Max Hastings

Wine Club 11 June

I never drink before noon or 7 p.m., but find myself ever more often glancing at the sundial and licking my lips as the appointed hours approach. Thereafter at least a bottle of wine a day goes down the pipeline, which distresses government health advisers but gives boundless pleasure to me.

It is hard to detach expectations from knowledge of price. On that basis, grand vintages often disappoint: to us barbarians, no liquid can really be worth, say, £400 a bottle. Some generous hosts recently produced for us such masterpieces as Lafite and Pétrus ’82, both of which felt as if they would have been more impressive a few years back. Some very old Haut Brion seemed positively nasty.

But we all savour the difference between pub fare and modest excellence within the £20 a bottle range, of which offer a terrific choice. In the tasting case they sent me last month, both Penny and I fell in love with the 2012 St-Emilion (1), which we would be proud to offer to anyone, and fabulous value at £19.45 a bottle, down from £19.95. Their St-Julien 2010 (2), also discounted to £19.45, is grown-up stuff which soothed the nerves wonderfully after the stresses to which they have been subjected by Boris Johnson’s presidential campaign.

What is more, the St Julien’s quality held good when I finished the bottle three days after opening, a crime in serious drinkers’ eyes but the sort of thing that goes on here. Both the above are ‘declassifieds’ from great vineyards which the suppliers are not allowed to name.

Like many other buyers, we have almost given up on burgundy because it seems absurdly expensive, and instead enjoy new-world alternatives. Main Divide (3), a pinot noir from New Zealand’s Waipara Valley, did not catch the imagination at first sip, but produced a splendid aftertaste that left me gazing at the bottle with ever-increasing benevolence, especially given its very reasonable £15.45

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