GRAPEVINE

KATHRYN McWHIRTER SOUNDS A COOL NOTE
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The Independent Culture
IT WAS a hot even-ing; our children were whooping and moaning around a rather too chic restaurant table on our Italian holiday, while we longed for the arrival of the calming breadsticks - and the ice bucket. But the ice bucket never came. Instead, the relieving bottle arrived enveloped in a tight-fitting, glistening silver sleeve. "A Rapid Ice!" we wine-fixatedparents chorused.

It was the same flexible, freezer-fluid-filled wine chiller to which we have recently become addicted at home. We keep them in the freezer - big ones for normal-sized bottles, the beer-can version for half bottles. It's quicker than our old ploy of sticking the bottle in the freezer, and far less messy than ice buckets, though it takes a little brute force to squeeze the sleeve on to the fatter belly of a Champagne bottle.

Five minutes on a warm bottle has the wine brilliantly chilled (and we always tip the bottle upside down before de-corking to mix in the warmer wine from above sleeve level.) Up-ending bottles doesn't go down too well in chic Italian restaurants, but the Rapid Ice obviously does. Other restaurants we visited that week had also abandoned the ice bucket. Vacu-Vin Rapid Ice is available in Britain (pounds 6.99) from Sainsbury's, Safeway, Tesco, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Majestic, Victoria Wine, Boots, House of Fraser and Robert Dyas.

Fit for the sleeve, Safeway have some new, good value summer whites. 1994 Laperouse, Vin de Pays d'Oc, Penfolds/Val d'Orbieu (pounds 4.69) is brilliant value, quite subtle and complex for the price. 1994 Char-donnay, Aged in Oak, Vin de Pays d'Oc, Hugh Ryman (pounds 3.99) tastes quite like white Burgundy of twice the price, and 1994 Safeway Cotes du Luberon, Hugh Ryman (pounds 3.19) is quite full, crisp and lemony, with an attractive touch of musky flavour.

New to Victoria Wine is an excellent value oaked Bord-eaux Sauvignon, 1994 Chateau Haut Bonfils (pounds 4.59). You would pay more for oaked Graves of this quality, which has delicious gooseberry fruit shining through the oak flavour.

Two attractive new Italian whites have the Australian stamp. A crisp, pineappley 1994 Alasia Cortese del Piemonte, Martin Shaw (pounds 4.99 Wine Rack, Bottoms Up and Winecellars of London SW18) and a ripe and lemony 1994 Alasia Muscate Sec, Piemonte, Martin Shaw (pounds 4.99 Wine Rack and Winecellars) are the best of the first fruits of a joint project between the Australian Martin Shaw of and the Italian winemaker Claudio Manera in a super-modern co-operative winery in Piedmont, up in the north west of Italy.

On now to reds, newly arrived at Wine Rack, Thresher and Bottoms Up is the 1992 vintage of Calitera Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 5.99) from Chile. Ideally, I'd keep this six months to a year to soften its firm tannin, but its rich, ripe fruit and minty, thyme-like flavours are already delicious. Even more stunning value, and ready to drink now, is the delicious, full- bodied 1990 Santa Carolina Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 4.49 Wine Rack, Thresher and Bottoms Up). It was made by the same talented Chilean winemaker, Ignacio Recabarren. Sainsbury's have just got the 1991 Reserva Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 5.25), a firmer, more tannic wine but also with heaps of ripe blackcurrant fruit as well as attractively treacly, tarry flavours.

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