Thursday 12 January 2017

Alan Bennett's Wine Diaries

3 March. There is nowhere in the new house to store wine, so an energetic young man called Colin comes round to explain how we could have a cellar dug out beneath our kitchen, accessed by a spiral staircase. I mention this to Mam the next time I phone. “That’s all well and good when it comes to getting it out of the cellar, Alan,” she says. “But how will you get the coal in?”

17 May. Looking through a merchant’s Wine List, I spy a bottle of Lafite ’83 at £599. “A real treat!” I can’t bring myself to buy it. It’s bad enough paying for a bottle of wine the price of a two-piece suit, or indeed a three-piece suite. But the whole experience has been tainted by that exclamation mark.

22 May. A wholly unsatisfactory visit to the little church of St Pilaf, in Trestle Potholder, its box pews and engraved tablature entirely spoilt after climbing to the lectern to see what I can only describe as an inappropriate copy of the Good News Bible.
    R and I repair to the pub opposite, which fortunately has a garden, where we can hopefully get a glass of wine and discreetly eat the sandwiches we have brought from home. As children, Mam would surreptitiously pass us home-made sandwiches under a teashop’s table, to avoid paying the higher price of the establishment’s own. It’s no longer a question of cost, just that R and I prefer our brie and grape sandwiches to any jauntily-described “pub grub”. And actually, it would now be cheaper to buy those of the pub, given the price of artisan sourdough in Primrose Hill.
    But we cannot get a glass of wine. “We’re a pub, not a wine bar,” grumbles the landlord. I point out that surely he’s not a gin palace either, but that he has a bottle of Gordon’s.
    Nevertheless I have to admit defeat, and I succumb to a glass of his micro-brewed real ale. “It’s hand-crafted,” he says. It’s something I wished I hadn’t heard, given the state of his fingernails.

7 July. Overheard: “Yes, get some more of that Clos de Vougeot. We’re not exactly flush with Burgundies.”

19 August. My local branch of Oddbins, which introduced me to the wines of the New World, has closed. I can only assume that Tony Blair is in some way responsible.

27 August. Rereading Brideshead Revisited. I remember reading Brideshead for the first time just before I went up to Oxford, when I had never tasted wine. The Hon Sebastian Flyte opens a bottle of Chateau Peyraguey for Charles Ryder, “Which isn't a wine you've ever tasted, so don't pretend. It’s heaven with strawberries.” Well, never mind the wine; I wasn’t that well versed in strawberries.
    It was a lesson I took to Oxford with me, that pretending to a knowledge of wine would be social climbing of the worst kind. Wine was clearly something for the Honourables of this world. I was in the pigeonhole marked ‘grammar school boy’, and did I drink Chateau Peyraguey I should still be a grammar school boy.

10 September. A visit to Jonathan M, who offers to “crack open” a bottle of white. I hate to hear a wine described in such a way. The clear implication is that it is closed with a screw-cap.

14 September. I still find it hard to believe people name their children after wines. Someone told me that there are now girls called Chardonnay; presumably if the fashion moves upmarket we will have boys called Petrus. I once encountered a somewhat hirsute young man whose friends called him T√Ęche, but I assumed, perhaps wrongly, that that was a nickname.
    Years ago, Thora H and I were introduced to Margaux Hemingway at an awards dinner. “You know where she got her name from,” someone said, “Don’t you?” Thora replied, “Was it The Good Life?”

25 October. I can never order Champagne in a restaurant. It’s not so much the appalling mark-up; it’s the way everybody turns to look when they hear the pop of the cork. Not the kind of attention I enjoy in any circumstances. Presumably they’re all wondering what is being celebrated, which in many cases is simply that someone has the wealth to drink Champagne in a restaurant.


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