Life’s still too short to drink bad wine

Jonathan Ray on how he updated and expanded Simon Hoggart’s classic guide for wine connoisseurs

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 me to meet someone whom he greatly admired. So, one day the three of us went out for a fine, shirt-popping lunch at Brooks’s in St James’s Street. Simon entertained us with scurrilous and hilarious stories of the Westminster village which chiefly focused on two MP neighbours of ours: Alan Clark, the notorious imbiber and shagger-about-town, and Sir Peter Tapsell, the frequent target of Simon’s wit in his parliamentary sketches for the Guardian.

I remember Simon also told a lovely story that I’ve dined out on many a time. I’m sure he said it was about Lord Brougham & Vaux, Lord Chancellor in the 1830s, although I’ve just googled him and it seems that he didn’t have a son, a fact upon which the story relies. Anyway, let’s imagine that he did. So, there was Lord Brougham’s eldest son and heir apparently cavorting in Paris with a French actress twice his age. Lord B took a dim view of this and wrote to his son saying ‘If you don’t stop seeing that wretched woman, I’ll cut your allowance.’ To which his son simply replied, ‘If you don’t double it, I’ll marry her.’ It still makes me chuckle.

But back to Life’s Too Short to Drink Bad Wine. As I said, I was asked to add twelve new wines to the book, a list which took me all of two minutes to compile. I just jotted down the dozen wines that I had most enjoyed or admired recently or most wanted to drink again. Excepting one or two absolute favourites of mine that Simon had already chosen – Pol Roger for one, Zind-Humbrecht for another – they are the wines I would hope to find bobbing beside me as I landed on my desert island.

There are two sparklers: Ambriel Classic Cuvée, a stunningly fine fizz from Nutbourne, near Pulborough in West Sussex (and certainly the most talked about and lauded wine at our party) and Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV, a grossly under-rated champagne of extraordinary depth, character and style, named after Charles Camille Heidsieck (1822-93), the original ‘Champagne Charlie’.

The whites are made up of the ridiculously drinkable and very modestly-priced Torres Viña Sol, a wine that never lets you down; the AA Badenhorst Family White Blend from Swartland, South Africa, a bonkers blend of a dozen different grape varieties which shouldn’t work at all but does so gloriously; the Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage Blanc, a fabulous Marsanne/Roussanne blend from the Northern Rhône which I never fail to drink whenever I dine at Bellamy’s in London’s Bruton Place; the beguiling, elegant and just downright tasty organic/biodynamic Josmeyer ‘Mise du Printemps’ from Alsace and the almost Burgundian but completely seductive Hamilton Russell Chardonnay from the Hemel-en-Aarde (‘Heaven and Earth’) Valley just above Hermanus in the Western Cape.

The reds I picked, or which picked themselves, are the smooth, supple organic/biodynamic Seresin Estate ‘Leah’ Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand, produced by celebrated cinematographer, Michael Seresin and named after his daughter Leah; the Tapanappa Foggy Hill Pinot Noir, from an estate originally founded by the mighty triumvirate of Brian Croser (Petaluma), Jean-Michel Cazes (Ch. Lynch-Bages) and the Bollinger family of Champagne fame, and the Quinta do Noval Red, an astonishingly rich, complex and concentrated wine from Port country in the Douro Valley.

Finally, there is the utterly indispensable La Gitana Manzanilla, a bone-dry, salty, savoury sherry, than which there is no better 11am reviver, and the fabulous, decadent, Andrew Quady Elysium Black Muscat, the only sweet wine I know that goes well with chocolate although I prefer to knock it back on its own.

All the above wines were on show at our party and I like to think the assembled throng enjoyed them as much as I did. Certainly there were a lot of empties left behind.

It has been a huge privilege to try and follow in Simon Hoggart’s mighty foot-steps as custodian of the Spectator Wine Club and also to revise the splendid Life’s Too Short to Drink Bad Wine. I like to think he would have lapped up the above wines too. I just wish he’d been there to do so.

Life’s Too Short to Drink Bad Wine (Quadrille) is available now


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