It is impossible to overstate to claret lovers the case for buying 1990 red bordeaux. Merchants and others are busy whipping up demand for the 1994s on the basis of last autumn's being a better vintage than the relatively light 1991, 1992 and 1993, but the signs are that 1994 will be a stubbornly slow developer (a bit like 1988) and will not provide seductive drinking for many a year.
The 1990s, on the other hand, are charming and opulent, and can already be drunk with pleasure. In fact many of the 1990s currently retailing for under £10 a bottle are some of the most luscious wines on sale today, providing not just deep colours and lovely ripe fruit, but also structure and, that Bordeaux speciality, balance.
Top quality classed growth bordeaux designed for cellaring and longer-term drinking is disappearing from the market and the best wines can easily cost more than £30 a bottle, although there are many good buys for between £10 and £20. Berry Bros & Rudd of London SW1 have a particularly wide selection for sales by the bottle, as do Justerini & Brooks across St James's Street. Farr Vintners of SW1 have especially keen prices for sales by the case, and Bibendum of London NW1 have a special offer of 1990s.
On the high street, or rather shopping precinct, the combination of the quality and size of the 1990 red bordeaux vintage has provided the chains with a rare chance to show that, like the traditional merchants, they too can provide wines fine enough for a smart dinner party.
Sainsbury's have the 1990 vintage of the newly renovated St-Emilion Ch Haut-Faugères, in its top 38 stores anyway, for just £8.95. This thoroughly espectable and pleasurable claret can be drunk now but should improve for up to four or five years. Sainsbury's range of 1990s is better than most (some forward buying was a good idea) but is spottily distributed.
Waitrose's Ch Biston-Brillet, a Moulis, should be in most stores on the other hand, and rewards an investment of £8.99 a bottle with deep colour and full, smooth, well-made mouthfuls of pleasure.
Among Tesco's 1990s, the St-Estèphe Ch Les Combes at £7.99 in the top 57 stores looks the best bet while Ch Peymartin, the second wine of cosseted Ch Gloria of St-Julien, is included in Safeway's special offers for May (until stocks run out). This is not the most glorious of these 1990s but is extremely keenly priced at £6.99.
Majestic's Ch Duplessis-Hauchecorne, also £6.99 and another Moulis, this time managed by a Lurton, is probably a better bet - a full, flattering wine with well-hidden tannins and the capacity to develop.
Of the two big rival specialist chains, the Thresher Wine Shop/Wine Rack/Bottoms Up group can field the deliciously correct Ch Ramage La Batisse at £9.59 which is oakier than most but should still be alive and kicking at the end of the millenium.
Victoria Wine has been slightly slower off the mark and its new consignment of red bordeaux will not be on the shelves before late May. The aggressively ripe, almost bloody, Ch Chante Alouette Premières Côtes de Blaye is a good buy at £4.99 but should be drunk before the end of the year.
Oddbins' Ch Clément-Pichon, a cru bourgeois just north of Bordeaux revitalised by the owner of Ch La Dominique is an unusually round, plummy Haut-Médoc. Consultant Michel Rolland of Pomerol explains that atypical plumminess, which costs £9.49 a bottle and is thoroughly recommended to fans of Pomerol - although not to fans of strict typicality.
Topicality versus typicality. That, increasingly, is the winemaker's dilemma.