Berry nice

Drink - Victoria Moore drinks while Bee eats

"Could you put the carrots in the carrot pan," yells Bee whenever I speak to her on the phone. "I've just made the hollandaise to go with the asparagus." She's almost too good to be true, and there's no way I'm going round to her house for dinner because then I'll have to invite her back to mine. So it was a good thing this Loire Valley press dinner came along to get us to eat and drink together.

Bee is thin as spaghetti and it was quite incredible to witness her capacious food-critic appetite at first hand. I, on the other hand, was feeling as delicate as the Riedel glasses out of which we drank our restorative Sancerre aperitif. Lucky Sancerre is such a youthful, aromatic wine - think of it as a green tree nymph, best-enjoyed young before it loses its freshness - capable of spiriting life into the dullest laggard. And this was excellent stuff. "Andre Dezat is a great producer," extolled the man from Berry Bros (which sells it). "Be sure to pick up a bottle whenever you see it."

While I knocked back the wine, I noted Bee busily guzzling canapes, which I could only nibble gratefully. The travel presenter Anne Gregg, whom I failed to recognise, came over, all powdery and pink, and caused consternation by asking whether the Sancerre was being deliberately served warm (it wasn't). Then we went to dinner.

A heart-lifting array of wine glasses graced the table. The celebrated chef Alain Nonnet had been flown over from the Loire just to cook for us. He looked as though he might have been fashioned from freshly kneaded bread dough, and spoke with the excitable, gesture-punctuated sentences that only the French can master, somehow encapsulating the spirit of the French attitude to gastronomy.

The French feel the same way about their wine producers. They don't go about buying wine by grape or brand like we do - not for them a "bottle of chardonnay" or a bin 505 - and they talk a lot about the man who makes the wine. So there was much laughter when the second wine, 1998 Quincy, Domaine Jean-Michel Sorbe (£6.95 and, like the Sancerre, 100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc) was introduced. "Monsieur Sorbe is quite a character," we were told, "and he seeks to make his wines as complex as he is." Nonnet became quite excited. "I know him! I work with him!" and then restrained himself. Later he confided that Sorbe "does just what he wants" and "can be very rude". The wine did taste a bit rude, in a slightly harsh, unforgiving sort of way.

Next up was a Chinon, Clos de la Cure, Charles Joguet at £8.95 (we were moving westwards across the Loire region). The producer of this one is a bit of a maverick - a poet, artist and sculptor - which is perhaps reflected in its rare lemony flavour. Delicious though this was, I became so engrossed in Nonnet's revealing his secret method for taking the acidity off the red-wine sauce we were eating (add about I of an apple per person to the sauce as you make it) that I forgot about the red wine in my glass. It was whisked away, to be replaced by a 1997 Touraine Sauvignon, Domaine Bellevue - a chunky, aromatic Sauvignon Blanc to drink with our cheese in place of the customary red. This is excellent value, and at £4.95 you can afford to go overboard on the cheese, of which we had five different types. With a flick of his chef's hat, Nonnet exhorted us to try them all.

By now I barely had stomach-space left for the 1997 Vouvray, Chateau Gaudrelle at £7.95, an off-dry wine with an orangey finish. I was beginning to wish that Nonnet would turn his hand to a spot of wine-making - I'd love to taste a bottled version of his personality.

Bee, meanwhile, thought she'd better leave early so as to catch her train back to Cambridge. Then she saw the sumptuous dessert. The rest, of course, is history.

The Berry Bros wines can be ordered at

This article first appeared in the 10 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The long war against democracy