Ronnie Corbett was an absolute gent, one of the nicest of men and hilarious company. He was self-deprecating, courteous and genuinely charming with an endless stream of anecdotes and a fine line in dirty limericks. He loved his wine and, although he denied it, was very knowledgeable about it.
I met him about ten years ago when I interviewed him over lunch. We kept loosely in touch thereafter, enjoying the occasional very liquid lunch together, usually in the company of his just-as-funny-and-almost-as-ribald wife, Anne.
I remember we got through an awful lot of Théophile Roederer champagne at Scott’s before tucking into some Yarra Yering Chardonnay from Australia’s Yarra Valley, Ronnie’s choice.
He explained that he’d retained a fondness for Aussie wine ever since he and Ronnie Barker spent a year in Sydney touring The Two Ronnies. Up until then, Ronnie told me, he hadn’t really ‘got’ wine. But once he met that titan of the Australian wine trade, Len Evans (Rothbury Estate, Petaluma), played a lot of golf with him and drank a lot of wine, he just fell in love with it.
And for a small man (he was the exact same height as my father: 5 ft, 1¾ ins) Ronnie Corbett could certainly pack away a gratifying amount of refreshment (as indeed could my father).
Whenever we met for lunch, Anne would get stuck in to the G&Ts and Ronnie would make straight for the vino, claiming that was plenty strong enough.
He would email me or send me a card when he found something he particularly liked such as Berrys’ Extra Ordinary Claret (‘Really terrific and really great value’) or some Fortnum’s Chambolle-Musigny (‘Took a few bottles to Scotland; delicious’).
Ronnie enjoyed big Argentine reds such as Clos de la Siete and – even though he claimed not to like Chardonnay – white burgundy such as Macon Lugny, St. Véran, Rully and Macon Viré, rightly considering them to be far better value than the Meursaults and Puligny-Montrachets of this world.
He proudly admitted that he and Anne drank wine every night at home (she white and he red) and he had little time for counting the number of alcohol units consumed.
‘As if I’d ever drink more than a wee sip,’ he once told me, mock-seriously. ‘I just make sure that it’s a good wee sip.’
Goodbye Ronnie, here’s to you.