Three tribal Tories had gathered for a convivial glass, and also a consolatory one. One quoted Huskisson’s verdict after Goderich’s brief and worthless premiership. ‘Never surely was there a man at the head of affairs so weak, undecided and utterly helpless.’ Well, the female sex has now caught up. I said that at least she had refuted Hopkins. ‘No worst, there is none.’ As long as Theresa May is in charge, there could always be a worst. The terrible premier has out-gloomed the Terrible Sonnets.
We were hiding away in a club, hoping not to meet any foreigners. Not that any of us is in the least xenophobic. One chap has a house in France; another regularly takes a place in Italy. Our affection for abroad goes well beyond its food and its bottles. That said, none of us has ever felt that other nations have much to teach us about politics. We would not have admitted a real-life Mr Podsnap into our circle and Dickens would have expected us to dismiss his character’s views with derision. Yet Dickens was always a shallow thinker on political questions and the jarring tone should not conceal the fact that for once, Podsnap had stumbled into sense. ‘Our constitution, Sir. We Englishmen are very proud of our constitution, Sir. It was bestowed upon us by Providence. No other country is so favoured as this country.’
Until recently, a lot of foreigners were unconscious Podsnap-ists. Although none of my overseas friends have put it in quite the words that I am about to use, none would have repudiated them. ‘Even if it often conceals the fact, most of the world admires your political system. It appears to combine vigorous democracy with ultimate stability. You have a House of Commons which often sounds like a disorderly zoo, but also traditions based on the monarchy that add a dimension of grandeur and secular transcendence. All this is the perfect framework for freedom under the rule of law.’
Recently, however, there has been another note, of bewilderment and even condescension. On all sides one hears the same query: ‘So what has gone wrong?’ If not Methuselah’s lifespan, one would require at least a Methuselah-sized bottle to address that question — or become so sozzled that it would no longer matter. So we confined ourselves to the temperance of single bottles: three political obsessives determined not to discuss politics.
We started in New Zealand. Its wines are continually improving. The critics used to write that they were good in every respect, except value. That is becoming less and less true, for the quality justifies the prices. The whites from the Kumeu river are especially good. Although I have praised them before, they justify repetition. The Hunting Hill chardonnay is excellent. Alas, this has been noticed. Ideally, the wine needs time, but it seems impossible to come by vintages earlier than 2016. Our bottle of that year drank well. Yet it will be even better in five years’ time and there is no reason to suppose that it will have faded a further five years after that.
Back to the northern hemisphere and our own continent, we compared two fine Riojas, a Viña Tondonia Reserva ’01 and a Cune Imperial Reserva ’08. Viña Tondonias age beautifully, and this one was just at its peak. We thought that it slightly shaded the younger rival. In recent years, wine bargain has virtually become an oxymoron. But Spain is an exception. If you come across older vintages from good growers, pounce on them.
Finally, a pudding wine was called for: a Rivesaltes 1946 from Languedoc-Roussillon. It was delicious and still perfectly fresh: a wine that deserves to be better known.
We now felt emboldened — or at least embottled — enough to face down any inquisitive foreigner, and to explain the current de-gringolade. It is true that referendums sit uneasily with our parliamentary system. Then again, so does membership of the EU.