News just in from Musty's contact in the world of marketing, Fluffy Nonsense, who has found time to call her in between a hectic schedule of exhausting six-course lunches with the following snippet of, ahem, hard news - Finland to grow grapes. And make wine…

"My God," we hear you cry. "It's global warming gone mad!"
Except it isn't.

The crafty Norse-chaps have discovered that by keeping a vine's roots warm, the plant can survive even the chilly excesses of a near-Arctic winter, and are using the waste coolant water pipes from a handy nuclear power plant to do just that.

No wine has been produced yet, but a vintage is expected within the next two or three years. And with a half-life of about 900 years, the Chateau Plutonium 2005 should be perfect for toasting the next millennium.
At least, for those who don't still have a few bottles of late 1990s Champagne hanging around.

A month or so ago, Musty received an invitation to a big press tasting of Californian wine that went straight in the bin. Why, you may wonder? Is Musty suddenly against huge, over-blown, over-priced Merlots with twelve grams of residual sugar? Well, yes, but that wasn't the reason. The tasting, you see, was at the American Embassy in London.And following Osama Bin Liner's avowed threat to blow up anybody who doesn't wear either a huge beard or a head-to-toe bed-sheet, the thought of spending three hours in a prime terrorist target was less than appealing.

A momentous event in world history, you see - with consequences that reach further than anyone would ever believe.  Why, only a month ago, a journalist was horrified to see a sign by the British Airways desk in Nice airport telling him that BA would "no longer allow axes and bludgeons on board planes." Oh, what dark days are these when innocent travellers are unable to carry their lucky axe with them as comfort on those long-haul flights.

Equally disturbing, though for a rather different reason, is the story related to Musty by a couple of drinks journalists following a recent press trip to the Neusiedlersee region of Austria.

On the Sunday morning their hosts had made some concessions to fact that it was the weekend, by kindly arranging a tasting of Austrian red wines. The thought of a flight of Austrian reds is pretty depressing at the best of times, but especially when coupled to the local penchant for doing everything early.
So it was that the journalists were dutifully slogging their way through the charms of Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch at 9.30 on a Sunday morning, when suddenly their ruminations were ruined by a giant tuba blast from outside. Desperate for any excuse to stop tasting for a bit, they looked outside, whereupon three British jaws hit the windowsill in unison. There, in the town's main street, an entire brass band was playing away, with two squadrons of what looked like the town militia, marching behind them in neat formation. It turned out to be nothing more sinister than the ceremonial welcoming of the town's new fire engine (?!), but as one journalist said, 'We didn't know that. All we could see was an army marching and lots of people cheering. And you're a bit hesitant to ask. After all, it was Austria…'

All of which, incidentally, reminds Musty of a verse in a song by the American comedian, Tom Lehrer following the welcoming of Germany into Nato.

'Once all the Germans were warlike and mean,
But that couldn't happen again.
We taught them a lesson in 1914,
And they've hardly troubled us since then…'

Cynical, yes.
Politically incorrect, yes.
But very funny.

A word of warning, now, to any drinks world travellers who head down to New Zealand's South Island. It's all pretty wild and woolly down there (literally so, given the preponderance of ovine life) and visitors may find things done a little differently. Take, for instance, the experience of a wine rep friend of Musty's, who was staying at a guest house in Central Otago. His host was an 83-year-old woman whose favourite pastime was not bridge or crocheting shawls, but, she gaily informed him, 'shooting frogs' (amphibians, presumably, as opposed to the board of Pernod Ricard). As if to prove that this was no idle boast, the next morning when Musty's friend got up to start the day, the octogenarian Annie Oakley had already bagged a couple of rabbits before breakfast.

Now, would you tell them that their Pinot Noirs are colossally over-priced?

This week Musty received a press release from Fetzer that has made her resolve not to accept any free bottles of that winery's 2001 reds. Yes, that's right - none at all.  And given her attraction to all things alcoholic and free, you can imagine that this action was not taken lightly.  The reason? A picture of the entire wine making team lying down in vats of macerating red grapes. Now, Musty has never been a big fan of human contact with wine. The thought of getting a Portuguese peasant's toenail crud, or a mouthful of authentic Douro athlete's foot has kept her off Vintage Port for years. But given the sort of temperatures in California around harvest time and the personal hygiene standards of your average cellar rat, the potential here is much worse.

Think about it long, think about it hard, and tell me now that you would willingly touch a drop. A bit like all these stupid bloody new 'finishes' that are littering the Scotch world. As well as the usual Sherry and Bourbon, the shelves of retailers the world over are groaning with Port, Madeira, various types of red and white wine and now, finally, ale-finished Scotch. Grants, who ushered in the latter, are very proud of their new creation, saying that it's truly ground breaking. 'Many people have wanted to make an ale finish, but no-one could find a way of making it drinkable,' said a company spokesperson. Interesting, then, that the only Scotch journalist Musty spoke to should describe it as 'smelling like old pub carpet'.