27 APRIL 2002, Page 54


AS a young man in London, living in a damp garret in King's Cross, I used to go to Laytons, a musty yet sweet-smelling wine store under the station arches, where, in the days before Bordeaux prices had become ludicrous, a young man in a damp garret could actually afford good clarets. I took them home to store in a rickety Ikea wardrobe.

Now Laytons is owned by Jeroboams, and they have plush new offices, all light and space and computers. But the quality of the wines is as high as ever, and I am very excited indeed about the six we're offering this month, all at pleasing discounts, with a handsome further saving if you buy two or more cases.

Unusually, four are white and only two red. This is partly because summer is on its way, and we need lots of thirst-quenchers. It's also because all the whites are so good that I couldn't bear to leave one out. And it gives me a chance to tell you what virtually every merchant tells me: white wine needs to breathe just as much as red. A bottle uncorked straight from the fridge may taste dull and lacklustre. Give it an hour in the air, lose the icy chill, and you'll be drinking something much richer and fuller. The only reason why we don't decant any half-decent white is that the result looks like something you might see beside a hospital bed.

The first is Santa Florentina 200110, a lovely, sprightly, grapefruity wine from Argentina, made from two-thirds Torrontes and the rest Chardonnay. This wine thinks it's a Riesling, only lighter and fresher, and is altogether scrummy. It needs drinking now, in large quantities. The £4.75 price tag is a 12 per cent reduction, or, with the multicase discount, 20 per cent.

At a fiver a bottle you can enjoy the Les Gres Viognier (2000 or 2001)12). A few years ago the Viognier grape made a tiny number of fabulously expensive wines in the Condrieu corner of the Rhone. Now it's grown all over the world, and the quality goes on getting better. This is floral, fragrant, spicy and wonderful value. This I would drink straight from the fridge, since the flavour is powerful enough to cut through the cold.

Laytons have knocked more than 10 per cent off the Les Sarres, Cotes du Jura Chardonnay 2000(s). The Jura is known as the El Dorado of the North, at least by the people who make wine there, and they have a point. This is golden, powerful and honeyed, yet with a strong, flinty backbone. It tastes like a fine Chablis and, at £7.75 a bottle, is a fraction of the price. This does need air to bring out its tremendous quality.

As does the Old Kent River Chardonnay 1998)m from Western Australia. My wife said this was a very grown-up wine, and she's right. It's not overoaked, it doesn't taste of sherbet dabs, but it does have a mature, complex, silky, tongue-rolling savour. It's like going to an old-established restaurant; it might not be trendy, but it's very reliable, and very good. The wine is made in a small, almost a cottage vineyard. The £8.95 price is only a modest reduction, reflecting the huge world demand.

Now a fabulous red wine, with a 9 per cent discount. The Château de Cazeneuve from Pic St-Loup(5) is singled out by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson in the latest World Atlas of Wine as being 'consistent, and herbally dramatic'. And how! You can almost taste the wild thyme as the warm wind gusts off the hills. This is delectable. It is southern France in a bottle. You will love it.

As you will the Valduero Crianza from the finest region of Spain, the Ribera del Duero(6). This is in a higher class than almost all Riojas, with a richly satisfying depth of flavour. It is slightly lighter than some Tempranillos from the region, making it perfect for summer evenings, or the kind of classy barbecue that involves stuffing your friends with langoustines and tender grass-fed Scottish beef filets.

Delivery is, as ever, free. The discount on two or more cases is £5 per case. As usual, if you particularly like a wine, you can order more at the same low price for up to a month after the offer has technically closed.