Drinking: Get ruddy-nosed for charity

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The Independent Culture
I NEVER thought I'd see Robert Joseph, a wine-writer of unfailing probity, take his shirt off for money. But I did. Last autumn, at the International Wine Challenge, a pounds 500 cheque to Wine Relief was offered in exchange for the Partial Monty. Accompanied by raunchy music, off came jacket, black tie and finally shirt. My commitment to good causes stops short of torso-baring for strangers, but I am doing my bit for Wine Relief - and so is nearly everyone else connected with the wine trade.

The enterprise, part of Red Nose Day (Friday 12 March), will last all weekend at most major retailers. "Can You Tell Red From White?" is a principal in-store event. Pay pounds 1, don a blindfold, and taste a wine to identify its colour. It's harder than you'd think. There is also a Wine Relief book, The Good Nose, written by Jancis Robinson, who conceived the idea with her husband Nick Lander. Ms Robinson doesn't write bad books. And this one's cheap: it's on sale at wine retailers for just pounds 1, of which 90p will go to the cause. Berry Bros & Rudd will be kitting out staff in its elegant St James's Street shop in Regency gear all week from 8 March, and will also be offering you the chance to be weighed on their old coffee scales, a privilege usually reserved for VIPs. It is also holding an on-line charity auction (www.berry-bros.co.uk).

For pure fun, though, you can't beat the City Stomp. Treading grapes in an open lagar (trough) is an extraordinary sensation, and on 12 March, between noon and 3pm, you can do it at Armoury House in London. Bring a T-shirt and shorts, make a donation, then climb in and get pips between your toes. There's a red nose and a glass of port for your troubles. And you can keep your shirt on. For further information or to reserve a place ring Sue Hall on 0171 409 0494.

In trying to decide what I could do, I was torn between two conflicting impulses: to make the enterprise open to readers throughout the country, and to do something that would be good fun for me. I resolved the problem by arranging two separate enticements, a raffle and an auction, both of world-class wonderfulness.

The raffle: one of my favourite wine merchants, Morris & Verdin (0171 357 8866), has assembled an exceptional case of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from around the world, with an approximate retail value of pounds 200. It's hard to say precisely because you can't buy some of the bottles any more. Au Bon Climat figures in there; so does Ridge Santa Cruz Chardonnay; and if you feel, as I do, that a bottle of Meursault Les Charmes 1994, Domaine Lafon, is worth killing for, then this is a prize worth pursuing. To join the hunt, send a cheque for pounds 5 made payable to Comic Relief (Wine Relief), to Wine Relief Raffle, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, by 8 March. Include your telephone number. You can send as many cheques as you like.

And the auction? Get a load of this. We've all heard of people who drink champagne and eat caviar, and never met anyone who actually does. Here's your chance to be one of those fortunates. Laurent-Perrier and leading caviar importers WG White Ltd are laying on a tutored tasting for the successful bidder and three friends at Bank restaurant (Aldwych, London), as well as dinner afterwards. You could taste three major types of caviar and three Laurent-Perrier champagnes, including the outstanding prestige cuvee Grand Siecle. The starting price is pounds 100. The caviar and champagne alone are worth ... well, never mind. I shall be there to enjoy, learn and observe. Address your bid (including your telephone number) to Wine Relief Auction at the above address, or e-mail it to rehrlich @compuserve.com before 8 March. Be prompt. Be generous. There's something in it for you, and not just a warm, virtuous feeling.

To drink now

Snap up the sherry equivalent of mature classed-growth claret from the Lustau bodega. Lustau's Almacenista range consists of small parcels, a selection from which Morris & Verdin (0171 357 8866) are selling as mixed half-cases of half-bottles for pounds 42 (Almacenistas are private individuals who buy and age top-quality sherry in their own cellars). I can't decide whether I prefer the sensuous perfume of the Oloroso Anada 1918 (almacenista: Pilar Aranda y Latorre) or the elegantly austere Amontillado de Jerez (almacenista: Miguel Fontadez Florido). You can make up your own mind if you move fast: Morris & Verdin only have about 200 cases.