5 MAY 1967, Page 24

Non-vintage event


Well, claret-lovers everywhere, the game is up for some of us. Put your vintage chart away (it never matched the waiter's, anyway), Château Margaux has gone dateless. From now on our cellars and tables will be graced by the labels Ch. Margaux NV, Ch. Cos d'Estournel NV and several others on the lists of Ginestet of Bordeaux, who ship through Churtons and Robertson. This creation of non- vintage clarets, says my press release, 'will take away that interest in wine speculation and discovery' that always had us worried, but 'it will also take away that disappointment which all too often accompanies the ultimate dis- covery that the wine which was initially of poor repute does not improve.' There will still be vintages each year for those with palates and purses.

Professionals of my acquaintance admit that they, too, have been wrong on occasion about the potentialities of young clarets. Edmund Penning Rowsell asked in the Financial Times last summer : 'Are the 1955 Clarets Dis- appointing?' and the answer seems to be: 'Yes, on the whole.' Yet my vintage chart from the Academic du Vin de Bordeaux, a complex and beautiful document, seems to suggest that the 1955s were 'successful for all vineyards,' 'sturdy and full-bodied but not to excess,' 'round and pleasing . . .' and 'beginning to be palatable.' This does not make one of our best wine commentators wrong. To me it is just another proof that personal taste and judgment are paramount in preferences.

Tasting the range of clarets shipped by de Luze (through G. W. Thoman of Crutched Friars) and the Ginestet selection, I found (and I always seem to) that some of the cheaper vintages pleased me more than others higher up the price list, and yet the list is based, I assume, on the judgment of the pro. fessionals.

Having said this by way of excuse, here are my 'cheap' and cheerful selections (but Heaven knows whether you'll like them). From the Thoman list, Ch. Hauchat 1961 at 74s a dozen (Hauchat is in Fronsac) and, from the 1966 clutch, Domaine de Lite de Margaux (£31 lOs a hogshead f.o.b., if you're in a hurry): from the Ginestet selection, I liked the Ch. Petit Figeac 1962 (177s a dozen f.o.b.), chateau bottled, and the English bottled Ch. La Fleur Pouret, also a St Emilion (164s).

Compare those prices with the 540s a dozen for Margaux 1964 and you'll see the point. There is some point, too, in leaning on the judgment of a shipper like Louis Eschenauer, who is now bringing, over a blend with the proprietary name of Camponac, at 12s a bottle, which has been sold by Air France and many French restaurants for some lime. Like the NVs of good breeding, these worthy blends dispel anxiety (this one is shipped by George Idle and Chapman, London, by Rigby and Evens in Bristol and Liverpool).

Sipping a London pub Beaujolais with an outspoken young Parisian executive the other day, he remarked on the clearness of the wine, except for the inevitable flotsam of cork. I said, 'Yes, they filter these hybrid plonks to beautify them.' Ah,' he replied, 'what a mistake. A wine of character should always have bits of the grape floating in it.'

The author of The Bad Food Guide, Mr Derek Cooper, has nicely taken issue with me over the question of libel. It is not the law, he says, that stopped him from naming names, but the fact that book publishing is a slow business, and by the time the condemnation appears some worthy soul may have transformed the Dourly Arms or the Pig and Pourboire into something more fitting for Raymond Postgate's attention (and his entries in the current edi- tion of the Good Food Guide relate to circa October 1965). Incidentally, I said that Mr Cooper's book had appeared weeks ago—by now it has, by then it hadn't.

This is the time of year when the food guides roll in, and most of them seem to be French. My favourite is the Guide des Relais Routiers (although I use the Michelin more often), not because of its contents but because of the accompanying press release, which has been getting more violent year by year, as one journalist after another continues to call it a list of transport caffs belonging to some fellow called Les Routiers. Well, not exactly, but the distributors would like you to know that it is a guide to modestly priced hotels and restaurants along the roads of France and that it costs 195 in bookshops. The four differences between Relais Routiers and British transport pull-ups are that the former are three times as expensive for ten times the value (it says here), you can have wine instead of char, French people do not swear because they have no four-letter words (their favourite word has five), and bed- rooms are clean and comfy for 15s a night. This year the Relais should be busy with short- of-currency Britons.

After the story of the 'fresh' peas that were so called because they had been when they were frozen comes the disarming honesty of the SWISS dining-car menu. To accompany poulet a la Hon groise (their spelling) they offered petits pots Birds Eye.