Drink: Treat yourselves before the year is out

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The Independent Culture
WITH ONLY seven months to go until the Millennium, you simply have to buy your beverages now. (Pause while you seethe...) Just kidding! Unless you seek vintage Champagne from 1989 or 1990, there is plenty of time.

But complacency doesn't keep me from recommending a nice proposal from Berry Bros & Rudd (0171 396 9669). Their Millennium Dinner Party Selection, a mixed bag that covers just about any set of drinking needs, will take the pain out of choosing drinks for a gala dinner. It starts with a bottle of fino sherry, then moves on through two bottles each of Champagne (Pol Roger 1989 Late Disgorged), a good Chablis, decent red Burgundy and claret.

Still standing? Then proceed with half a bottle of Sauternes (Chateau Nairac 1990), and finally a bottle each of Dow 1985 and a Grande Champagne Cognac. All these wines are more or less ready to drink, though they'll survive if you can't accommodate them on the big night. That's 11 and a half bottles in all and, with a 10 per cent discount, it'll cost you pounds 237.65, including delivery. A pretty good deal. And for pounds 6, they will store the wine for you.

The Berry offer got me thinking: if they'll do this sort of thing, surely others will, too. I made a few calls to procure special offers for IoS readers, and one of the first promising responses came from Hugo Rose of Lay & Wheeler (01206 764446). Mr Rose suggested something slightly different. "I will pass on the Champagne and digestifs, because readers who are likely to drink them will already have made their purchases and, if not, buying them will not present a problem." He proposes instead a New World case of wines that are all food-friendly and highly versatile.

His selection covers excellent producers in California, Australia and South Africa, namely: Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc 1997, Napa (two bottles at pounds 14.94 each), Penley Estate Chardonnay 1996, Coonawara (three bottles at pounds 10.19 each), Uiterwyk Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, Stellenbosch, (three bottles at pounds 10.54 each), Henschke Keyneton Estate 1996, Adelaide Hills ( two bottles at pounds 15.94 each), Ventas Winery Tawny Liqueur Wine, Barossa (two bottles at pounds 9.89 each). The ordinary retail price would be a few pennies over pounds 143; you can buy them for pounds 130 including mainland UK delivery. Lay & Wheeler decline to cellar them, but they will deliver in August even if you place an order now. I hope to have further offers in due course.

In the meantime, a more immediately urgent question lies heavy on the mind: what to drink when there's a barbecue going? Easy answer: anything you can lay your hands on. But I don't think I'm allowed to say that in this age of gastronomic sophistication. Our forefathers chugged beer while mindlessly turning flavour-free chicken pieces into crunchy carbon. We are supposed to sip Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc while lovingly tending a free-range bird marinated in verjuice and banana shallots. And then liberate the cork from a bottle which will perfectly complement the dish.

But let's face it, folks: when the sun's shining and a crowd is gathered, it hardly seems to matter what's in that bottle. If it's beer, the quintessential BBQ drink, take advantage of Safeway's Beer Fair, which runs until 24 July. They're offering 120 bottled brews at a discount. I would be perfectly happy drinking reliable old Grolsch, discounted to pounds 3.99 for four 500ml bottles, while hovering over the coals.

On the other hand, if you're barbecuing something better than industrial- grade sausages, and you want to drink wine, please consider an upgrade from basic quality. For example, take two wines from St Chinian, one of the best deals in the Coteaux du Languedoc. Firstly, Chateau Maurel Fonselade 1997 (pounds 4.99, Tesco); secondly, Chateau Cazal-Viel, Cuvee des Fees 1998 (pounds 6.99, Waitrose). Tesco's wine is perfectly good, but the Waitrose version is immeasurably better: deeply concentrated Syrah fruit, velvety tannins, and a sumptuously long finish. Your guests will feel as if a millionaire's been pouring.

For whites, few grapes are more redolent of summer than Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand has dominated many people's view of this, but the 1998 vintage is patchy. So I've got two suggestions from Sauvignon's original home, the Loire. Pouilly-Fume "Les Griottes" 1998 (pounds 6.99, Morrison), a full whack of classic Sauvignon fruit, is easily worth the price. Rising a good few notches, Sancerre Les Roches 1998, Domaine Vacheron comes from a fine organic producer. This one's full of ripe gooseberry fruit and is utterly winning. It's on special offer at Majestic (pounds 9.49) till 2 August and Nadder Wines (pounds 9.25, 01722 325418) till the end of September. Grab some, even if the barbecue's lying dormant.

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