The best bottle to come from the Gigondas

One needs wine more than ever, yet when imbibing, it can be hard to concentrate. So much is going on. We were at table and the news came through about Slovakia. Was this an obscure incident, regrettable but below the level of geopolitics? Or would it become a second Sarajevo? Fortunately, that seems unlikely. In Mitteleuropa, there are always ancestral voices prophesying war and there is usually plenty of dry timber. But it does not seem that this assassination attempt will be the spark. The Barruols have a reputation for delightful eccentricity but they are committed to their bottles When we had come to that conclusion, there was an obvious

How to become an old soak

Drink and longevity: there seems to have been a successful counter-attack against the puritans, prohibitionists and other health faddists. Indeed, there is virtually a consensus that red wine has almost medicinal properties. That said, a confusion about so-called units remains. When the measurement was explained to me, I said that it sounded adequate. ‘Really?’ ‘Yes, that ought to be more or less enough.’ Then the cross-purposes were unscrambled. The 98 units or whatever – a figure clearly designed to give a bogus authority to the calculation – was a weekly total, not a daily one. There’s no reason whya normal wine-drinker should not live to be an old soak  There

The case for Churchillian drinking

Churchill. No disrespect to Andrew Roberts’s more recent work, but I set out to look up a point about drink in Roy Jenkins’s biography and ended up rereading it. I think that it is Roy’s best book and extremely well written. There are also passages where he slips in points from his own experience of high office: never excessive, always illuminating. Although Churchill was rarely drunk, he was equally rarely sober I did not need to be reminded what an extraordinary figure Churchill was: the drama was so vivid. After the ‘fight on the beaches’ oration, Josiah Wedgwood, a Labour MP, said that it was the speech of a thousand

The glory of German wines

I have had three recent conversations, all lively if unrelated – and all well lubricated. The first concerned Anglo-Saxon England around ad 700. Recent discoveries of coin hoards suggested that economic activity during that period of the Dark Ages was more extensive than had been supposed. Without damaging the coins, it had been possible to establish that some of their silver content had come from Byzantium. Every timeI drink a German wine I am convinced that one should do so more often The main discussants were a couple of academics who had been disciples and friends of Philip Grierson, one of the greatest numismatists of all time: a scholar, collector

A fitting overture to Holy Week

Holy Week, but not everywhere. After reading that the diocese of Birmingham wanted to hire staff to help with deconstructing whiteness, only one conclusion is possible. Large parts of the C of E have become a theological and liturgical wilderness. The Devil is in charge and it is unholy week, 52 weeks a year. Anglican friends assure me that this is overdoing the pessimism. There are sound clerics – even the occasional sound bishop – and in some areas, traditions survive. Certainly Sherborne Abbey has just put on a superb Palm Sunday, and the procession included a donkey, the sweetest-natured of animals and a perpetual outlet for sentimentality. It is a delight to

There is good news in the world – and it is mostly about wine

My last piece began with a one-word sentence: ‘Gloom.’ A dear friend reproached me. ‘In a world already abundant with gloom, surely you can find a way of cheering us up. After all, you’re not writing about politics – or at least you’re not supposed to be.’ I promised to try harder to propagate good news. When it comes to wine, that is not impossible. Twenty years ago, in Lisbon, I was treated to a bottle of Barca Velha. I was told that the Portuguese regarded it as their Château Latour. Needless to say, it was not that good but I remember thinking that it was a jolly decent drop

Idris Elba’s champagne makes the world seem less troubled

Gloom. Relentless rain out of a sullen sky enhanced an already pessimistic mood. We were talking geopolitics and agreeing that the West ought to brace itself for a hard landing. Try as we might, we could find no good news, anywhere. Where is the self-belief of the Reagan/Thatcher years? Instead, a culture war is taking place Some of us were veterans, one or two of whom had spent time in Washington in 1980, the build-up to the Reagan era and the prelude to the most successful decade in modern peacetime history, in which Margaret Thatcher played a crucial role. By the end, the West had won the Cold War, the

I’m a rosé convert

Paris is more than a city. It is a state of mind, an aspiration. Though it glorifies the military, it remains feminine and beguiling. Its heroes moved effortlessly from triumphs on the battlefield to triumphs in the boudoir. The very stones of Paris seem redolent of the dreams and ecstasies of past lovers, and of their frustrations, follies and pains. Heloise and Abelard loved and suffered here. We had come to perform two simple tasks: sitting in judgment over wine and food In many respects, alas, contemporary Paris has fallen a long way from romance. Everyone has stories of rubbish, dirt and rats. The days when bon chic, bon genre

The miracle of limoncello

Consider the paradox of lemons. In Italy, one associates them with scented groves. A few years ago, Helena Attlee wrote the book The Land Where Lemons Grow, in which citrus fruits become a golden thread running through the history of Italian agriculture. Yet though the lemon is arguably the most beautiful of fruits, its tart taste is bracing. A spremuta di limone finds a swift route to any shaving nicks. Most limoncello is produced on the Amalfi coast but there is an outlier from Godalming But the lemon can be sweetened, in the form of limoncello, an after-dinner drink of no great subtlety, good for pouring over puddings but hardly a

