Stealing beauty

Burglars with good taste took my best wine, but there's a silver lining

Returning home, I am looking forward to the moment when I turn the key in the door of the wine shed and step across crates of rotten apples, broken train sets and leaking pickle-jars, to reach the place where our modest store of wine is stacked against the damp wall of the adjoining workshop. I anticipate at last holding in my hand a piece of history and pouring out a glassful of memories and a nosegay of dreams, so to expunge the taste of those burnt American Chardonnays and treacly Cabernets!

In particular, I am homing in on the Château Les Ricards 1998, that clean, dark, elegant wine from the Côtes de Blaye that is one of Corney & Barrow's triumphs, and surely one of the best clarets at its price. This would be the way to celebrate our return, and to restore normality after those months of Virginian madness.

Alas, no Château Les Ricards 1998 is to be found. Nor is there anything else. I run screaming like a child into the house.

"They've taken the wine!" I cry.

Sophie turns her calm face towards me and says, "So you'll give up drinking, then."

"You don't understand," I say, "it's my life, my career!"

She corrects me. "Your death," she says, "and not much of a career. Why, you might have been a . . ."

"A philosopher?"

"Yes, come to think of it."

She remains unmoved as I calculate the loss. How did they know that they could get the spare key from the workshop when they stole the tools? Who among the burgling classes has an interest in five cases of Château Les Ricards and three of Potensac?

I suspect an inside job, and am about to accuse her when a bottle arrives: Château Les Ricards 2003, to be offered in the January wine club.

"Listen," I say, "I've got to drink this; it's my job."

She shrugs her shoulders, and goes back to the computer. But I notice she is already composing a letter to the insurance company. After two glasses of the 2003 she has definitely moved in my direction. We raise our glasses, first to Corney & Barrow, then to Hiscox the underwriters, who will surely want us to go on living in the style to which we, or I at least, have become accustomed.

Soon we are reconciled, the letters are signed and sealed, and we settle back to enjoy the dregs of the bottle.

The year 2003 was a good one, especially for the right bank of the Gironde. The steely tannins and dark Malbec-Merlot blend of Les Ricards will give longevity to this wine, which will open up, as the 1998 opened up, to exhale a full floral perfume over a clean and pebbly mouthful in the glass.

If you can buy a case now to drink next Christmas you will not regret it. My advice to the burglars, however, is to drink the 1998 now - all of it at once.