26 JANUARY 1962, Page 18

Vin du Pays

'Ity CYRIL RAY T depends how native you want to go. There are Frenchmen, and plenty of them, who drink porto as an aperitif, and pretty old ruby at that. There are Americans, and plenty of them, who drink half a dozen fifteen-to-one vodkatinis, or a few, Daiquiris, before dinner and then wash down the meal itself with iced water, coffee or a long told glass of milk. I wasn't proposing to recommend that one should -go native to that extent—not as a regular thing, that is, though it's worth trying anything once. as the French gour- met said before he tackled black-beetles.

But it is' a pity tiot to follow the custom of the , country to the extent of drinking the local wine with the local dishes. In a respectablesprovincial restaurant in ,France. for instance, there, will be yOuntl, carafe wines froin neighbouring vineyards that go well with the speciality of the house. And in New .York it is possible (though not always easy) to persuade a restaurant to produce what Americans call a 'domestic' wine that is likely to be altogether sounder and better Made-- especially _if it_ is. ( alifornian rather than from Ohio or New York State -than some of the cheap _district wines from the Midi or from Northern Italy that have the factitious prestige in New York of being 'imported.'

Retsina tastes better in Greece than in Greek Street, and I have' drunk on the spot, and enjoyed, .Lebanese and Jordanian and Libyan( and Soviet and Czech and even Egyptian wines that I don't think Would-have been up to much if I'd brought them home.

Most modest local wines,- indeed, are much better recollected in tranquillity than imported to be drunk under an alien sky. Not so much because, in the, overworked phrase, they 'don't travel' as because most wines taste better on holi- day, when you're relaxed, and with the foods, they were meant to go with, and served by people who, because they both understand them and yet take them for granted, serve them properly but not fussily. And because they are very much cheaper.

To bring these local youngsters home is to run a fair risk of 'disappointment. Nor is it particu- larly Worth' while. The wine trade here is so big, well-organised and competitive that pretty well anything worth importing is imported on a com- mercial scale. All you save by bringing in a bottle of table wine, is about half a crown in duty—a saving probably largely wiped out by the fact that an English shipper buys more cheaply in bulk than you do in buying a single bottle. Spirits are, the thing to bring home, not wines. You are allowed (as a privilege, not a right) to bring in, duty-free, a half-bottle of spirits or a whole bottle of wine, whether it is official or not, I don't know, but a customs officer once told me that the usual practice is to let you bring in one bottle of wine duty-free; on two bottles to charge you the duty for one; but on more than two bottles to charge duty on the lot-including the first one. This, I suppose, is meant to teach you not to be greedy.

One more piece of advice-this time on what to take from England to your foreign friends: smoked salmon, every time. It isn't as good any- where else in the world, and your hosts in Paris or Peoria should ply you, in their gratitude, with all the wines and spirits that you can bring back in the only really cosy way-in the bloodstream. Remember, though, that salmon is smoked for flavour, not for preservation: it doesn't keep good for long.