My friend Dominic decided that it was time to convoke a lunch. There were matters to discuss, including that perennial topic, the travails of the Tory party. We met at the end of last week, before the Labour conference. In the old pre-Blair days, Labour conferences were generally run as benefit matches for the Conservatives, whose poll ratings were usually enhanced by several points. Perhaps those good old times would return. There was a jingle of yesteryear: ‘Anything you can do, I can do better.’ Mr Corbyn seemed determined to replace ‘better’ with ‘worse’, and the Labour conference did indeed go as well as we had hoped. Then the Supreme Court took a hand. We are back to confusion worse confounded.
Still, there is an antidote, as expressed in the third wisest phrase in the Tory lexicon, only surpassed by Lord Falkland and an anonymous Irishman. Falkland said that when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. The Hibernian was less elevated: ‘Well, this pig does not weigh as much as I thought it did, but then again, I never thought it would.’ The third prize goes to Julian Amery, purporting to quote a Russian grand duke: ‘Between the revolution and the firing squad, there is always time for a bottle of Champagne.’
Champagne is the most versatile of wines; it can be drunk at any hour of the day or night. As the name ‘fizz’ suggests, it is a splendid life enhancer. But Dominic had some old Champagne which ought to do more than merely fizz. He wanted to know how it was developing.
It was given a stiff test. We lunched at Oswald’s, Robin Birley’s new club, where members can store their own wine. Oswald’s has already been praised in this column, and judging by the return visit, it continues to excel. A ceviche of yellow-tail tuna was followed by perfect lamb chops. To accompany them, we started with a Corton-Charlemagne ’15, Bonneau du Martray, a delightful expression of Chardonnay: butter, honey, lemon and gentle herbs, combining to create playfulness, subtlety and strength.
There was then a competition between Burgundy and Bordeaux. The Burgundians fielded a Vosne-Romanee 2002 Duvault-Blochet, from the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Again, there was delicacy and power, with a gloriously long finish. It was outgunned, but there was no shame involved in striking its colours — to a 1982 Mouton-Rothschild. As befits a great wine from a great year, it was only just ready for drinking. At its own centenary, it might well enchant palates yet unborn.
So the Champagnes had work to do. But they were both from Le Mesnil, the commune which produces some of the best there is. The first was a 1997 Salon, ‘S’ de Mesnil, a wine only produced in outstanding years. It did fizz and needed time in the glass before it came into its own. Then the depth emerged. This is a serious Champagne, still marching at a brisk light-infantry pace even after 20 years.
The final wine was a Krug 1990, Clos du Mesnil. How would it cope? There was a simple answer: effortlessly. Finis coronat opus. It arrived at a cool cellar temperature, with the offer of an ice-bucket, which we declined. 15/16°C was the ideal temperature. This was a Champagne which had grown into greatness. We unanimously agreed to crown it as the victor ludorum, which could be run against any white wine in the world. Although there was a brief musty nose when it emerged from the bottle, that was probably just bottle-stink. It was in no way reflected in the taste.
Even so, this is not a wine which will last for ever. But it should be good for much of the next decade. In that case, it will outlive significant elements of the current political dispensation. Let us hope that they are the bad ones.