Drink

Should you really pair Pimm’s with oysters?

6 August 2022

9:00 AM

6 August 2022

9:00 AM

Imagine a camel train, crossing the great desert. The remaining water is rancid; the beasts’ humps are shrunken. Death looms. Then suddenly, there is the sound of a fountain plashing and the scent of sherbet. Old Abdullah, who has done the journey often, as he has been reminding everyone for ten days and making his companions increasingly homicidal, is vindicated. The oasis is at hand.

Although Londoners, afflicted by heat, may feel affinity with those sons of the desert, our conditions are not so dire. For a start, there are many more oases, in the form of bars or clubs. That brings us to Pimm’s, that admirable method of rehydration.

According to the sources, Mr Pimm invented the drink to accompany oysters. Eh? I have never tried the combination, but on consulting my palate, am assured that it would not do. Moreover, Pimm’s comes into its own once there is no ‘r’ in the month; when oysters are milky and unsatisfactory.

Oysters and champagne can sort of work, for an unsophisticated event. But to give the bivalves a proper Walrus and the Carpenter send-off, there is nothing to beat Muscadet sur lie. Pimm’s? Nonsense.


Across the Atlantic, the descendants of the revolted colonists often have a sweet tooth. Although there is a drink called mint juleps, which is all right, Pimm’s is vastly superior. Moreover, there are normal summers in the UK – and will be again – when Pimm’s is the sole reminder of how summer ought to taste. Yet in parts of the States, the weather would encourage Pimm’s from February to November. But bottles are hard to find. Effective marketing is overdue.

Imagine the advert. Bertie Wooster is in a Henley blazer. Jeeves is pouring him a glass of Pimm’s. There is only one problem. The clouds are lowering. The rain is drenching. ‘Jolly weather, what ho, Jeeves?’ ‘Yes, Sir. As the Bard tells us, the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.’ ‘Blaze. We could do with one of those.’ ‘Yes, Sir.’

Cut to a Californian pool-side barbecue. ‘The English have invented the perfect summer drink. You don’t need the English summer climate to enjoy it.’ Get to work, Madison Avenue.

In these temperatures, Pimm’s and beer are essential. But once the heat of the day fades, there is a need for drinks with more structure. I have always felt that whites from the Rhône are neglected. That view was reinforced by a recent encounter with that outstanding House, Jean-Louis Chave.

Their Hermitage blanc 2016 needs more time. If opening the bottle now, it would be best to decant it and keep at cool cellar temperature for a couple of hours. It has subtlety and power and is well able to stand up to a serious white Burgundy. A St Joseph 2020 has even more need of maturing. I am always reluctant to judge very young wines, but I suspect that this will grow into something delicious.

Maturity can evoke melancholy thoughts. The past two months have seen the passing of two great men who were good mutual friends. Peter Inge, field marshal, knight of the Garter, peer of the realm and holder of many other honours was a formidable soldier and a delightful fellow. Anthony Barton was a terrific winemaker and a great Anglophile.

He and Peter enjoyed discussing wine over a good bottle. Perhaps they are now doing so for both of them deserve the Elysian fields. At a recent lunch, some of us raised a glass of Anthony’s Leoville-Barton 2005 to two irreplaceable friends.

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