The Swiss appetite for wine gives them a good name

A friend was in town, who rebuts two instances of dull conventional wisdom. The first is that although Swiss Germans may have many qualities – they make excellent bankers – they have no joie de vivre. The Calvinist heritage persists. Second, that the Swiss are an implacably martial race. Other armies, especially the British, use

The world is a mess. Why not find escapism through wine? 

In most children’s stories, the good characters live happily ever after. Works suitable for older readers tend to greater realism. Even ‘Gaudeamus Igitur’, that most joyous of drinking songs, presses the case for carpe diem. ‘Get stuck in to your pleasures laddie,’ it seems to be saying, ‘before it is too late.’ With the world

It’s time to take Italian wine seriously 

Tuscany: earth has not anything to show more fair. The landscape is charming. The gentle hills seem to smile down upon humanity. The inhabitants give the impression that they were already civilised when we British barely had enough woad to paint our backsides blue. There are also the grapes. From early on, Tuscany sent its

Tories know how to find themselves a good drink

I feel old, and feelings are not always wrong, This eheu fugaces mood came on me at the Conservative party conference in Manchester. I realised that it was 46 years since I first attended this gathering, before the present Prime Minister was born and when his predecessor was barely old enough for Father Christmas. The

You have to be truly incompetent to eat badly in Paris

Paris has enough great restaurants to maintain its claim to be the world capital of gastronomy. That said, Parisian residents insist that these days, it is possible to eat badly in their city. Yet I still think that this would require especial incompetence. In Brussels, a strong second in the pecking order, it would be

A perfect slice of Calabria 

The Romans wrote the history, or at least the myths. But long before Romulus murdered Remus, the Mediterranean – the Great Sea – was the principal conduit of civilisation. The Greeks spread their wings across the wine-dark seas, to the extent that even later Romans accepted that much of southern Italy was actually Magna Graecia.

What wine should you serve to a matador?

We were talking bulls. A friend of mine, Alexander Fiske-Harrison, is a remarkable character who can claim at least two distinctions. First, he must have been about the worst-behaved boy in the modern history of Eton College. He claims that this is an understatement and that he heads the role of infamy since the days

Port is fashionable once again

I once drank some excellent port at Ted Heath’s table. The invitation came as a surprise, but it almost certainly had nothing to do with the monstre (un)sacré. The dinner took place during a Bournemouth party conference at the Close in Salisbury. Ted had an unofficial PPS, a then Tory MP called Robert Hughes. Rob

The beauty of a serious Burgundy

It was the English summer at its most perverse. We were drinking Pimm’s while hoping against hope for better news from Old Trafford. As the clock ticked and the rain was unrelenting, one of our number emitted a groan which seemed to start from his boot soles. ‘Why can’t there be a bit of global

Where to drink Tuscany’s finest summer tipples

Some subjects invite an eternal recurrence. One such is Tuscany. The other day, I wrote about that glorious region: its mastery of la dolce vita, its almost effortless command of civilisation. Indeed, Tuscan civilisation is a tautology. Since then, I have paid a brief visit. There was only one shadow. How can one find the

What’s so super about Super Tuscans?

In Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, the hopes embodied in the title dissolve into grimness and black irony. It was all Mussolini’s fault. Despite the endless opportunities Italy offered for enjoyment, Fellini never trusted his own country, or his countrymen. He could not relax into dolce far niente. For decades, many Italian wine-makers churned outa mass-market

The beauty of rosé and roses

What an idyllic setting. We were amidst the joys of high summer in England, with just enough of a breeze to save us from the heat of the sun, and the further help of a swimming pool. Water without, wine within. We were also surrounded by roses, England’s flower, luxuriating in their beauty and innocence.

The Britishness of Bordeaux

Burgundy or Bordeaux? We were discussing that unending question during dinner over the weekend. I think that there is only one answer: ‘Yes.’ ‘But which, you clot?’ ‘Either. Better still, both.’ It is so much a matter of sentiment, and of which great bottle you have been lucky enough to drink most recently. But there

The joy of real beer

England. Despite being a Scotsman, partly brought up in Ulster, I have taken so much Englishness for granted over so many years. So do most Englishmen, to at least as great an extent as the inhabitants of any other major country. But I hope that I am just enough of a historian to enquire about

The restorative qualities of a great martini

It was a perfect setting for a spring day, next to a 15th-century barn. Other walls and buildings had clearly recycled ancient masonry over the centuries. This was in Kent. Though not that far from Ashford station, it was a garden deep in the garden of England: l’Angleterre profonde. There are excellent local pubs, with

In praise of Bellamy’s

Of all London districts, there is no more charming name than Mayfair. It makes one think of pretty shepherdesses, giggling and blushing as swains serenade them with garlands of spring flowers. But that would have been some time ago, even before the last nightingale sang in Berkeley Square. These days, the serenading would be courtesy

A nose of wet chihuahua: the rich vocabulary of wine

Some decades ago, there was a Tory MP called John Stokes: eventually, and deservedly, Sir John. He had no interest in holding ministerial office, which was just as well, because he would never have been on any whips’ list for preferment. John was a right-winger: a very right-winger. I once told him that he was

The restorative power of great claret

‘Come dance with me in Ireland.’ That has always struck me as an enchanting prospect, though a recent Hibernian venture did not involve dancing and took place in London. There was an Irish academic called R.B. McDowell. To call him eccentric would be an understatement. He adorned Trinity College Dublin for decades, starting from the