1. Can you tell us what your first wine revelation was?
That life always looks rosier with a decent glass of wine at hand and the promise of more in the bottle.
2. You’re an infamous observer of ‘Dry January’. What wine do you miss most in abstinence?
A crisp, clean, zesty, aromatic, refreshing, slightly tropical, all round lip-smacking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from, say, Seresin Estate, Churton, Pask or Jackson Estate. And now you’ve got me thinking about it I really do miss it. Grrrr!
3. Your father Cyril was a celebrated oenophile. Did he leave you a marvellous cellar?
No, the rotter didn’t, he drank it all! He judged his departure almost to perfection, leaving only a handful of bottles for his adoring only child. In fairness, there were a few bottles of his beloved Camus Cognac and a couple of 1960 Ch. Lafite – a lousy vintage, I know, but my birth year nonetheless. My pa never tired of pointing out that I was conceived in 1959, though, a cracking vintage.
4. In any month other than January what is the preferred aperitif chez Ray?
Hmmm, there are several. I’d hate you to think I was a one-aperitif sort of chap. Depending on how I feel, who else is around and what I’m going to be doing later I tend to lean on a Negroni (made with Brighton Gin, natch), a bone dry Manzanilla (usually La Gitana), a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc from any number of producers (see above) or a chilled glass of fizz.
5. Can you tell us an interesting food and wine pairing from your recent travels?
It’s not wine, I know, but the rum punch and curried goat I had the other day at BB’s Crabback in St George’s, Grenada, were sublime, the sweetness of the punch and the kick of the alcohol complementing the spicy curry perfectly. I went in gasping for a glass of white wine and came out vowing never to drink anything other than rum punch again. The weekend I got back, my wife and I rounded up the neighbours and had a full-on Caribbean feast, recreating both the punch and the curried goat. Bliss!
6. Is there a style of wine which you actively dislike or think is overrated?
So-called ‘natural’ wines. I mean, what the heck is all that about??
7. And is there anything that should be championed to a wider audience?
Don’t get me started! The wines of Alsace for a start. It’s probably my favourite region in all France and the wines are truly wonderful although grossly underrated over here. And I can’t understand why, since their variety is amazing – bone dry to richly sweet with all stops in between and fab sparklers too; even the Pinot Noirs are lovely – and they’re easily the most food-friendly (dread phrase) of wines. After all, the locals know a fair bit about fine grub with more Michelin stars than anywhere else in France other than Paris. Fine sherry deserves a wider audience too although I’m happy to say that that revolution seems already to have started. And finally, sweet or demi-sec champagne, than which there is no finer 11am reviver (other than a bloody mary in true extremis), partner to wedding cake, strawberries and cream or, well, an English summer.
8. If ‘Ray Towers’ was engulfed in flames and you could only grab one bottle what would it be?
Probably the last treasured bottle of my pa’s Camus Cognac.
9. Is there a wine that you dream of tasting that has somehow eluded you?
Nope, can’t say that there is. Not because I’ve drunk such amazing bottles, just that there is so much to enjoy out there and almost every wine I taste is a treat. Besides, I hate the idea of ticking ‘must-drink’ wines off a list. Where’s the joy in that? Some of the most enjoyable wines I’ve drunk have been the humblest and most simple. They hit the spot, though, simply because of where I drank them or who I drank them with.
10. If I was (hypothetically) treating you to lunch. Where would you want to dine and what would be your ‘safe bet’ on the wine list?
Hypothetically is the word! But in the unlikely event of you shouting me lunch, I’d have to go for Bellamy’s in London, a fabulous spot: discreet, clubby, great service and tip-top grub. As for the ‘safe bet’ vino, it’d have to be Alain Graillot’s scrumptious Crozes Hermitage Blanc which I absolutely adore and which I thank you heartily for introducing me to (and applaud you for stocking and for selling on to Bellamy’s…).
Jonathan Ray is the drinks editor of The Spectator. Simon Hoggart’s classic book ‘Life’s Too Short to Drink Bad Wine’, fully revised and updated by Jonathan, is out now.
This article first appeared on the Yapp Brothers website on 19th January 2017