The Tippler: Fair trade beer; vintages in Provence; burgundy offers

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The Independent Online

A fair-trade beer? Well, the bananas have the Fairtrade stamp.

A fair-trade beer? Well, the bananas have the Fairtrade stamp. Not that bananas are a usual ingredient in beer. Trading on the founding family's mercantile history, the Charles Wells brewery, of Bedford, has produced what it terms a Banana Bread Beer. The bananas are added to the infusion of grains. My immediate reaction was to dismiss this as silliness, but I was seduced by it. The banana flavours meld with the fruity roughness of winter barley and the toffeeish sweetness of crystal malt. The brew is spiced with the lemon-skin perfuminess of Golding and Challenger hops. Result: hugely tempting aroma of bananas; creamy head; firm, silky, body; flavours more reminiscent of walnut bread; well-balanced but dryish. It's only in bottles in Tesco, due in other supermarkets except Sainsbury's shortly, and they are hoping to have a similarly sexy, sunny and strong (5.5ABV) draught for summer.

Bibendum's offer of Fine Wines from the 1999 and 2000 vintages in the Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence was preceded by a cask sample tasting in London this month of some of the best known names in the region. Highlights include classy 2000 Hermitage from Domaine du Colombier, £220; fragrant 1999 Condrieu from Pierre Dumazet, £180; six-bottle cases of the complex, rare white 2000 Hermitage Chante Alouette from Chapoutier, £120; Noel Verset's sumptuous 2000 Cornas at £150; and from Bandol, Domaine Tempier's stylish 1999 Bandol Cuvé Migoua, £166. There was excellent value in the shape of Jean-Louis Chave's St-Joseph Offerus, £99; Colombier's classic 1999 Crozes Hermitage Cuvée Gaby, £80; and the 2000 Vacqueyras from Château des Tours, £110. From the Languedoc, the rich 2000 Saint-Chinian Causse de Bousquet from Mas Champart, £70; and the spicy, concentrated 2000 Minervois Grenache Château Coupe Roses, £65, stood out. Prices in bond with VAT and duty payable on delivery in spring or later in the year. 020-7449 4120 or e-mail for details of the offer.

If you missed out on the first wave of 2000 burgundy offers in January, there's a chance for a second bite of the cherry with the launch of a series of fresh offers from a variety of burgundy specialists. Among those with current offers worth investigating are Domaine Direct, London N1 (020-7837 1142); Lay & Wheeler, Colchester (01206 764446); Lea & Sandeman, London W8 (020-7221 1982); Farr Vintners, London SW1 (020-7821 2000); Fine & Rare Wines, London W10 (020-8960 1995); and Laytons (in conjunction with Jeroboams), London N1 (020-7288 8888). Just to be different, the indefatigable Zubair Mohamed of Raeburn Fine Wines in Edinburgh (0131-343 1159) is offering some of the best of Austria 2000, including notable names like FX Pichler, Willi Bründlmayerand Nikolaihof.