Pimm’s No.6.

Well, that’s Wimbledon done and dusted for another year. All hail King Roger! It’s been a great tournament with much to enjoy. And it has certainly been a darn sight more enjoyable than the second Test match against South Africa. What a debacle that was. Sigh. Still, both events have given me the chance — armchair sportsman that I am — to settle back on the sofa, put my feet up, and rediscover my love of Pimm’s. I’m told that spectators got through 320,000 glasses of the stuff at Wimbledon over two weeks; just imagine how many couch potatoes like me were also knocking it back at home. That’s quite

Loire Valley

When I was a child growing up in Kent in the Seventies the highlight of any holiday or half term would be those bright sunny mornings when my father sniffed the air and suggested an impromptu trip to France. We would pile into my parents’ Mini, speed across Romney Marsh to Lydd Airport (Lydd Ferryfield as it then was), head directly onto the asphalt apron and then – taking a bit of a run at it – straight up a ramp through the open nose doors of a British United Air Ferries Bristol Superfreighter and deep into the aeroplane’s belly. These cumbersome craft could carry three cars and twenty passengers

Pol Roger 2008

            Pol Roger Champagne is pretty much the house pour at the Spectator. Not every day, you understand, only when the occasion demands it. You know the sort of thing: mid-morning on Monday to beat the blues; lunch time on press day to celebrate that week’s issue; afternoon on Friday to welcome the weekend.             Well, maybe we’re not quite as bibulous as that. But there are certainly more bottles of Pol Roger in the office fridge than there are of milk and it’s a fact that no party of note or celebration at the Spectator passes by without several familiar white foil bottles being

The Joy of our Spectator Wine Club lunches

Our final Spectator Wine Club lunch of the year was a huge success last week. There was something of a festive, end of term feel to it and although we didn’t quite have to flick the boardroom lights it was clear that nobody was going anywhere until the last dregs of the last bottle were drained. In fact, such was the demand from readers that we were obliged to run two final Spectator Wine Club lunches in successive weeks. Martin Vander Weyer, our esteemed Business Editor, co-hosted the lunches with me and whilst I showed and discussed half a dozen wines that I had included in my revised and updated

Boris and Prosecco

So, dear old Boris has put his size 10s in it again, upsetting prosecco producers and Italians everywhere with his frank and forthright views about Brexit and the cheaper end of the Italian sparkling wine industry. Our former editor and current Foreign Secretary seemed to suggest that Italy should back his version of a Brexit deal or face instead the prospect of plummeting sales of prosecco in the UK, one of the largest markets for the fizz if not the largest. Folk often talk of prosecco as Italy’s champagne. They could not be more wrong. Champagne and prosecco are both sparkling wines, yes, but are made from completely different grape

Mount Gay Rum

Jonathan Ray visits the oldest rum distillery in the world and gets his hands dirty blending My travels round the Caribbean wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Mount Gay, the longest-established rum brand in the world. The oldest surviving deed from the company shows that it was in operation as early as 1703 and it was quite probably established many years before that. Either way, it’s fair to say that Mount Gay knows what it’s about when it comes to making rum and I have to confess that I’ve always loved their stuff. Every drinks cabinet, back bar or shelf in the kitchen should have a bottle of Mount

Letter from the Caribbean #2

Jonathan Ray gets his head around how to create the perfect rum cocktail. I’ve lost count of the number of different rum cocktails I’ve had over the last few days hopping round the islands of the Caribbean. Each cocktail consumed purely in the interests of research of course. I’ve had some classics; some twists on classics and several ‘signature’ or ‘house’ cocktails. Oh, and plenty of rum punches. I’d hate you to think that I’d been sitting idly by however and so I’m proud to report that one or two of the more tolerant barmen allowed me to create my own cocktails, some concoctions being rather more successful than others.

Jonathan Ray

Letter from the Caribbean #1

Jonathan Ray gets a taste for rum but knows when it’s time to stop. Excitement in the Caribbean concerning Prince Harry’s impending visit to the region is definitely rising. Flags and bunting are being hung left, right and centre and as I left Antigua airport this morning, en route to St. Kitts and Nevis, there was an honour guard of soldiers being put through their paces on the tarmac. Taking the proffered salute was a stout gentleman on a rather modest dais looking far from regal with his high-vis yellow jacket and clipboard. I think it’s fair to say that everyone still needs a bit more practice. But who cares?

Blind tasting

In my line of work, I’m lucky enough to go to a lot of wine tastings – press tastings that is – sometimes as many as three or four a day at the height of wine tasting season. They are what a wine-writing colleague of mine likes to call drinks parties. He lurches about from bottle to bottle, being charming to everyone and consuming as much as he can. He never fails to chat someone up and never manages to trouble the spittoons. He rarely seems to file any copy though and I’m beginning to think that he believes they are simply put on for the benefit of his social

Life’s Too Short to Drink Bad Wine

We had a fine party at 67 Pall Mall last night to launch the new edition of Simon Hoggart’s Life’s Too Short to Drink Bad Wine, a cult classic which I have had the great pleasure of revising and updating. Not that it needed much of either. All I really did was to write a foreword and add twelve new wines to the 100 or so wines that Simon had chosen ‘for the discerning drinker’. I first met Simon decades ago when I was in my early twenties. He and my father – Cyril Ray – were colleagues on the late, lamented Punch magazine and my father was keen for

