A vintner’s vocation

6 November 2014

3:00 PM

6 November 2014

3:00 PM

A delightful girl came to see me this morning. She is helping with the research for a biography of David Cameron. Someone had told her that he was not comfortable in his own skin. There was only one reply to that: balls. I have never known anyone so much at ease with himself.

That discussion made me consider the concept of bien dans sa peau. There was Cardus’s marvellous description of Emmott Robinson: ‘It was as if God had taken a piece of strong Yorkshire clay, moulded it into human form, breathed life into it and said: “Thy name is Emmott Robinson and tha shall open t’ bowling from Pavilion End’’.’ That was clearly a happy man, as long as Yorkshire were winning.

But I decided that the drink trade breeds a more durable contentment, not dependent on the vagaries of the wicket or the umpires. I considered friends and acquaintances who have devoted their working life to selling beverages: Richard Berkley-Matthews, Hew Blair, Ronnie Cox, Cassidy Dart, Andrew Sheepshanks, Andrew Smith, Mark Walford. In every case, their career was a vocation. Like Emmott Robinson, they had been put on earth to do what they wanted to do. ‘I often wonder what the vintners buy/One half as precious as the stuff they sell.’

There is now another name to add to the list. Four years ago, Jasper Morris produced a book, Inside Burgundy, which lives up to its title. As Steven Spurrier writes in the introduction, it has been ‘written by someone who has and does walk the land: you can stand with him, look to your left, spot the dip that was a quarry, note how the slope turns just here towards the morning sun’. But this is not just a peasant’s-eye Burgundy. It is a distillation of history, literature and oenology. Jasper has read everything written on the subject and distilled it in lucid prose. He has not only mastered the literature; he has produced a work of literature, one of the finest wine books ever written.

Jasper has also worked his palate hard for several decades. The reader benefits from a profound experience of tasting. Indeed, our author offers his own reclassification of every important Burgundy. There are some promotions, but quite a few Cortons are knocked down from grand to premier cru. How should an oenophile choose between Jasper’s book and Clive Coates’s one, mentioned here a few weeks ago? That is easy. He would want them both, and it would be fascinating to compare their verdicts.

At a recent lunch, we drew on Jasper. The theme was Burgundies from 1993. In his overall assessment of that year, Jasper refers to troublesome weather leading to a difficult growing season and awkward tannins. His conclusion: some potentially long-lived wines, but ‘it is never going to be a graceful vintage’.

Our first wine came close to refuting him. A Meursault Les Luchets, Domaine Roulot was superb. It is only a village wine, and as such would have reason to show its age, but this was classic Meursault: almost up to grand cru standard. We moved on to a Clos Saint Jacques, Domaine Armand Rousseau. It would probably have been classified as a grand cru but for the disdainful behaviour of a previous proprietor, and Jasper rates it on the borderline between premier and grand. Its owner had drunk a bottle over the weekend and found it superb. He provided two more, and they could not have been more different. The first had a marvellous nose but refused to open out. When it finally did so, opinion was divided. I thought that it was beginning to fade: others, that it was not yet ready. The second bottle had no nose, but was longer on the finish. Again, we could not agree. Was it in decline, or did it need five more years? In view of the nose, I thought the former, but we agreed to taste it again in five years’ time, during one of Jasper’s visits to London.

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