WINES TO DRINK WITH ICE-CREAM, AND BARGAINS UNDER pounds 3

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The Independent Culture
Down in the hot sherry country of south-west Spain, vanilla ice- cream with PX is about as common as strawberries and cream on a wet July day in Britain. PX stands for Pedro Ximenez (the "x" sounds like an "h"), a grape grown all over southern Spain mainly for making Montilla and Mlaga, and loads of bland white table wine. But when allowed to become very ripe and shrivelled (often sun-dried under cloches), PX produces a wonderfully dark, unctuous dessert wine, full of treacle and raisin flavours. You'd need a hardened sweet tooth to drink it. But poured over ice-cream, it is sublime - even better with raisins, soaked in PX overnight.

PX comes in varying degrees of deliciousness and price. If money were no object, I'd plump for the well-aged, figgy Noe Pedro Ximenez, Gonzles Byass (pounds 19.99 Oddbins Fine Wines) or the mature, raisiny Viale Pedro Ximenez Viejisimo, Wisdom & Warter (pounds 12.95 John Townsend & Sons of Hull, mail order 01482 326891). Mid-priced PXs can also be excellent - younger and lighter. I'd go for Valdespino Pedro Ximenez Solera Superior (pounds 8.95 Lea & Sandeman, London SW10/W8, mail order 0171-376 4767, pounds 9.50 La Reserve of London SW3, mail order 0171-589 2020), or Alvear Pedro Ximenez (pounds 3.95 for 37.5cl, selected Sainsbury's).

You need a super-sweet wine to cope with ice-cream. Australian Liqueur Muscat is the other that does the trick. As unctuous and nearly as sweet as PX, it tends to be cheaper, quality for quality, and is often complex and delicious. Try Stanton & Killeen Muscat (pounds 5.49 for 37.5cl Asda) with its caramel, raisin and toffee flavours, or Mick Morris Liqueur Muscat (pounds 4.95 for 37.5cl selected Tesco), reminiscent of mint, toffee and nut.

Liqueur muscat is a wine, not actually a liqueur. Real liqueurs tend to taste too thin poured over ice-cream. Chilled cream liqueurs work, however, and the best for me are Creme de Grand Marnier (pounds 10.99 Unwins and Davis) and Amarula Wild Fruit Cream (pounds 10.99 Asda, pounds 11.49 Tesco, pounds 11.65 Bottoms Up, Thresher and Wine Rack). Amarula has a fresh, slightly fruity taste since it uses as its base a traditional, cask-matured South African fruit spirit, marula (the marula or elephant tree is a relation of the mango).

Really attractive wines are rare at really pinched prices. But there's always a clutch of enjoyable, under-pounds 3 bargains at Kwik Save. Look out for a couple of good, unoaked, Eastern Europeans: 1995 Hungarian Chardonnay (pounds 2.89), made by the talented, flying-winemaker-trained Hungarian Akos Kamocsay; and (nearly getting under the pounds 3 barrier) the fruity 1993 Reserve Chardonnay, Preslav, Bulgaria (pounds 3.09). Its fresh, pleasantly oaky mate, 1995 Preslav Chardonnay Sauvignon (pounds 2.79) is also a good buy. The 1995 Hungarian Pinot Gris (pounds 2.99), also made by Akos Kamocsay, smells like spicy Gewurztraminer, but apparently is pure Pinot Gris, light and gentle with refreshing acidity. From Bordeaux, there's a crisp but gentle 1995 Sauvignon Cuvee VE (pounds 2.99).

Amongst the reds, try the Portuguese 1995 Jose Neiva (pounds 2.99), so juicy- fruity and light as to be chillable for summer. Also excellent value, and chillable, is the fruity 1995 Young Vatted Pinot Noir (pounds 2.89) from Romania.

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