I’m raising a glass to the Tory party’s future

Wine stimulates the wits, emboldens debate, and inspires the mind. Judicious quantities, abetted by judicious quality, encourage the participants to attack the important questions. Thus it has been over the past few days, discussing God and the Universe. I was talking to an astronomer, whose day is spent contemplating the vastness of interstellar space. Consider one single light year, and how far that would take us from our own celestial neighbourhood. Then let your mind give way before the unimaginable distances. Already daunted, move onwards to the queen of the sciences, theology, and the question posed by that outstanding 20th-century theologian, Mr Prendergast in Decline and Fall. He could not

My adventures in rosé

During the festive season, I usually spend far too much time thinking and talking about politics. But the latest was an exception. One hostess fixed me with a gimlet eye and announced that she had forbidden any discussion of Israel/Palestine. At a recent dinner party, the table had been repeatedly banged, someone had stormed out and others were now on non-speaks. I quoted the late Clarissa Eden. During the Suez crisis, she felt that the Canal was running through her drawing-room. This girl gave a hearty nod in agreement. I was happy to agree with the ban, but declared my surprise. How could anyone be so sure of the solution?

Let’s hope for good cheer this Christmas

A couple of years ago, I saw a charming cartoon. A boy and a girl aged about seven were in an earnest conversation. ‘Of course I don’t believe in Father Christmas,’ said the boy. ‘But we’ve got to keep up the pretence for the sake of the parents.’ This Christmas, all over the world, many parents will be especially keen to dwell on the great festival’s innocent joys. Innocence: in many places the fear is that the glory of birth will give way to the massacre of the innocents. Like the shepherds, a large number of people are sore afraid. Unlike the shepherds, their fear has no relief at hand

I hope David Cameron will find time to drink the odd good bottle

Back in 1989, a most unsatisfactory fellow called General Aoun started a civil war around Beirut in the hope of seizing control of the Maronite Christian portions of Lebanon. He ended up with political wreckage, which has endured. Château Berliquet 2015 is a fruity St Emilion that deserves to be better known During the fighting, I spent a few days cut off in the British ambassador’s summer residence, watching the battle going on below. We felt safer than we probably were, partly because Pauline Ramsay, the ambassador’s enchanting wife, tried to turn the crisis into a house party. So British: so best of British. We watched, helpless, as one block

‘The food is as good as you will find in London’: Saison at Raffles London, reviewed

The Old War Office (bad acronym OWO) on Whitehall is now a Raffles hotel: you can stay in Winston Churchill’s office if that helps you sleep at night. I’m not sure I could, but this is the rational endgame of privatisation: you can sleep inside British history, which is quite close to sleeping through it. War isn’t the jolly marketing riff it was five weeks ago, and the atmosphere in the OWO reflects this. Even so, you need the money of a (fleeing) Tory donor to stay here, and perhaps they won’t notice that pre-war is outside their door in the form of children setting off fireworks and picking fights

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 in such a mess – less carpe diem than dies irae – the case for a vinous route to escapism might seen persuasive. Housman seemed to think so. ‘Could man be drunk for ever,’ starts one poem, then all would be well. Not for long. ‘But men at whiles are sober/ And think by fits

‘They do better spaghetti bolognese in Hampstead for a tenner’: The Lobby at The Peninsula, reviewed

The Peninsula is a new hotel at Hyde Park Corner. It is part of the trend for absurd expense: rooms start at £1,400 a night and express the kind of preening mono-chrome blandness that will be the London of the future. It is a building of great ugliness – I would type the names of planners who allowed it, but on these pages it is incitement to violence. It sits on its six-lane round-about between the Lanesborough hotel and a long peeling red-brick late Victorian terrace that once appeared in a Stephen Poliakoff film about how things always fall apart. This food knows nothing of beauty, delicacy or comfort: it’s

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 vinous plenitude to Rome. Today, it still does, and to Orbi as well as Urbi. There was a time when Italian wine was not taken seriously in the world, and Italians themselves seemed to concur with this patronising assessment. That is no longer the case. One of the most interesting intellectual disputes in vinous matters

‘Well-priced and skilful’: Masala Zone, reviewed

There are cursed restaurants and cursed women, and this makes them no less interesting. One is Maxim’s in Paris, which knows it – it gaily sells ties in a charnel house decorated for the Masque of the Red Death – and another is the Criterion at Piccadilly Circus, which doesn’t. One day it might meet its destiny, which is to be an Angus Steakhouse (this might lift the curse, the Angus Steakhouse has its own magic) but it isn’t there yet. Restaurant after restaurant favours hope over experience here: Marco Pierre White (Mark White) passed through, spilling acronyms about. I suppose it serves it right for being in the neo-Byzantine

With Ewan Venters

37 min listen

Ewan Venters is the former chief executive of Fortnum & Mason and is now the CEO of Artfarm and Hauser & Wirth. Ewan is launching Artfarm’s first London venture combining food, drink and art which will also mark the revival of the historic Mayfair landmark, The Audley. Presented by Olivia Potts.Produced by Linden Kemkaran.

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 trouble is that she still believes in him. Jeroboams loves nothing more than finding small growers who produce good bottles There have been changes in the near half-century. In the old days, the conference hotel was dominated by knights of the shire, or the grander esquires of the suburbs. They were all at least 55