The only observable respect in which our country has changed for the better since my youth is in the presence of wine on the dinner table. But I am prepared to go along with the decline in morals, manners, music, literature, religion, art, politics and personal relations, if I can persuade myself that this decline is the necessary corollary of that small but life-changing improvement.
Still, there is room for the education of taste in this matter as in all the others. The popularity of Australian Shiraz and Chilean Merlot is easy to understand, given their combination of price and quality. But it remains as true today as it has been for seven centuries, that the right wine to place on the table on an ordinary evening is claret – that is to say, one or other of the red wines of Bordeaux.
Through all the adventures into which I have been led by my duties as a wine critic, and despite all the exquisite and provocative tastes that I have encountered, I have never wavered in my belief that Bordeaux belongs to us English and we to it, and that the first popping of the bubbles in that slim, green bottleneck is the true murmur of acceptance as the erring child comes home.
The four bottles on offer from Corney & Barrow give a succinct summary of this multifaceted wine, which has the kind of unity in variety that was esteemed by Johnson, Addison and Hogarth in the great days of English taste.
There is the blended St Émilion from J P Moueix – a more than ordinary claret which is the perfect vin de table for an ordinary day.
There is the Château La Courolle from Montagne St Émilion, a fruity wine with an interesting mineral structure and all the sunny, good nature of the region, offered well under its proper price.
There is the clean, elegant Graves from Château Peyrat, one of those pebbly and aromatic wines which constantly improve as the bottle goes down.
And then there is the Château Bel Air from the Graves de Vayres, which has the gamey, volcanic taste of this outlying region, and which is the kind of wine you used to find in the discerning restaurants routiers of my youth.
Indeed, if I were to single out any of these wines for special attention it is this last one. Graves de Vayres, situated in the Entre-deux-mers region, has had its own appellation since 1927, and produces a light Merlot-based wine that combines the elegance of claret with the outgoing manners of a Languedoc red.
This example is fully mature, and was a perfect accompaniment to Schopenhauer’s remarks in On the Suffering of the World, which it refuted step by step, until the penultimate paragraph, when alas it ran out, leaving the last word to the gloomy philosopher, who regarded nothing as an improvement, not even wine.