My friends don't drink excessively." These are reassuring words that you'd be happy to hear from anyone. And they gladden my heart especially. No one dislikes irresponsible alcohol consumption more than someone who is paid to write about drinking. Alcohol is far too clever and important a substance to waste on those who drink for the sake of drunkenness. If inebriation occurs from time to time, brought about by inexperience or an excess of enthusiasm, fair enough. But embracing it, and embracing it regularly and purposefully, is a sign of foolishness or pathology.
So why wasn't I wholly delighted to hear these words a couple of weeks ago? Because they were spoken by my 15-year-old daughter, Alice, in the course of trying to persuade my wife and me to let her have some friends over for a cocktail party. Aha. This is good news, that teenagers don't drink excessively? Surely the good news would be that teenagers don't drink at all. Well, that's the theory. The reality is that adolescents experiment with all sorts of new behaviour, one of which is alcohol consumption. And who is to say what the right time or place for that experimentation to take place is? The law says it shouldn't happen until they're 18, though this applies only to the sale of alcohol. Consumption in the home is unregulated.
Which left us with a difficult decision: do we trust our child, whom we know to be a responsible and sensible person, or do we take the knee-jerk "easy way out" and forbid drinking? We took the hard way. We said yes to alcohol. Alice was allowed to serve her friends a dilute mixture of Cinzano Rosso and fizzy water, around 1:3, which would bring the drink down to an ABV of under 4 per cent. It would be a real drink, ie unsweetened for the sake of mere teenage palatability. It would taste good - I drink the same thing myself, with great pleasure. And since we set a limit on how much of the bottle was to be drunk, there was no danger that any of Alice's friends would get blotto.
That agreement was made before we left. On the evening of Alice's party, she phoned us and said her friends wanted "real" cocktails. The hard stuff, made in a cocktail shaker. After some soul-searching, we made the following agreement. They could take 100cl of Havana Club rum from a bottle in the hallway, shake it well with 45ml of sugar syrup and the juice of three lemons and lots of ice, and drink it from goblets with more ice. Between the 10 teenagers in the house, that would be the equivalent of something less than half a bottle of wine. A quantity I would happily serve to any 10 teenagers.
I expect that some people would be aghast at my liberality, and I don't entirely blame them. But look at it this way. At a certain point, you have to trust your adolescent children enough to let them take risks. Do you keep your children from riding on trains alone, or taking off on gap-year round-the-world travels? The discovery of alcohol as a social and gustatory pleasure is another of those risks.
In this case, it worked out fine. Alice left the house in a bit of a mess, and stayed up too late, but she and her friends survived their limited cocktail party without incident. No one seems to have enjoyed greatly the makeshift Daiquiris (which was the recipe I worriedly dictated down the phone). They had a taste of real alcohol, and behaved like grown-ups in the best sense of the term: they didn't get drunk and they drank what they liked - apple juice, by the end of the evening. I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, Alice's friends don't drink excessively.
New World pukka Pinots
Martinborough Pinot Noir 2000 £15.99, Adnams, 01502 727 222, www.adnamswines.co.uk New Zealand's first Pinot of prominence, and among its best. Lovely fruits, silky tannins, a delight.
Sainsbury's Carneros Pinot Noir 2000 £17.99, Majestic; £15.29 if you buy two Californian bottles Another pioneer, this one from Napa's cooler-climate neighbour. Big, upfront, very elegant.
Wither Hills Pinot Noir 2002, Marlborough £15.99, Oddbins Not NZ's most renowned Pinot patch, but Marlborough produces some beauties. This is fleshy, lush, well-rounded in every dimension.
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