GETTING MOTHER DRUNK

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My mother has never forgiven me for getting her plastered at breakfast. When a pitcher of my Bloody Marys went unfinished after an evening's interpersonal interaction, I put the leftovers in a redundant V8 bottle and stored it in the fridge. The next morning, Ma Ehrlich went looking for tomato juice. Out came the spiked V8. Into a glass it went. She thought she was coming down with 'flu until I looked at the bottle, put two and two together, and owned up.

The experience taught me two things. One, don't add vodka to a BM till the juice is in your glass. Two, be careful when making a potent drink that the unwary can mistake for something innocent. Alcohol should look like alcohol, kids' stuff like kids' stuff. This is one reason I never trust a cocktail whose colour scheme incorporates more than three wavelengths on the visible spectrum. With the honourable exception of the Mai Tai and a well-made Singapore Sling, multi-coloured cocktails are strictly for those who wannabe pie-eyed but don't wannataste alcohol.

Even the best rules need the odd exception here and there, however. And if there's a picnic being planned, I am willing to make an exception for a new range of products called Fruit Pickers Juice Drinks. FPJD is just another set of sweetened fruit-based drinks, and not to be drunk too often. But as drinks of the kind go, they go down a treat. They come in Pear & Blueberry (my numero uno), Raspberry & Black- currant, and Apple & Plum flavours. The price is 85p per one-litre carton, and they'd be fine companions on a picnic either neat or with fizzy water. And very cold in either form.

Please note: Fruit Pickers contains no alcohol. But it could accommodate it, and that's why I began with my embarrassing bit of family history. If you take a glass of Fruit Picker, add a little vodka and a squeeze of lemon juice, you have a perfectly reasonable cocktailian potation. The kids drink the stuff neat, the adults adulterate, and everyone has a good time.

If you're eager to drink wine instead of fortified fruit juice, implant in your cerebral cortex the following phrase: New Zealand 1996. The revelation came while sipping with pleasure from a bottle of Jackson Estate Sauvignon Blanc 1996 supplied by Adnams (pounds 9.45, pounds 9.70 mail order). The wine seemed to glow with supple, exotic, ultra-ripe fruit, and I commented on that fact to my comrade-in-slurps. He is someone who works in the wine trade, and he informed me that that vintage in New Zealand had been a winemaker's dream: perfect conditions right down to the moment of picking.

As a result, he opined, just about any of the NZ 1996s will be first- rate - even basic versions such as the ubiquitous Montana Sauvignon Blanc (around pounds 5.49). Better still is the Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 1996, at Tesco, Safeway and elsewhere for around pounds 6.49, and at Co-op Pioneer stores on special offer (snap it up) for pounds 5.49 till 16 August. Jackson Estate is in a higher price bracket, of course, but worth the extra. You'll find it at Tesco for pounds 7.99 and Adnams.

Picnicking rhodophiles (a word I've just coined for people who like red better than white) will want to drop in to Marks & Spencer for a really good, really interesting Uruguayan wine called Tannat Matured in Oak 1996 (pounds 4.99). Not a catchy name, I have to admit, but a very catchy wine. This beauty contains a healthy dose of tannin (which may account for its name) and a beguiling, deeply weird collection of fruit flavours.

Interesting note: when I tasted the wine at an M&S tasting I marked it as somewhere between "good" and "very good". (Sorry about the technical jargon.) On drinking it at home, however, with a free-range chicken leg roasted with white wine and onions, my opinion zoomed skywards. Clearly a wine that needs to be drunk with food.

If there's no M&S near you, but there is a Majestic or a Thresher, the name of La Rural appears on two well-priced 1996 Argentineans, a Malbec and a Merlot. Fuller's also sells the lively, vigorous La Rural Pinot Blanc 1996, which may be even better than the reds.

And finally ... Sainsbury has lopped pounds 2 off the price of its solid Blanc de Noirs Champagne until the end of August. At pounds 9.99 it costs no more than some premium New World sparklers, and if you buy six bottles or more the price comes down to pounds 9.49. That, friends, is a moderately irresistible bargain. Buy one bottle for immediate consumption and one for the Christmas hols.

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