For the next month or two I am going to run my wine course, which covers how to enjoy wine unpretentiously. It is based on newspaper and magazine articles I have published over the years, suitably updated for 2014.  I hope you will enjoy it and, hopefully, find it of some value.  Comment, please!  Part 1 is my personal introduction –  In Part 2 I start the “Plain Man’s Guide to Wine Tasting”, which covers the storing and serving wine at home.  Successive articles will cover: “Appearance”(What to look for in bottler and glass), “Smell”, “Taste”, “Buying”, “Matching Wine with Food”, “Grapes”, “Wine Regions”, “Fine Wines”.


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PART 1 – – How Wine Captured Me

For the fact that I have enjoyed more than sixty years of wine drinking I have to thank a French film called Clochemerle. It was made in 1948 in black and white and adapted from a wonderful book of the same name by French writer Gabriel Chevallier, published in 1923. It is still in print and worth getting. Set in a fictitious village in the Beaujolais, actually a place called Vaux en Beaujolais, it was a riotous account of life among wine-makers and wine-imbibers and reflected very much the happier sides of the then life of the Beaujolais. French films were seldom seen in England in those days and it took until 1953 before a cinema in Piccadilly Circus put it on. Packed audiences wept with joyous laughter at the saucy romp. It had an “X” Certificate, to be seen by 18-year olds and older and I was enraptured and enchanted by what one beverage seemed (apparently) able to do, especially in matters of love. It was a brilliant film, alas no longer available, although there was quite a good BBC TV series based Chevallier’s story in 1972 – the cast of which is pictured below, left. 

                     Clochemerle            Clochemerle book cover

Working in the centre of London, near the wonderful food and wine district of Soho, the day after seeing the film I found a French grocery shop and in the window were some bottles of Beaujolais. I went in and bought one, took it home and drank it that evening. I was captured, totally and absolutely. The vintage was 1948 and it was superb. Whenever I could afford it I went to the same store and bought another bottle. It was my Christmas party drink. The following year I went again and bought what I thought was the same bottle. It was from the same producer but the wine was not very good at all. I looked on the label and saw that it was the 1952 vintage (a bad year). I had learned my first lesson about wine: that in many instances it varies from year to year, from vintage to vintage. I am glad I found out about wine by drinking it, and not through one of the many ‘learned’ books, which elevate wine-tasting to that of ‘art’ and/or ‘science’.

An older contemporary of my early years of imbibing was a man whose name will be known to every middle-aged or elderly lover of cricket, John Arlott (born 1914, died 1991)  As well as a cricket broadcaster he was also a poet, an author, and a wine lover.

His discovery of wine was accidental. In 1949 he was returning from reporting a cricket tour in South Africa, and broke his journey in Sicily “for a few days’ holiday”. A beer drinker, he had vowed to abstain during his stay, but on the third day’s lunch time at the Auberge in which he was staying, he tried a drop of the wine from the flask that was always put on to the table. Bingo! He was hooked. So began decades of wine writing, mostly for the Guardian newspaper, in which in a very human and personal way he told us about wines of all kinds and about the men and women who make them and sell them. Such was his style that his words not only entertained but they enlightened. They made wine welcoming, loving, loveable.

In 1986 John Arlott’s wine writing was gathered into a book called “Arlott on Wine”. It is a wonderful 200 pages and most of its contents are relevant today – and even those that are not are good reading because they tell of the wine personalities of a previous generation, who, take my word for it, were worth knowing. The book will reward your finding it, which is not too difficult. I see Amazon have fifteen copies of it on offer, all at very low prices. As a taster, this is an extract from Arlott’s opening piece. I think it offers sound advice.

Back to the Vine Roots – by John Arlott


It is healthy as well as salutary for the habitual wine drinkers and

certainly for the wine writer – sometimes to go back to the beginning of the alphabet. While the percentage of wine drinkers has increased more in Britain than in any other European country in the past decade, we are still not a nation of wine drinkers; and many who do drink it are sceptical about it.

Few of us grew up in households where wine was generally taken with

meals; and there is lingering mistrust of a habit which was only lately the prerogative of the well-to-do minority. There is doubt about the dogma as to which wine goes with what food. The suspicion that wine snobs create a mumbo jumbo about particular vineyards and vintages is reflected in the inverted snobbery of ‘plonk is good enough for me’.

Recognition of a few elementary facts should break down these barriers.

Wine – simply fermented grape juice – is a natural beverage. For many

unsophisticated people, like the peasants of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Rumania, Algeria, Morocco, it is a staple diet. Indeed, in Italy, the law grants convicts a daily ration of wine.

These are theoretical arguments. On the other hand, anyone may try the practical experiments which prove that wine makes the simplest meal – sausage and mash, or bread and cheese – vastly more satisfying. It can, too, be demonstrated that at a blind tasting the most unambitious drinker can generally rank three or four wines in order of merit – and find the most expensive with murderous accuracy.

Wine may be an acquired taste, but many an eventual pint-swigger first drinks beer as a pleasureless ‘manly’ pose. St Paul’s ‘take a little wine for thy stomach’s sake’ is not a recommendation for dyspepsia but a piece of human wisdom. The justification for drinking wine is pleasure. This factor refutes the ‘which with what’ theories. Anyone who enjoys drinking a sweet wine – a Sauternes or one of the more sugary hocks – with a steak should do so. Palates change: the young and the old tend to sugar-hunger: in between, their taste is generally for savoury food and dry drink

‘White with fish, red with meat’ is a counsel of safety, not a rule. Although fish can make red wine taste metallic, some deeply versed wine drinkers would advocate claret with salmon, an Alsace Riesling with pork, or a Moselle with veal; a big white burgundy will stand up with most meat dishes. The division is as non-existent as that; and virtually any wine is shown off to advantage by cheese.

From “The Guardian”, July 1973

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