When I was at school, some time before the last ice age, the final day of term was a quasi-holiday. There might be slide shows, and I remember my housemaster introducing me to Klee and Mondrian (I am still unconvinced about Mondrian). Today, it is all very different. I gather that once the exams are over, the brats are sent on trips or expeditions. The fear is that if they were confined to barracks, they would wreck the place.
The Tory high command (if there is one) clearly needs to consult a cunning modern schoolmaster. In the final days of the last term, Conservative MPs came close to sabotage and mutiny. Much the most formidable political machine of the past two centuries departed for the summer with all the dignity of an overturned ant hill.
Against that background, some Tories met. We live in a world of instability and doubt. Certainties — ethical, social, political, geopolitical — are all under threat. Then again, Tories have always taken a sceptical view of the human condition. Pessimism comes easily to us, especially in the form of eupeptic pessimism. Thus it was the other evening. But even amid the general crumbling, a few moral imperatives retain their power, especially the demands of friendship. One of our number had cases snorting in the seven sleepers’ den, or more accurately, lying snug in Berry Bros’ cellars. He thought it was time for an inspection and summoned three of us to help. We obeyed his call. He is successful in one of the more interesting parts of the City: the other two are historians.
We began with a wine which was also a battle-cry — Pol Roget’s Cuvée Winston Churchill 2004. The house of Polly Roger will not reveal its vignerons’ secrets, but this had Pinot Noir for structure plus Chardonnay for sweetness and delicacy. It was a sublime blend of biscuit and fizz. Fourteen tears old, it tasted as if it had been bottled yesterday. ‘Churchill! thou shouldst be living at this hour: England hath need of thee.’ This was a wine worthy for a toast to the Great Man’s immortality. It will be many years before it succumbs to mortality.
How do you move off from such a champagne? Easily, it proved. The next wine was a le Montrachet, Joseph Drouhin, 09. We could argue as to which is the finest red Burgundy. Romanée-Conti is usually given precedence, but a few weeks ago I tasted —and wrote about — a Chambertin-Clos de Bèze ’02 from Armand Rousseau. That was beyond superlative. With whites, there is no problem. Le Montrachet is facile princeps.
Our bottle had been opened and decanted two hours earlier. Even so, its splendour was complemented by the sauciness of extreme youth. This was a Terpsichorean melody of limestone and honey. As the evening went on, it got better and better in the glass. I predict that it will be magnificent in 2050: others will have to judge.
Then, a Margaux 2000, in its prime and likely to remain there for quite some decades. Like a lot of Margaux, it too has a saucy right bank quality. Forgive me for quoting myself, but I cannot improve on an earlier comment: you drink a Pauillac, you undress a Margaux.
But the laurels went to another wine. I recently re-read the Odyssey, wishing that I had been made to persevere with Greek. Athena, the goddess with the flashing eyes, is surely the greatest of female heroines. The ’96 Yquem was a wine worthy of a libation to her. Perfect with foie gras and later on with white peaches, absolutely mature and likely to remain so this many a decade, it tasted like a Greek temple melted down in honey.
Why had we been pessimistic at the beginning of the evening? None of us could remember. Lotus-drinking had prevailed.