a fiver this is not a bad drop of claret. Best recent Bordeaux vintages are the 2000 and 2003. Tesco's Finest Alsace Gewurztraminer, £6.99, is all roses and spice - very different and great with spicy Eastern foods.
Villa Maria Private Bin sauvignon blanc 2005 Marlborough, New Zealand, £7.99 at Winemark. VM always turns up trumps at whatever the price - if you are looking for something special for Christmas, top drops in their range include the Estate Selection pinot noir and the Clifford Bay sauvignon blanc, both £11.99 at selected Winemarks.
Wither Hills Marlborough pinot noir, £14.99 from Sainbury's. Pinot noir fans will love this lush, raspberry lip-smacker. The sauvignon blanc is benchmark ripe yellow gooseberries.
Staying Traditional? Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2001, £12.95, Classic Wines, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, and Groomsport, and other stockists. The year 2002 in Rioja was a poor vintage and is best avoided.
St Aubin Cru Domaine de Pimont Les Charmois 2004. £14.99, M&S. Pricey? Not for a classy white Cote de Beaune Burgundy.
Shiraz is the perfect Christmas red, with its opulent warm ripe blackberry fruit with spicy, peppery notes. Good, full-flavoured, Australian shiraz comes from Penfolds Kalmina Bin 28 and Tim Adams Clare Valley, both £9.99 at Tesco and better independents.
Best fizzes included Pelorus 2000 New Zealand at £14.95 at James Nicholson, Oederer's Quartet, and Schramsberg from California's.
Best non-vintage champers were Pommery's Wintertime Cuvee, a weighty all pinot, £29.99 at Classic Wines and the elegant Duval-Leroy Fleur de Champagne, £19.99 at R & R Wines, Portadown.