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The Independent Culture
The thirst for knowledge is a good thing, but not, apparently, when the information you crave comes via modem. A recent study by Reuters Business Information, reported in this paper's daily stable-mate a month ago, found that 80 per cent of 1,000 business people surveyed "feel driven to gather as much information as possible to keep up with their business needs", and 43 per cent carried on surfing on holiday.

I guess I'm one of the driven, because I just can't stop surfing when I have a moment. Writer's block? Check the news on one of the online services. Ten minutes before it's time to cook the children's dinner? Get the modem working. Sometimes it's just for fun, sometimes it's for work. But there's no denying that the Internet is the playground for the modern home-worker.

In the course of my surfing I look for information about drinks. And if you're newly Macintoshed or PC-ed after Christmas, you may think of doing the same. I'll be reporting on sites noted and enjoyed over the coming months, beginning here with three recent discoveries. If you have any of your own, I'd love to hear from you at rehrlich@compuserve.com.

First of all: newcomers to Net-life should know that when they're looking for something, it's essential to refine the search. For example, using the Infoseek search facility in MSN and asking about wine alone, I got 394,917 pages containing that word. Using wine + UK, the field was narrowed to a mere 100,000 or so. You can also refine your search by asking about a particular wine or grape, but even this has its drawbacks. Type in Chianti and you get 5,473 items, some of which may not be quite what you were looking for. "A Database for Astrophysical Emission Line Spectroscopy" was one of the nuggets. I typed in Mouton, wondering if Chateau Mouton- Rothschild had a site, and got a dozen matches including "Louisiana high school star Mouton to play at Tulane". I don't need to tell you that adding + wine would have cut out the extraneous matter.

There are many dozens of producers' sites, varying greatly in size, presentation and content. At the small end of the scale, one that I've enjoyed belongs to the first-growth Chateau Haut-Brion (http://haut-brion.com). This gives information about the property's history and vintages, with all statistics measured against sums for daily temperatures, rainfall, and production from 1 April to 30 September. Thus, 1945 is trumpeted as "A GREAT YEAR" (undeniable), and we learn that there was early vine growth and "snow on May 2nd, causing a dramatic freeze which destroyed 80 per cent of the crop." Tasting notes include the comment: "A pinnacle which can grow for several more decades." If you can afford such rarities, you'll want to know this sort of thing. If you can't, collecting the statistics is a wine-lover's equivalent of trainspotting - good fun though.

I've also had success with websites devoted to cocktails These are almost all from the US, and they can be excellent sources of enlightenment. My fave of the moment is WebTender, which you'll find at http://www.webtender. com. This includes a Browse section, listing drinks and ingredients by name or type, and a search database for drinks or ingredients. You can also ask WebTender to pick a drink at random for you, or add your own invention to the database of 3,500 drinks - "and the number is rising". There's also a page of statistics, "a list of the most popular drinks, voting chart and other useless information", as well as a Bartender's Handbook and a list of "drinking games".

Internet shopping for wine has been possible for some time now, but it has never taken off. If you have a local wine merchant or familiar mail- order outlet, you don't need a computer to do the job for you. But drinkers lacking either of those things may want to look at the buying site of Imediat, run in conjunction with Noel Young Wines of Cambridge. Noel Young is a small merchant of very high quality but with less than nationwide reach. You can access their site, with a full listing of the offerings plus excellent tasting notes, at http://www.imediat.co.uk. If you like what you see, contact them directly using the e-mail address corrall@ imediat.co.uk. Or pick up the phone and dial 0800 7318371. At the moment they have three cases at different price levels, including a good-looking "Everyday Case" at pounds 57.95 including delivery.

And finally... A sale date, 13 January, to plan for at Adnams, the wine kings of Suffolk. Mail and fax orders will only be processed at the end of each day, so it's best to order by phone on 01502 727222. And it's worth hanging on for offerings at every price level. Among the cheaper bottles that catch my eye are a superb Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages, Cairanne, Domaine de l'Ameillaud 1996 (pounds 5.20 from pounds 6.20), and the Roussanne Vin de Pays d'Oc 1995 from the estimable Domaine Virginie (pounds 3.95 from pounds 4.95). Perhaps best of all, even in the absence of a price cut, is what's left of the Newton Estates Chardonnay 1990 (pounds 7.95), a wonderful Californian. I seem to remember paying more for it in the US.