A rioja to beat the new year blues

8 January 2022

9:00 AM

8 January 2022

9:00 AM

There was only one flaw in my Christmas this year. I did not spend enough of it with Santa Claus-age children. It is of course easier to delight in the charm if one does not live with the brats all year round. However adorable they may be, there are moments when they are also living instances of the doctrine of Original Sin. Moreover, in a Father Christmas household, it is helpful to have a bedroom some way from the parents. Admonitions will have been issued. The little ones will have been prohibited from invading the parents’ room until, say, 8 a.m. But admonitions do not automatically command obedience. Misrule is — and should be — one of the joys of Christmas Day.

There can be pathos as well. Roy Hattersley once wrote that one of the sadnesses of human life is that animals you love will predecease you. This year, friends lost Hogan, a beloved terrier, just before Christmas. The dog was 16 and died in his sleep, saving the owners a tearful final journey to the vet. The news was broken to the children and there were tears aplenty. Shortly afterwards, a littlie was packing an overnight bag. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m going to set off for the doggies’ heaven and bring Hogan back.’ Sunt lacrimae rerum.

One delicious Christmas feast drew on jamón and other charcuterie, from the magnificent delicatessen at Hispania Restaurant. The Spanish understand fish. Beef, I am not so sure, at least outside the bull ring. But pig: the finest Spanish pork products easily outclass any other nation’s. The talk complemented the gluttony. What was our favourite meal? I suggested caviar, followed by a few Whitstable oysters, then jamón, and then a game bird: possibly indeed a brace of golden plover. I remember one dinner with Alan Clark at the old Mijanou restaurant where we each had a brace of plover followed by a woodcock. I have never had a finer meal in England. I wish I could remember exactly what we drank, but it was claret serious enough to keep pace with the food. For once, Alan, who liked great wine but in moderate quantities, assisted with the second bottle (I think there were only two). After dinner, he phoned his beloved Jane, who paid me a compliment. ‘Darling Al,’ she said to him, ‘I suspect you’ve been having dinner with Bruce.’ Où sont les repas, et les amis, d’antan?

Perhaps this unseasonal melancholy is provoked by the weather. In the Anglo-Scottish language, few words are more expressive than -dreich. Virtually onomatopoeic, it is best defined as a wet Sunday during February in Arbroath. But today, the view from any London window is drab, drizzle, dull: dreichness abounding. One envies rich friends who have flown off to the Caribbean. One couple were asked whether they were worried about being locked down there. The reply: ‘Here’s hoping.’

Those of us left on these shores can only turn to drink. The discussion on finest meals moved on to cheese and pud. I plumped for Gorgonzola, followed by either a raspberry soufflé or a dish that I know exists but have never succeeded in inducing any girl to make to perfection: the Platonic idea of a chocolate mousse, as black as the heart of darkness. Soufflé followed by mousse would be an acceptable compromise.

Our actual dinner was accompanied by a tasting of gran reserva riojas, mainly from the house of Cune. We had the ’11, the ’12 and the ’14, which was not quite ready. I thought that the 2011 shaded the 2012, though both were good, and excellent value. It would be impossible to find a French wine of the same quality for the same price. Even so, the Cune youngsters were put in their place by a glorious Vina Tondonia gran reserva 1995. That was a bottle to toast in the new year. Good drinking and a happy new year to all readers.

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