International Sherry Week

Just in case it had slipped your notice I thought I’d let you know that International Sherry Week is coming up on 7th-13th November. No, no, please hear me out! Long seen as the preserve of maiden aunts and retired vicars, sherry is on something of a roll and I, for one, blooming well love the stuff. As you know, sherry comes from the towns of Jerez and Sanlucar de Barrameda in the north-eastern corner of the province of Cádiz at the very foot of Spain. Here the salt flats, the pine woods, the gently rolling white hills, the mighty Guadalquivir River and the Atlantic Ocean all combine to give

Hennessy XO and the Hennessy Gold Cup

Hennessy, the best-selling cognac of all, is giving two lucky Spectator readers the chance to win a bottle of Hennessy XO – the first ever XO Cognac, originally created in 1870 – and two tickets to the 60th running of the legendary Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday 26th November at Newbury Racecourse. As the longest-standing sports sponsorship in the world, the Hennessy Gold Cup is one of the most celebrated events in the British jump racing calendar. This special event is attended each year by fashionable race-goers and VIPs, with past attendees including Eddie Redmayne, Dame Joan Collins, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Rod Stewart, Hugh Bonneville, Jennifer Saunders, Jerry Hall

Kummel and Soda, sir?

Jonathan Ray encounters his new favourite drink.  The other night I had a drink I’d never had before and I positively lapped it up. Indeed, I don’t think my life will ever be the same again. I’m completely smitten. What so unexpectedly seduced me was a kümmel and soda. Actually, to be honest, it was a kümmel and sparkling mineral water, namely Menzendorff Kümmel and San Pellegrino, served in a tumbler over ice with an accompanying sprig of rosemary. And goodness me it was delicious! I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t know already, but kümmel is a colourless, caraway-flavoured liqueur that was first distilled in Holland in the


This competition has now closed. Read Jonathan Ray’s post-competition blog here. I’m hoping you might forgive a little self indulgence with our latest competition.  My dear old dad Cyril Ray – formerly assistant editor of this very magazine (in the days of Inglis, Levin and Whitehorn) and twenty times the writer about drink (or indeed anything else) that I could ever hope to be – died 25 years ago this month. He wrote and edited countless books about wine, food and social history including Merry England, Bollinger, Lafite, Cognac, In a Glass Lightly and the long-running series The Compleat Imbiber. The tome dearest to his heart, however, was a slim volume

Imperial pint of champagne

Jonathan Ray gives a heartening update on the campaign to bring back the imperial pint of champagne When the Spectator urges so things start to happen. You might recall a despatch of mine a week or so ago concerning a Spectator Winemaker’s Lunch we held for readers in our boardroom, hosted by James Simpson MW, managing director of Pol Roger (UK). Whilst we consoled/congratulated ourselves (delete where applicable) in the immediate aftermath of Brexit by drinking plenty of fine vintage Pol, James pointed out that one benefit of our departure from Europe could be the return of the much-missed imperial pint of champagne, a deeply civilised measure roughly equivalent to

Portmeirion blog

Jonathan Ray heads to north Wales and braves both Welsh rain and Welsh wine in search of the fabled Welsh salt marsh lamb. Portmeirion was as beguiling as ever and the Welsh summer weather as vile. My wife, Marina, and I and our two teenage boys are just back from spending a week in one of Portmeirion’s quirky cottages and we had a hoot. We were last there five years ago – also in high summer – when it sheeted with rain all week. This time we did a little better and had five days of rain and two of blinding sunshine. But, having visited the Italianate fantasy folly that

Ten More Unexpectedly Wonderful Places in Which to Eat

One of the great joys of travelling is happening upon a restaurant or bar that quite unexpectedly brings a beaming smile to your chops. A place about which you had the lowest of low hopes that unpredictably turns out to delight you. In truth, such a spot might even be on your doorstep rather than in some distant corner of a foreign town and you rush home to tell your wife, husband or chum about your latest discovery. “You’ll never guess what, but you know that ghastly looking place on the corner of…” Here are ten more surprisingly fine watering holes (see my original Ten Unexpectedly Wonderful Places in Which

Struggling to serve wine in the right order

The key to working out the best order in which to serve one’s wines is to mix it up a bit discovers Jonathan Ray. There were five of us to dinner last night at a BYO-friendly club in London and each of us had brought one or two fine bottles to knock back and bang on about. (And five, incidentally, is the perfect number for such a dinner as you get one hearty glass each out of every bottle.) The trouble was that none of us could agree on the best order in which to serve the stuff, not least because we had all ordered something different to eat. And

Jonathan Ray

Browsing and Sluicing in Toronto and the Niagara Peninsula

Browsing and Sluicing in Toronto and the Niagara Peninsula Jonathan Ray discovers that Canada’s most vibrant and global city is home to some exceptional restaurants and a vibrant cocktail culture with some of North America’s most exciting wines on its doorstep. Toronto is an eight hour flight from London (and not even seven back) and is as entertaining a place to visit for a long weekend as New York or Chicago. There are trendy shops and boutiques, fine galleries and museums, a fantastic film festival and the coolest of cool jazz scenes. Best of all, there are some superb restaurants and the cocktail bars are among the most exciting and

In Praise of the Oyster

I do love a good oyster. And I love the fact that here in Toronto it’s okay and acceptable to eat them in the middle of June without an ‘R’ in the month. My dear departed dad adored oysters and used to say that eating one was like having an angel copulate on your tongue. My mother took/takes the opposite view, saying that it’s more like eating a sneeze. Either way I love ‘em. To my favourite places in which I’ve recently enjoyed oysters (Grand Central Station, New York; Neptune Oyster, Boston; Royal Native Oyster Stores, Whitstable and the Butley Oysterage, Orford) I can now add Ceili Cottage in the