Is the Great British Palate becoming more refined? In 1975 we were a nation of Liebfraumilch lovers. By 1995 we were necking down big blowsy Chardonnays and jammy, high-alcohol reds.

The latest wine sales figures, published exclusively by The Grocer this week (see p35), suggest we are switching our attention to more subtle grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. What a civilised nation we are becoming. Or not.

In the same week three underage drinkers, fuelled by Dutch courage, were jailed for kicking a young father to death, as the spectre of cheap supermarket booze reared its ugly head again.

That statistic about beer - that it's cheaper than bottled water - should make uncomfortable reading for the mults. Attention still focuses - often unfairly - on pub bosses who serve alcohol to kids, but this is changing because of the enormous price differential between a pint down the pub versus the gondola end.

As the Home Office last week announced plans to review supermarket and off-licence drink sales, it is difficult to see how ministers could carry out their threat to ban below-cost selling given this has already been rejected by the Competition Commission on competition grounds.

But one can envisage all sorts of clumsy legislation that it could pass to get round such technicalities. This week's newspapers included calls for bans on sweet alcoholic drinks, for example, on the grounds they are aimed at underage drinkers; and jail sentences for "greedy store bosses" who break the law. The only parties the government appears reluctant to penalise are the teenagers and parents themselves. Supermarkets had best start preparing their public affairs departments for the next battleground.

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