GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: France Lords it at splendid showcase

Bonjour... I m influenced still by last week s take-over of Lord s by the French (not playing cricket, dieu nous garde), but – safely inside the Nursery Pavilion – pouring some very good wines. The annual France Under One Roof tasting is acknowledged as

Bonjour... I'm influenced still by last week's take-over of Lord's by the French (not playing cricket, dieu nous garde), but - safely inside the Nursery Pavilion - pouring some very good wines.

The annual France Under One Roof tasting is acknowledged as a splendid showcase, and the 2008 occasion maintained that reputation. If the "snapshot" selection (one wine from each participating importer) is an indicator of trends, viognier is the new white grape of the moment, while among the reds grenache is an increasingly important component of the best southern blends.

But you don't have to wait for the enticing new wines to reach the shops - there are plenty there already, and this is a doubly good moment to stock the cellar. Reason one is because the price rises inevitably due from the 14p a bottle Budget duty hike and the strength of the euro are generally not yet being implemented - most retailers are holding prices to the end of this month or a bit beyond.

And reason two is that there are some particularly tempting offers at the moment. Off to Waitrose first, where the French Wine Showcase runs until April 27.

Among the wines specially sourced for the month are two excellent, unusual whites. Domaine de la Pierre qui Danse 2006 (£7.20) comes from the Quincy appellation in the Loire, not too far from Sancerre. It has a lovely grassy, fruit-rich yet mineral style which wins over even those rare drinkers who don't enjoy sauvignon blanc. Little-known jacquere is the grape of Domaine des Rocailles Apremont de Savoie 2007 (£6), which has a youthful hint of spritz and is a whole lot crisper than its slightly honeyed nose implies - appealingly different.

Of the red specials, I've tasted only Domaine du Joncier Lirac 2005 (£6), with big, rich southern Rhone fruitiness, but La Bastide Blanche Bandol 2005 (£9), a five-varietal blend from further east close to the Spanish border, sounds very tempting indeed.

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Altogether, close to 50 wines are included in the showcase, and the 20 to 25 per cent reductions on regular lines present the ideal opportunity to be adventurous - venture into Alsace, perhaps, or move up in Burgundy.

In Tesco's Spring Festival (until April 22) Les Tuguets 2005 (£5) from Madiran in the deep south-west is one of a number of bottles on the French shelves whose prices are halved. The local tannat - high in the "good for your health" league - is softened with a little cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, and the wine comes from the always-reliable Plaimont co-operative. The Montgolfier vins de pays, down £3 to £4.15, are also inviting, especially the shiraz - great varietal character.

And the case of classic Chateauneuf du Pape (, £72) is worth buying for Les Deux Rhones 2006 alone, pure, unoaked and deliciously harmonious (two of the six bottles).

Nicolas branches are focusing on bordeaux, with reductions until April 8 of around 20per cent on nearly 30 wines, a good number from the fine 2005 vintage. I've not tasted them, but with Nicolas becoming more press-friendly, there should be positive recommendations in this column soon.

Majestic is discounting many of its French regional wines until April 7 if you buy at least two bottles - among a very tempting selection look out for these (prices after discount) - Duboeuf Fleurie 2006, classic fragrantly fruited yet smooth beaujolais (£7) and the Par Preignes range from close to the Mediterranean - try the aromatic vermentino (£4.79) or sturdy, rich petit verdot (£5.20).

And Jeroboams is celebrating Easter (until April 7) with its house champagne down to £13.90, and, among still offers, Domaine du Salvard "Unique" 2006, from Cheverny in the Loire (sauvignon blanc with a touch of chardonnay, £6.60).

"Green" grape-growing was another theme to emerge from last week's Lord's tasting, but that must wait for another column.

Liz Sagues