Bruce Anderson

The delights of Spanish wine – and art

First, an apology. In my last column, I appeared to be saying that good champagne does not age. This must have been the impact of Brexit fatigue, for I had meant to write the exact opposite, along the lines of age cannot wither it (as it were) nor custom stale. Good — and especially great — champagne can taste youthful at 20 years old. If I alarmed anyone lucky enough to have such bottles in the cellar, they should relax.

The UK is not the only country where political contentiousness causes stress. The other night, in a repast organised by the Hispania restaurant, I tasted some superb wines in the excellent company of thoughtful Spaniards. That admirable nation has its current troubles, but the wines might have been chosen to lend long perspectives. We started with a Fino 4 Palmas from Gonzalez Byass, a splendid sherry, before moving on to a Vega Sicilia, the finest Spanish wine. This one, from 2016, was barely ready. But it was the perfect accompaniment to a boeuf Wellington; what dish could be more appropriate for an Anglo–Spanish gathering? The Great Duke was a hero in Spain as well as in Britain. A less robust and stoical race might find it hard to forgive Badajoz, one of the few deplorable incidents in British military history. But the Spaniards understand, in Wellington’s own words, that war means a butcher’s bill. He was the glorious commander who forged the alliance which drove the French out of Spain.

A grateful monarch, Ferdinand VII, rewarded him with regal munificence. As well as becoming a Grandee of Spain, he was granted an estate, a Spanish dukedom and the Order of the Golden Fleece, that chivalric dignity which is only rivalled by the Garter (as a Scot I suppose I should assert the primacy of the Thistle, but would not expect overwhelming support).

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