Holter on the loose

13 July, 2007

Even the on-trade agrees cop's 21 plan for off-trade is barmy

Merseyside chief constable Bernard Hogan-Howe is calling for off-licences to be banned from selling alcohol to anyone aged under 21. Not pubs: the on-trade, apparently, is far better at encouraging legal and moderate drinking among its younger clientele. Stop sniggering at the back, please.

I suspect this policy idea is more a private fantasy of the chief constable than an agenda item for Gordon Brown, but it's worth examining in a little more detail: righteous indignation is one of the most powerful forces on the planet and it's good to unleash a little

from time to time.

Hogan-Howe is worried that off-licences are staffed by low-paid

employees who struggle to deal with crowds of youngsters

and are so intimidated that they sell drinks to children to avoid confrontation. How, exactly, would that tension be avoided by increasing the legal age to 21? It strikes me there would be an awful lot more aggro in the average off-licence if people who were allowed to marry, vote, join the armed forces or indeed buy a pint in the next door pub were banned from making a purchase of their choice in their local offie.

Sadly, much of the media has not challenged Hogan-Howe's theory that the off-trade is inherently more problematic than the on-trade, and once again commentators are making lazy generalisations about the moral standards of drinks retailers.

That's depressing, but there is one bright spot. Even the on-trade - normally only too ready to pass the blame for the nation's ills to its off-trade cousins - agrees it's a barmy plan.

Inspector Grigio

It's long been known that there is rather more Italian Pinot Grigio being sold on the market than there is actual Pinot Grigio coming out of Italy.

The trade accepts this (sort of) - but it's regarded as a fairly benign form of cheating. A cynic would simply shrug and say that those carrying out the deception are merely substituting one cheap, bland and virtually tasteless wine for another, and nobody is getting hurt in the process. Arguably that's a bit unfair on producers of the more characterful Pinot Grigios coming out of Italy, but since they are on the crest of a sales wave perhaps they're not too bothered either.

And as for quality producers of Pinot Gris: most Grigio fans probably haven't even worked out that it's the same grape, so little damage has been done to them either.

If Trading Standards inspectors are now patrolling shops to identify counterfeit Pinot Grigio, you can't help but wonder what's prompted the crackdown. A desire to protect the interests of the producers? A petition from outraged consumers? Both are difficult to conceive.

And exactly how will bona fide wines be differentiated from the fakes? I am not sure the technology exists. But here's an idea: why not convene a tasting panel, comprised of retired teenagers now too old for test purchase duties? Just trying to help.

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