Summer chills

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IT WASN'T warm enough for serious summer drinking when I last ate lunch at the Nantyffin Cider Mill Inn, Crickhowell, Powys. This was late May, which in Wales barely qualifies for inclusion in springtime, let alone summer. But rain and chill didn't keep me and my fellow shiverers from downing numerous glasses of their homemade lemonade (pounds 1), one of the most addictively delicious beverages on earth. Now that the weather shows signs of truly warming up, I wish I were back there.

And if I were, I would try their house speciality: the aforesaid lemonade mixed with Pimm's No 1 Cup in proportions of two to one. Yes, this is unorthodox. Pimm's, the world's most overpriced drink, is mixed with fizzy lemonade from a bottle. It is cluttered with otiose fruit and cucumber to ensure that you spill some on your brand new cotton shirt. A misuse, if you ask me. The drink's love-drug status is amply maintained by still lemonade and a single slice of fresh lemon. I know. I tried it at home. And incidentally, Pimm's tastes a lot better when you add an extra slug of gin, to make up for their inexcusable trimming of the ABV (to 25 per cent) a few years back. :

Speaking of fruity drinks, a few more came out of the woodwork after I gave the "juice equals health" industry a gentle kicking in these pages some weeks ago. One of them, and an odd one at that, is Bouvrage: fizzy water with a whole load of juice crushed from raspberries. Bouvrage elicited a mixed response chez moi. Some people did not like it; most did like it; a few loved it. Myself, I'm of two minds. The usual problem with drinks of this kind is excessive sweetness. This one was, if anything, a bit on the tart side - and with a slightly bitter edge that I attributed to the seeds. It costs pounds 3.49 for 75cl. You make your own mind up if the idea appeals, and ring 01259 721905 for stockists.

There was more praise for juices made by Exotic Planet, a London-based company which is essentially a one-man band. The band, Tal Thomas by name, goes to market twice a week and buys about 40 to 50kg of exotic fruit on each visit. He sterilises it, peels and cuts it up, and uses it to make some extremely appetising drinks.

My favourites were the unmixed juices: Mango, Paw Paw, Passion Fruit and especially Golden Pineapple, which will change forever your view of pineapple juice. All the juices have a little added sugar, though the addition sometimes lowers the overall sugar content rather than raising it. (Confused? Think of syrup with a lower sugar content than the fruit to which it's being added.)

At the moment, Exotic Planet juices are in London only. Harrods, Harvey Nicks, and the wonderful Whittard "t-bar" in Baker Street all sell it. The price, too, is upmarket at pounds 1.60 to pounds 1.95 for a 250ml bottle. But I think the drinks are worth the money for their pure, luscious fruit flavours. They can be drunk neat or mixed with fizzy water to good effect, and I would guess that they've got potential in the assembly of cocktails.

A final note for immediate summertime drinking - and beyond. The first immediate is Viognier Cuvee Reserve, Vin de Pays d'Oc 1998 (pounds 4.49, Safeway), with full peach aromas and flavours, more complex than most Viognier at this price level, and a good example of what the grape can achieve in the Languedoc. The second immediate is Azbuka Merlot 1996, Stambolovo (pounds 5.99, Safeway), a well-made wine, with soft tannins and loads of ripe berry fruit. One of Bulgaria's better efforts.

The beyond is the M-word, Millennium, and the drink is Champagne. Bottoms Up and Wine Rack are offering 20 per cent off half cases of Laurent-Perrier and Threshers, Victoria Wines, Bottoms Up and Wine Rack are offering three bottles of Lanson Black Label for pounds 50, bringing their respective bottle prices down to pounds 17.59 and pounds 16.67. Both are outstanding summertime drinks, and I won't complain if you crack a few bottles while the weather's warm. But please: giving your purchases extra time in the bottle will do great things for both wines. This opinion springs from the recent experience of drinking a bottle of Lanson I'd had for five months. All the flavours had come together in beautiful harmony, and made me think that this formerly variable house has got its proverbial act together. You need to do the same, as the offer ends on the 14 July.

To drink now

Your future is rose if you place a call to Adnams (01502 727222 for mail order). First off: Chateau Lacroix 1997 (pounds 6.50), a 100 per cent Merlot made by the people behind the estimable Chateau Teyssier in St Emilion. Apparently it's a favourite with Adnams' own staff, and I can see why: lots of lovely deep colour and ripe, succulent fruit. Second pinkie: Reuilly, Rose de Pinot Noir 1998 (pounds 6.75), made by Henri Beurdin in this good Loire appellation. The wine is a pale rose style, barely breaking into a blush, and has a delicate flavour of strawberries. The true taste of summer, both of 'em, and fine ornaments for any picnic blanket.