I never drink before noon or 7 p.m., but find myself ever more often glancing at the sundial and licking my lips as the appointed hours approach. Thereafter at least a bottle of wine a day goes down the pipeline, which distresses government health advisers but gives boundless pleasure to me.
It is hard to detach expectations from knowledge of price. On that basis, grand vintages often disappoint: to us barbarians, no liquid can really be worth, say, £400 a bottle. Some generous hosts recently produced for us such masterpieces as Lafite and Pétrus ’82, both of which felt as if they would have been more impressive a few years back. Some very old Haut Brion seemed positively nasty.
But we all savour the difference between pub fare and modest excellence within the £20 a bottle range, of which FromVineyardsDirect.com offer a terrific choice. In the tasting case they sent me last month, both Penny and I fell in love with the 2012 St-Emilion (1), which we would be proud to offer to anyone, and fabulous value at £19.45 a bottle, down from £19.95. Their St-Julien 2010 (2), also discounted to £19.45, is grown-up stuff which soothed the nerves wonderfully after the stresses to which they have been subjected by Boris Johnson’s presidential campaign.
What is more, the St Julien’s quality held good when I finished the bottle three days after opening, a crime in serious drinkers’ eyes but the sort of thing that goes on here. Both the above are ‘declassifieds’ from great vineyards which the suppliers are not allowed to name.
Like many other buyers, we have almost given up on burgundy because it seems absurdly expensive, and instead enjoy new-world alternatives. Main Divide (3), a pinot noir from New Zealand’s Waipara Valley, did not catch the imagination at first sip, but produced a splendid aftertaste that left me gazing at the bottle with ever-increasing benevolence, especially given its very reasonable £15.45 price tag, down from £15.95.
A landmark in my drinking career was a 1980 lunch in Paris with an enchanting former SOE officer named Jacques Poirier, whom I was quizzing for a book about his wartime days in occupied France. ‘If we are to talk about Resistance,’ he said exuberantly, ‘we must drink the drink of Resistance!’
He told me about Mayor Félix Kir of Dijon, who gave his name to the splendid aperitif in the late 1940s. Poirier, however, said that Resistants had drunk kir much earlier, to disguise the horrid flavour of the poor wine that had alone been left unlooted by the Germans. Thus this hero introduced me to cassis and white wine, which we have enjoyed ever since.
David Campbell of FromVineyardsDirect foamed considerably at the notion of adulterating his magnificent products with cassis, so I thought it best not to tell him that in summer the Hastingses also sometimes add water to their red wine. That is the sort of family we are, and it also staves off alcoholism a little longer.
Of course it would be a sin to create kir from seriously good stuff, but it does fine things with middle-of-the-range bottles, in which I would include FromVineyardsDirect’s 2014 Mâcon-Péronne Domaine du Bicheron (5) at £10.95 — down from £11.45 — a pleasantly soft, aromatic Burgundian contributor to happiness.
I have no significant money to count, but cherish visits to our enthusiastically stocked cellar, to debate what we shall drink with our next guests. Several of the above-mentioned cast list will soon lie. Our average domestic tipple costs around £8 from the Wine Society. We also keep for entertaining plenty of Pauillac, mostly Batailley with some Grand-Puy-Lacoste, and St Juliens headed by Léoville-Poyferré. I have a tip to pass on, courtesy of Antony Beevor, who put us onto it: Brut Millésime vintage champagne, currently the 2008, from Hubert Fagot of Rilly-La-Montagne at €17.30 a bottle.
It has a flavour and body few heavyweight labels can match, and is unbeatable party value. Every few years I take the car over to collect a few cases, which Fagot delivers to an Arras warehouse.
FromVineyardsDirect’s mixed case has three bottles of each of their wines and delivery, as ever, is free.