Food & Drink: The sweet smell of success

RICHARD EHRLICH'S BEVERAGE REPORT: A Belgian curiosity mixing gin with lemon juice and sugar could be the next big rival to Malibu
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WHAT MAKES a new drink successful? In the case of Bailey's and Malibu it was sweetness, brilliant marketing, and a well-filled purse of advertiser's money. Competitors have sought to emulate those achievements ever since these two were created, sometimes with results that pleased even the accountants.

The people at United Distillers set themselves a different problem a couple of years ago, when they launched Hackler's Poitin. Poitin is more commonly spelled poteen, "alcohol made illicitly, usually from potatoes," as the Concise Oxford Dictionary puts it, and the name is from the Irish pota, from the rustic pot stills in which it was made. Spotting an opportunity to create a new niche in the market for white spirits used primarily with mixers, United Distillers produced a smart modern version. Well, I mixed Poitin with just about everything and still thought it tasted awful, with a raw edge that no amount of doctoring could mask or even ameliorate. A mere whiff set my gagging reflex in motion. "Here," I thought while using the rest of the bottle to disinfect the sink, "is a drink that no one will want to buy."

When I heard that Hackler's has been withdrawn, I assumed that my judgement had been vindicated. I rang IDV - the company created by the marriage of UD and International Distillers & Vintners - for details, and learned I was wrong. The drink did well in tests but died because it clashed with other products in their portfolio. A company selling Smirnoff does not have room for another drink used with a mixer.

One product that will never clash with another, and which may have a longer life than Hackler's, is Bloomsby, a Belgian curiosity. Produced since 1752, it's a mixture of three ingredients (gin, sugar and the juice and pulp of Sardinian lemons) with an ABV of 21.5 per cent. It's delicious. Quality gin, smoothed out by the sugar, which in turn gets a sharp edge of lemon. You can drink it straight or with a mixer, though I'd avoid the shot method; its ABV is too low for freezer storage, so the drink will not be cold enough. Deploy it instead over a mountain of ice, either unmixed or with an equal volume of fizzy water. Equal dilution brings it up to the strength of your average G&T.

Speaking of G&T, incidentally, the drink of that name sold by Gordon's (their gin mixed with Schweppes tonic) must qualify as one of the worst bargains in the world. Using prices charged by my local Sainsbury's as a basis for comparison, I calculated that you pay around two and a half times more for the convenience of having Gordon's mix your drink. But of course you shouldn't buy Gordon's at all if you can get Beefeater, Greenall's or Plymouth, all of which are better gins.

At the moment, Bloomsby is sold only by Belgo, the London Belgian-themed restaurant group which recently swallowed Le Caprice and The Ivy, but its entry into the off-trade takes place in early October when it goes on sale at Asda for pounds 7.99. However you drink it, please give it a violent shake. The lemon pulp needs to be in your glass, balancing out the sugar and adding roughage to your liquid diet.

And finally ... by now we all know the results of the International Wine Challenge, the annual medal-fest in which dozens of judges sniff and slurp their way through thousands of bottles. The trade has known the winners for weeks, however, and Somerfield is offering promotional prices on all of theirs. Some got a medal, others just a Seal of Approval; at the time of writing I don't know which wines got what, but I don't need gongs to tell me that some of these wines deserve your attention, especially (in these times of economic angst) at their new lower prices. Herewith, four of the best. Pomorie Bulgarian Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 1997 from the Domaine Boyar should bring smiles to the lips of die-hard fans of basic, moderately oaked Chardonnay. At pounds 2.85 from pounds 3.85 it could qualify as a house wine for the next month - or longer, if you buy in bulk. Another house-white candidate: Somerfield Australian Dry White, a Riesling with a perfumed nose and delicate, crisp fruit; a steal at pounds 2.49 from pounds 3.49. Les Marionettes Marsanne 1997, Vin de Pays d'Oc (pounds 3.59 from pounds 3.99) is better still; sweet citrus nose, good concentration, good finish - aromatic stuff. Moving up still further, another killer from Languedoc is Domaine du Bois Viognier: a big, earthy example of this increasingly fashionable grape with loads of soft-fruit flavours balanced by good acidity. At pounds 3.59 from pounds 4.99, this is tremendous value. All of these prices apply until 6 October; all are worth paying.