Food & Drink: Countdown to disaster

Richard Ehrlich's Beverage Report: Stocking up on food in case the Millennium Bug strikes? Just don't forget your drinks cupboard
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The Independent Culture
IT'S LOOKING grim, folks. Despite the assurances that everything will run smoothly when the calendar ticks over from 1999 to 2000, at least one faction of the Powers That Be is worried. This newspaper reported a couple of weeks ago that Action 2000 is telling us to stock up on food before the Millennium arrives. Non-perishable food. What you might have bought for your fall-out shelter, had you built one in the good old days of the Cold War.

Everyone will have his or her own list, but I'll be freezing lots of free-range chicken, buying bags of frozen spinach and peas, stocking up on dried pasta. With those essentials, plus a pound of the freshest garlic I can find and a gross of lemons, the family should remain well fed for a few weeks even if the world's computers freeze, bang or crash.

But what will we drink? Action 2000 hasn't said anything about this, for obvious reasons. For my own equally obvious reasons, I have to think about it. What should self-respecting imbibers have in the house?

Broadly speaking, any list should take account of certain categories of beverage-occasion. A beverage-occasion is the equivalent of a "meal- occasion", which is what marketing folk call what you and I do when we sit down (or stand up) to eat something. The liquid version can comprise anything from a quick slug of water downed at the sink to the slow assimilation of a bottle of Charles Heidsieck Brut Mise en Cave 1994 (around pounds 22-23, at Safeways and elsewhere) by newly-weds in the nuptial bed.

Here are my alcoholic categories for this stressful time. One: lunchtime with tuna sarnies. Two: tinned and frozen dinners calling for modest wine. Three: higher-class dinners in case the worst doesn't happen and we have something good to eat (and a reason for celebrating). Four: stronger stuff, to see us through the dark winter nights when the lights don't work.

Drinks in category three will be dealt with at a later date, in the hope that we will not all be shivering in the dark. Category two forms a regular part of this column on a continuing basis. It's categories one and four that interest me this week. For one I'm proposing the beers from the St Peter's Brewery in Suffolk. These people have been brewing for only a couple of years but they know their trade well. The one that impressed me most from their range of 10 is Cinnamon and Apple Spiced Ale, which smells strongly of the aromatic ingredients and delivers them in a most enticing manner on the palate, before giving way to a brightly hoppy finish. Delicious. Sold by the Bottle Store in Leicester (mail order: 0116 270 7744) among other outlets, for around pounds 2.25 per 500ml.

In category four, the strong stuff, personal taste reigns supreme. I know that I will not be without a bottle of Martini-fodder, Wyborowa vodka (my old fave) or Beefeater gin; the Beefeater might be replaced for a change by Gloag's, a newer brand of high quality. Of course, a bottle of Martini Bianco must be in residence, useful also for cooking all the frozen chicken. Just remember to save freezer space for ice.

Of the other spirits to secure from the Millennium-struck shelves, single- malt is obviously a prime suspect. As a change from that old favourite, however, you might consider some small bottlings of venerable old Armagnacs brought in recently by Oddbins. I am most taken with Carrere 1970, Fleurance- en-Armagnac (pounds 26.99), which seems to me a nearly perfect marriage between wood and spirit. Vanilla hits the nose, toffee-mellowness the palate, and the mouth-feel is beautifully smooth. While the price looks like a bargain for this quality, something almost as good can be had more cheaply in Baron de Lustrac 1978, Bas Armagnac (pounds 23.99), which has toasted-almond notes in addition to all that toffee. And both will have a much longer life than, say, that idiotic Dome being built in Greenwich.

In the meantime, you'll be needing something for this January. Sainsbury's can help, if you live near one of the 95 stores selling Bridgewater Mill Chardonnay 1996, South Australia. This bottle brilliantly illustrates the difference a pound can make in what has become almost a generic category of wine. Loads of tropical-citrus fruit, nice oak, a star of wonder at pounds 6.99. At the same price, while you're there, see if you're in one of the 115 stores selling Tyrrells Old Winery Cabernet Merlot 1997. A big, chunky fellow with soft tannins, easy to drink but characterful. You could save a bottle for next January's disaster, but you won't suffer by drinking it now. Sip while making your emergency plans.