eating & drinking: Drinking your greens

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The Independent Culture
FOR REASONS of no interest whatsoever, this column is suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder. But that doesn't matter, at least to me. Three miscellaneous items need airing, and this is the time to air them. Beginning with an addendum to last week's comments on the issue of organic wine. The most recent revolution in organic drinking comes not in wine but in spirits. It's arrived chez Sainsbury's, with the launch of organic vodka and gin. The gin is called Juniper Green (pounds 11.99), the vodka Utkins UK5 (pounds 10.99). Both are available in "at least 300" stores, and both are products of Thames Distillers, a family-owned firm with Soil Association organic certification.

These are mixing spirits, 37.5 per cent alcohol; we're not talking about competition for Plymouth, Beefeater, Wyborowa or Belvedere. But they're certainly up there with Gordon's or Smirnoff, and the gin is particularly impressive with its decent weight of botanicals. Sainsbury's sells an organic tonic (79p/250ml) to complete the green picture, and maybe there's an organic tomato juice to make a Green Bloody Mary. Or use a trick with Rock's Organic Orange Squash (pounds 2.49, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Somerfield and elsewhere). Dribble some into a tall glass filled with ice, add a double shot of vodka, a squeeze of (organic) lime, and top with fizzy water. Organic water, if such a thing exists.

Item two: the vexed issue of reliable wine brands. Sometimes a name on the label has to be treated with caution: the wines can be good or bad, and you have to pick carefully. But on rare occasions the name indicates consistency across the board. Penfolds of Australia is one, though at the low end some of their prices look steepish right now.

One name offering consistency is that of Fairview, in the Paarl. I've now tasted a good percentage of their wines and have not, at any price level, found a stinker among them. For current consumption, the one that's got me chirping is Fairview Goats Do Roam 1999 (pounds 4.99, Waitrose, Tesco and Oddbins among others). The pun in the name may or may not appeal, but the potion in the bottle will. It's not quite like anything else: a Rhone-style blend (geddit now?) with some Pinotage, lightly oaked, bursting with fresh, ripe, instantly winning berry flavours.

Fairview has a connection with another South African name you can count on: Spice Route. The Fairview winemaker, Charles Back by name, has joined with three partners in Swaartland to develop a new property and train up young South Africans in oenology. They've got wines at three levels, of which I have tasted only the reds in the middle (pounds 7.99) section. All show the project's vast potential. My favourite is Spice Route Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 1998, the most widely distributed of all. Well ripened Cabernet with beautifully soft Merlot makes an easy-to-love wine with loads of cedar and blackcurrant fruit. Slurpable but serious, and sold by Fuller's, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose, the Wine Society and the Co- Op. But if you spot the Pinotage or Shiraz, grab them. Both can be bought from Sainsbury's, the Wine Society and Fuller's.

Item three, and completely off the subject: a chance to help a worthy charity. The Interesting Wine Club has arranged to sell over 1,500 bottles in aid of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, and there are some humdingers in there. Among the clarets: Chateau Lafite 1914, pounds 180, and Chateau Cheval Blanc 1955 (bottled by Berry Bros.), pounds 110. From the Rhone: Hermitage la Chapelle including 1978, pounds 195; 1983, pounds 78; 1989, pounds 75; 1990, pounds 115. Cote Rotie in abundance. Cornas from Clape. Loads of Burgundy. Vouvrays from Huet back to 1949. But you don't have to be rich: most wines will sell for between pounds 10 and pounds 30.

The date: Sunday, 12 December. Cost: pounds 5 for members, pounds 10 for non-members. There are two separate sessions, morning and afternoon. I'll be there. Write cheques to The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and send to: Bottle Sale, The Interesting Wine Club, 58 Mercers Road, London N19 4PR. The address will be revealed if you bag a ticket.

Bubbly bargains

Two days ago, at the London and southeast mini-chain, Fuller's, they launched what is surely one of the best Champagne bargains in the country. Joseph Perrier 1990, normally selling at the already-reasonable pounds 24.99, is on sale for pounds 19.99 if you buy two. With oceans of inferior NV selling for more than that, there's no excuse not to stock up Christmas and the whatchamacallit. If you don't have access to Fuller's, but do have a nearby Somerfield, their Prince William Millennium Champagne 1990 (pounds 19.99) continues the success they've had with this label: rich stuff, good and creamy, drinking well now. I'd happily sip either wine at the end of next month.