The price is right

If you're thinking of spending a fiver on wine, it's time to grow up

Having failed to keep Lent, I know it is hard to argue that I deserve to celebrate the season of resurrection. I certainly don't deserve to drink, free of charge, four 2003 clarets of the quality exhibited by those in Corney & Barrow's offer.

However, I comfort myself with the thought that I am drinking them for you, dear reader, and that there is an element of public spirit in my greed. For make no mistake about it, 2003 was an excellent year for Bordeaux, and you will probably not have another opportunity to acquire wines of this quality at these prices.

First, though, a word about prices. Long research has led me to think that you should be prepared to pay £10 for a bottle of claret and £15 for a bottle of Burgundy if you are to enjoy the real taste of either. Thereafter, quality increases with price right up to the £25 mark. Those who spend more than that are either ignorant or super-rich: or maybe just unable to appreciate that even if quality is important, quantity is more so.

The four wines on offer come from regions with very different soils and microclimates. Yet the hot summer of 2003 had a concentrating effect on all of them. Each wine fills the mouth with its own distinctive fruit, and each of them lingers on the palate after a proper olfactory prelude and with a long coda of after-burps. Modern vinification means that these wines are already drinkable, none of them having that closed, stingy quality, like a tight-lipped civil servant, which is the sign of unmanaged tannin.

The summer heat boosted the Château de Carles from the undervalued Côtes de Fronsac to the positively Australian strength of 14 per cent - but without destroying delicacy, balance, or the gentle leafy aroma distinctive of the region. The Château La Courolle from Montagne-Saint-Émilion is a more traditional claret, soft and harmonious, with a firm mineral background. It proved to be a perfect accompaniment to stuffed breast of lamb - one of those dishes that the urgent middle classes of today would never dream of eating, still less of cooking, but which ought to be on every household menu. Indeed, if you were intending to eat leg of lamb and spend a fiver on the wine, here is your chance to grow up. Buy a decent bottle and stuff the lamb.

The Château Armens has all the allure and complexity that you would expect from a Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. This is a wine which, with a few more years in the bottle, will give the full claret experience - that indescribable upswell of Bacchic laughter, from a dark pool of mysterious thought.

As for the Château Carignan, this is a wine that belies its modest appellation - a truly joyous and full-throated companion that needs no food to temper its good humour, and which danced us up to bed.