By Chris Losh

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This month former Wine magazine editor Chris Losh warms to spring with a few hot ideas to boost summer sales. Hit or miss affair with Sancerre Best...

This month former Wine magazine editor Chris Losh warms to spring with a few hot ideas to boost summer sales.

Hit or miss affair with Sancerre​ Best known as a white-wine region, Sancerre can produce the unforgettable and the forgettable. It's one of the staples of on-trade wine lists the world over, from your average boozer to the most five-star of restaurants. Sancerre, as much as Chablis, has become a regional brand that stands somehow for more than a region. Sancerre is just up from the dead centre of France, on the banks of the mighty river Loire just as it starts to turn east on its long journey to the Atlantic Ocean.

This far north (we're about level with Chablis), grapes need a bit of help to ripen properly, and most of the surrounding countryside is planted to agricultural crops rather than vines. But the vineyards of Sancerre are situated on a large hill that dominates the surrounding flat landscape. The southern side of this outcrop allows grapes to bask in the sun and attain a ripeness that they wouldn't on the flatter lands. There are red wines here, made, unsurprisingly, from Pinot Noir. But really Sancerre is all about Sauvignon Blanc.

Before the arrival of Marlborough on the scene in the late 1980s/early 1990s, Sancerre was the expression of Sauvignon Blanc. And still today, for purists who dislike the Kiwis' tropical-fruited interpretation of the grape, Sancerre remains the purest expression of the grape anywhere in the world. It's a crisp, steely, gooseberry-flavoured wine that in good years can almost take the breath away with the purity of its expression, and in bad years (or with bad growers) can take the breath away with terrifying acidity and over-the-top pricing.

Demand has pushed prices of Sancerre northwards at a quite alarming rate, so it's no longer one of the bargains of the wine world. And indeed, for cheaper versions, is probably best avoided all together in favour of less pricey regions in France. But if you can find quality-conscious growers who own vines on good land and manage it properly, Sancerre offers something unique: a tangy, flinty gunsmoke-and-minerals taste that simply isn't found anywhere else. Good Sancerre remains one of the greatest matches in the world with white fish or goats cheese. Bad Sancerre is an expensive way of stripping your tooth enamel.

This month's recommended wines​ Since wines for barbecues are generally at the lower end of the price range for the discerning pub, I've decided to throw caution to the wind with this month's selection. None of the following wines are cheap - but they are all excellent and interesting additions to the upper reaches of your wine list. And if you're working on a cash margin, rather than a percentage mark-up you'll be able to offer customers some truly fabulous wines at not bad prices.

Jacquesson Avize Grand Cru 1995, Champagne​As 1995 was a pretty good year for Champagne, this is a classy example for a decent price. It's quite restrained on the nose, with white flowers and citrus aromas that are only now starting to open out into something more expansive. No need to worry about a few bottles sitting in your cellar - it'll go for many years yet. £153+VAT/six-bottle case @ Mayfair Cellars (020 7386 7999)

Morgan Winery Pinot Noir 2000, California​California is just starting to get its act together with Pinot Noir, especially down in the central coast south of Monterey where the Pacific Oceans's cooling influence is rather more keenly felt. This Pinot has a pretty, wild cherry nose with a palate of finesse and delicacy and the first hints of classic Pinot gaminess. Competes well with Burgundies for the same price. £147.72+VAT/case @ Bibendum (020 7449 4100)

St Romain Blanc 2002, Domaine Ambroise, Burgundy​With ripe white peach and acacia notes backing up some fresh apple and oily mineral notes, this wine provides a superb example of what Burgundy can do in good vintages. From a couple of miles west of the hallowed AC of Meursault, this has weight, complexity and freshness at a good price. £105+VAT/case @ Charles Taylor Wines (020 7928 8151)

Solanes 2000, Mas Martinet, Priorato, Spain​ There has been a lot of fuss about the mountainous region of Priorato, and this wine shows why. It's big, dark and serious with silky black fruits, cedar and bitter chocolate (Cabernet?). It should really be left for a good few years, but if you like 'em big, it's spot on. £150+VAT/case @ Lay and Wheeler (0845 330 1855)

Rubbia Al Colle Rumpotino 2001, Fratelli Muratori, IGT Toscana, Italy​Ignore the fact that it sounds vaguely like a character from a children's fairytale, this is a top quality wine from Tuscany. It's mostly Sangiovese (of Chianti fame), but low yields give it way more concentration than most Chiantis. It's superbly silky, with sour black cherry flavours, liquorice and a gentle savoury smokiness. Fabulously complex, it's never fat or over-sweet, and carries its weight effortlessly with terrifically ripe tannins. A real find. £186+VAT/case @ Try Wines (01635-529136)

Food and wine matching - barbecues​ By the time you read this, we should have banished the assorted snow showers, hard frosts and Arctic winds that constitute springtime in Britain, and with luck our thoughts will be turning to summer. Ah yes. Summer. The sights, the sounds and the smell of grilling meat. By which I mean not sunburned customers, but barbecues. Barbies have the huge advantage that they're easy to set up and easy to run; that the food can be freshly made to order, and that people tend to be happy with a decent salad as an accompaniment. But getting the right wine can be what Gollum might call "tricksy".

The first problem is that punters tend to mix and match, throwing chicken, prawns, salad, pork chops and a burger all on the same plate, so getting a wine that will work with the whole lot is nigh-on impossible. Secondly, there's the heat factor, which makes it very hard to get the wines served correctly. In hot weather, white wines lose their freshness, red wines get top-heavy and any alcohol is exaggerated. Thirdly, there's the dominant effect of the charcoal, which tends to obscure (or at least subordinate) the flavours of the food. In other words, this isn't a time when expensive bottles are remotely going to show at their best. But having said that, really cheap, nasty wine doesn't add much to the experience either.

As a result, what I've tried to do for this month's food match is pick a range of wine styles that are a notch or two above the average vino collapso, but still eminently reasonable, and that I think will be able to tolerate a bit of rough treatment. They're intended to work across a wide variety of food that should go with the relaxed atmosphere surrounding your average cook-out.

BABICH GIMBLETT GRAVELS CHARDONNAY 2000, HAWKES BAY​The Gimblett Gravels is the most fought-after area for wine production in Hawkes Bay, and examples like this show why. It has lovely citrus and pear fruit flavours wrapped up in a cheerful veneer of toffee. The mouthfeel is excellent, with neat acidity and a delicate wood-spice. Its weight means it will work with a wide variety of dishes. £31.69/six-bottle case +VAT @ Percy Fox (01279-756200)

CUVÉE NICOLAS BERGERAC BLANC 2002, CLOS D'YVIGNE​ Bergerac tends to be passed over by wine pilgrims, unless they're looking for cheap Bordeaux-lite. This, though, is way better than it's price. It's not the cheapest barbecue wine you'll serve, but if you're looking for something a bit more up-market, it's a good bet. Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle (typical Bergerac white blend) combine to great effect here, giving a wine with creamy, honeyed depth and flavours of lemon, quince and a little apricot richness. It will work with white meats and hot weather. £104+VAT/case @ Transatlantic Wines (

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