This is something to be said for starting to celebrate Christmas before the end of the grouse season. It provides a good excuse for opening the odd bottle. Apropos bottles, the club of that name has not featured on this page for some time. That is not because of idleness. One Bottle is single-handedly defending the criminal justice system. Others are editing and writing for Reaction, an online journal which, though not (quite) as right-wing as it sounds, is waging the culture wars. There may be further members, but if so, they were elected late in the evening, and no one can remember who they were.
But it is pleasing to report that the two junior Bottles are in fine form. Even if they are still too young for full participation, Charlie and Florrie are Bottledom’s military wing. At 13, Charlie has become a formidable killer of game and vermin, with almost magical powers. When he was only seven, he climbed a tree and killed a pigeon. The other day, a partridge flew into his bedroom. He caught it, but then sportingly released it, hoping that they will meet again in the shooting field. On one occasion, a sardonic old keeper said to me: ‘Sir, if you shoot ’em in the head, their arse will die too.’ Less and less in need of such counsel, Charlie is far too sensible not to seek it out and heed it.
His betrothed, Florrie, has ground to make up. But she is not yet eight. That is the age when it is unclear whether children still believe in Santa Claus, or are only pretending in order to indulge the older generation’s sentimentality. Whoever the donor, Florrie has chosen an air rifle for this year’s present. Up to now, her parents’ policies in Northamptonshire have provided a refuge for grey squirrels and rabbits. Those days will soon be over. On the first day of Christmas, the first gun. On the second, the first bag.
Partly in order to chuckle over and applaud their juniors’ efforts, the senior Bottles did manage to cram a recent meeting into their schedules. We drank a number of interesting wines. A Furmint Mád, a dry wine from the tokai grape, was a further example of the ingenuity and strength of the post-communist Hungarian wine industry. Subtle and smoky, it worked well with fish.
A 2007 Belgrave followed, and found favour. There was a long period when it was easy to forget that Belgrave is a fifth growth. It appeared to have subsided comfortably to Cru Bourgeois status. Not these days. Although it does not rival the super fifths — Pontet-Canet, Lynch-Bages, and increasingly Grand-Puy Lacoste — it is vastly more accessibly priced and thoroughly worth its place as a classed growth.
But there were greater stars in the firmament. I have often praised the older Gran Riservas of Viña Tondonia. But that excellent house has rivals. Although Huntsworth of Kensington Church Street cannot rival the first growths — Berry Bros, Justerini and Brooks — it is a rollickingly old-fashioned wine merchant run as a labour of love by people who know their stuff and take pleasure in sending their wines to good homes. At £27, their red Urbina Gran Reserva Especial 1994 is a delight and a bargain. Indeed, revealing its existence is a Santa Claus present to readers.
Manfred Prum of J.J. Prum would make a good Santa Claus. Jovial and surprisingly eccentric for a German, he is also profoundly serious about his craft. No one on the Mosel makes better wine: some would say, no one in Germany. I tasted his Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese ’09. It would be delicious with foie gras, or a proper old-fashioned Christmas pudding, or just on its own. With endless length, a lingering life-enhancing structure and sweetness, this is a wine for Christmas and for all seasons.