Where two or three British males are gathered together, the agenda often includes a glass or two. One thing can lead on to another. To facilitate the supply of glasses, clubs are sometimes formed. These can vary in size and splendour, from the palaces of Pall Mall to the working men’s clubs where the young William Hague delivered beer and sampled the deliveries. (He was unwise to quantify his efforts. It would have been better if he had merely said that from time to time, it was not just the barrels which were rolling.)
There are also clubs within clubs. A couple of us have stumbled into irregular sessions which we have called ‘the odd bottles’. The conversation varies: nature conservancy in the Highlands, reactionary politics, the law — the two latter ought to be a distinction without a difference. Even if there are no amusing black cap anecdotes these days, most lawyers are good conversationalists. As Dr Johnson put it, they like folding their legs and having their talk out.
A couple of decades ago, there was a Johnsonian journalist, George Gale. He often held court in the Cheshire Cheese, then a splendidly old-fashioned pub. The Cheese is only round the corner from Gough Square, and one day, a couple of American matrons came in to ask directions. ‘Say, could you tell us the way to Dr Johnson’s house?’ George replied. ‘I am Dr Johnson. This is my house. Now fuck off.’
We bottles convened the other evening. Proceedings started with Hermann Donnhof’s ’07 Riesling Kabinett. Donnhof is the best Nahe producer that I have come across, and this was a delight. Though only a Kabinett, it was almost too big for food. Foie gras, perhaps, or a fish pie, but it is a wine designed to be drunk on a misty morning in November, with a slice of fruit cake, overlooking the Rhine. I remember an all-day session in similar circumstances, a few years back. By early evening, I could hear the Rhine Maidens. By late evening, we had moved on to Marc de Gewurz-traminer. The next morning, I felt like Alberich.
The bottles move on, to two absolutely contrasting reds. The first was a D’Issan ’05. The year has a great reputation; the wine justified it. It exuded subtlety and class, reminding one of Mitterrand’s campaign slogan from 1981: La force tranquille. But it would be wrong to do more than sample it now. It has plenty more to give and will last for ever. If you have some in your cellar, congratulate your perspicacity.
That was also true of its successor, an ’08 Australian Shiraz, Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch, from the Strathbogie range in Northern Victoria. It had power, as one would expect from the grape and the terroir. You almost think that you can taste the shavings from Ned Kelly’s chains. But there was also depth and finesse. This is a wine to watch. I suspect that the girls who make it are on the verge of international fame, and not just because of their exploits with a musket. Indeed, someone proposed electing them to honorary bottle-hood. There was a vigorous discussion. Can females be bottles? Would we not be in danger of falling within the Equality Act? We decided… the truth is that none of us can agree what we decided.
That was partly the fault of the 1960 Dow, which concluded our formal proceedings. It was the owner’s last bottle and it had been several years since he had tried it. So some trepidation: 1960 had been a light year, overshadowed by the power and the glory of the ’55s and ’63s. But it was balanced, harmonious, delicious. We drained the last drops in a toast to all bottles.
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