Marital strife

Wine - Roger Scruton makes up over a bottle of Sancerre

Before Christmas, I praised old Burgundy. Over Christmas, however, when Corney & Barrow's parcel arrived, I found myself praising young Burgundy, too. Although the great red wines of the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune need to mature in the bottle, the wines from outlying districts are often at their best in early youth. This is true of the red Burgundy offered in this week's wine club. The beautifully named village of Coulanges la Vineuse is in fact situated in Chablis, just about as far north as you can go and still make good red wine from Pinot Noir. South-facing slopes capture enough sunlight to produce a clean, luminous and delicate wine, which dances on the tongue like a burst of inspired repartee. Concerning Christmas, as publicly celebrated, I am of the Scrooge school of thought; this wine helped me to look on the grim aftermath of that hateful day with a forgiving mask and an inner taste of springtime. There is something especially French about a pale young Burgundy - a serene and ironical "oui" to the idea of drinking, in any company and at any time of day. Stock up with this wine and you will never be at a loss, however grim the occasion, and whatever spectacle of human folly confronts you.

The other red comes from the Languedoc-Rousillon, where the appellation controlee system operates a regime of uncharacteristic permissiveness. Those prepared to sell their wines as Vin de Pays d'Oc can therefore experiment with non-local grape varieties - often using imported capital, imported labour and imported expertise. The result is an abundance of well-made, robust and palatable wines whose quality is in no way reflected in their price. I regret this, as I regret every innovation that sacrifices local character to global trade. But my job as wine steward obliges me to confess that this wine is a bargain, with the oily, insinuating, Mephistophe-lean character of Syrah, brought on by eight months' maturation in old oak, and ready to burst from the bottle and enslave you. It amplified the pungent aroma of a two-week-old pheasant in a most gratifying way.

The 15 villages that constitute the appellation of Sancerre are situated on chalky, stony, fossil-rich soil beside the Loire, where the Sauvignon Blanc grape finds its perfect environment. Clean, dry, acidic, with a slightly hirsute gooseberry flavour that settles on the tongue and clings to the palate, Sancerre is the perfect accompaniment to shellfish, Debussy and kisses. This wine from the romantic Chateau du Nozay is exemplary in all those respects, and restored marital harmony after the Christmas debacle more quickly than the usual readings from Jane Austen and the Book of Proverbs. For a while, we were able to overlook the plastic baubles and non-biodegradable wrappings, the psychedelic colours and moronic jingles, the inane TV-fostered symbols of a society without culture - all of which enter the house inevitably at Christmas time, and which are the just-bearable cost of having children. The wine was an inspiration. When we had finished the bottle, we went singing to the bonfire, our arms loaded with Tweenies, Tellytubbies and a hundred versions of Bob the Builder, enjoying the desolate cries of the children as they beckoned in vain from the house.

The white Burgundy is the product of a true craftsman - Patrick Javillier, who owns parcels of land in Meursault, Savigny-les-Beaune, Puligny Montrachet and elsewhere, and who also makes (on the side, as it were) wines such as this one. While not entitled to any appellation more distinguished than Bourgogne Blanc, this yellow-gold wine has some of the qualities of white Burgundy at its best: crisp, biscuity, and more like prunes than plums. I recommend that you sip this wine quietly before dinner, while imagining the dried and polished skin on a skull - maybe the skull of that great hero of the war against kitsch, Ebenezer Scrooge, undone, alas, by the spirit of Christmas, but striking, before his lamentable downfall, more blows on behalf of decency, morality and common sense than any other character in Dickens.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher and countryside campaigner as well as an author and broadcaster. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading right wing thinkers, his publications include the Meaning of Conservatism. He has also written on fox hunting.

This article first appeared in the 28 January 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Time to bite back?