Eating & Drinking: Parental discretion advised

MR THOMAS Testorf, aged 11, has got me dwelling on the subject of underage drinking. At the dinner celebrating the wedding of his parents, Linda and Christian, Thomas sipped at a glass of Laurent-Perrier Rose with evident enjoyment and restraint. I learned later that he has developed a good palate and a real enthusiasm for wine, with a particular fondness for Pinot Noir. I am wondering still why all children can't be educated in the same way. Expect further deliberations on the subject.

In the meantime, young Thomas's delectation on this singularly happy occasion has set me thinking yet again about a related question: how do you serve drinkers of all ages with a single beverage that will make all of them happy? One answer is to make your own lemon syrup, a delicious ointment which lasts forever in the fridge and can be put to several appetising uses. My recipe comes from the 1976 edition of Joy of Cooking, not the recent update published by Simon & Schuster. It's an easy procedure. Take six lemons and cut the zest off two of them. Put the zest in a stainless steel pot with 225ml/7.5fl oz of water, add three to four tablespoons of white sugar, and bring to the boil. Boil for five minutes, let it cool, and add the squeezed, strained juice from all the lemons.

Now you've got your syrup, you can serve it kids' style or X-rated. For everyone: a spoonful of syrup over ice water (still or fizzy) makes delicious lemonade. For over-18s and deserving youngsters: add a few spoonfuls to a bottle of cheap fizz to make instant wine punch. For elders only: try it with a golden rum such as Lang's Banana Rum, sold by independent offies at about pounds 14.95 a bottle: put 25ml/1fl oz of rum in a tall glass with plenty of ice, add the same amount of syrup, and top up with fizzy water. The drink is not a million miles from a classic Planter's Punch, one of the greatest of all cocktails.

On the subject of underage cocktails, incidentally, parental pride compels me to report on a juicy drink devised by my daughter Alice, aged 11. She mixes the juice from two oranges with a mashed banana and puts the result through a coarse sieve. Her drink is thick, delicious, and as good as any smoothie. Add ice cubes and rum and you've got something really serious, though not for Alice's consumption.

Hardened wine drinkers are likely to turn their noses up at fruity cocktails. I don't think they should, but I won't browbeat them for it. What I'll do instead is suggest that they lay hold of some recent imports from Liberty Wines (0171 720 5350, info@libertywine.co.uk), one of the country's leading Italian specialists. Their tastings are a pleasure. Chianti kings such as Isole e Olena, Fontodi and Selvapiana don't ordinarily make duff drinks, and all looked good on the last outing. Selvapiana's "Bucerchiale" Chianti Rufina Riserva 1995 stood out in the crowd, as well it should at pounds 16.95. A Goliath-sized package of multiple berry flavours with David-sized tannins (ie strong but compact), this is one for keeping. Please.

The wines that most intrigued me came from Franz Haas, a producer in the Alto Adige. This is small-scale production, sometimes as little as 400 cases, and each of the wines, red and white, really sang with flavour. Their cheapest, the Pinot Grigio 1998 and Pinot Bianco 1998 (both pounds 7.95), are outstandingly full expressions of the grape in question; the Grigio especially is totally lovable as an aperitif or with simple fish dishes.

Better still (and more unusual) were their reds. Pinot Nero 1997 (pounds 10.95) and Pinot Nero "Cru" 1996 (pounds 16.95) show how well that grape can do in this climate, with low yields and extended captivity in wood giving a deep concentration of smoky raspberry flavours. The cheaper wine is good enough, though you won't regret buying the "Cru" if you've got a) the money and b) the patience to keep it for five years. This wine is still a baby. Another baby of real fascination from the same crew is Lagrein Scuro 1997 (pounds 9.95), from an indigenous grape variety. Chunky, streaky, full of cherries and berries, this is a wine for jaded palates: it tastes like nothing you've ever laid eyes on. Utterly delicious, and certainly too good for children. Except, perhaps, Thomas Testorf.

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