FRUIT NEWS FROM ALL

RICHARD EHRLICH'S BEVERAGE REPORT
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The Independent Culture
If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, the NHS is in for a rough ride this year. With bad weather having slaughtered the English apple crop by about two thirds, home-grown crunchers will be in pretty short supply.

But supply isn't a problem at Duskin Farm, in Kent, as long as you like your apples in liquid form. Andrew Helbling makes unfiltered, preservative- free juice from single varieties including Bramley, Cox and Discovery. Some are fully sweet, such as Golden Delicious; others tend towards sharpness, such as James Grieve; and Bramley isn't as sharp as you would expect. Mr Helbling recommends the Discovery juice with gin and ice. They all cost around pounds 2 per litre, and you can ring the farm for local stockists or mail order information. Telephone: 01227 830194.

On a completely different scale, the Tropicana company covers the earth with its not-from-concentrate juices. The ordinary OJ is the one everyone knows, but their Sanguinello recently scooped the prize for best soft drink in the 1997 BBC Good Food Awards. I can see why. Sanguinello is made from Italian blood oranges, and it has the deep, sombre colour of the real-live fruit. This matched by a flavour which balances sweetness with fresh acidity. You'll find it for pounds 2.29 per litre at Tesco, Sainsbury's and assorted independent grocers.

The French philosopher and gastronome, Brillat-Savarin, said he didn't eat grapes because he didn't like to take his wine in the form of a capsule. Those who agree will find some rich pickings among the new wines at Asda. Four that took my fancy at a recent tasting come from California, developed in collaboration with California Direct under the Arius label.

Cheapest of the bunch are Arius Barbera-Cabernet 1996 and Arius Colombard Chardonnay (pounds 3.99), both mouth-filling blends with ripe, pungent fruit. Several notches higher up the scale in quality are two "Old Vine" wines, a Colombard and a Zinfandel selling for pounds 5.99. Both are well oaked - the white at fermentation and the red by killing a year in American barrels - have enough depth of fruit to withstand the wood. The Zin, in particular, shows the distinction you can get from good treatment of superior grapes.

While you're hunting down the various Arius, you might also want to check out a pair of unusual unoaked Asda whites. The first is La Domeque "Tete de Cuvee" Blanc 1996 (pounds 4.99), a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, and around 15 per cent Muscat. The wine is intriguingly aromatic, with smoky, lively fruit; try it out in a blind tasting on a wine-bore friend. The second is the 1996 vintage of Raimat Chardonnay, made at the state-of-the art (dontcha hate that phrase?) winery in Costers del Segre owned by those kings of cava, Codornu. Light, pineapply/lemon fruit is able to sing in full voice thanks to the oakless vinification. It's pounds 4.99 and worth it.

And finally ... While extolling the virtues of cork-free bottles last week, I inadvertently (well, stupidly) neglected to mention the boldest experiment of all in down-to-earth bottle closures. Last June, Threshers took to selling two Italian wines in bottles sealed with crown caps - the kind you find on beer bottles. Not only that, they made the bottles blue rather than green or brown. The wines were a Chardonnay, Original Sin, and a Zinfandel (Primitivo in Italian) called - you guessed it - Original Zin. Both were of the 1995 vintage, both were good quaffable stuff. What's more, they sold well even in the unorthodox packaging. Now they're on to the 1996 vintage, with crown caps and blue bottles intact. At pounds 4.99, these are not the cheapest of the cheap, but they're certainly worth buying - if only to prove once and for all that you don't need a cork to seal a bottle of wine.

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