A good deal

Wine - Roger Scruton discovers a little taste of France on the English coast

Readers of the New Statesman reputedly care about the planet. Unlike new Labour, therefore, they should be opposed to global capitalism, troubled by the supermarkets, and in favour of small-scale local businesses and holidays by the English sea. Whether or not this is so, no harm can come from introducing you to Deal, a little seaside town that, thanks to stony beaches, grey skies and an old-fashioned pier with a Greasy Joe Cafe, has some of the atmosphere of those grim childhood holidays when Mum and Dad were quarrelling and you came home to the guest house with pebble-bruised feet, to confront tinned carrots, angry silences and lukewarm cocoa with bits in it.

In Deal, amusement still means bemusement, and the grey Channel waters remind you less of swimming than of drowning. Indeed, it was off the coast of Deal that Enrique Granados met his end in 1916, when his boat was torpedoed. He was returning from the New York premiere of Goyescas, for which he had insisted on being paid in gold, and it was the weight of metal in his pockets that drowned him.

Deal has other musical associations, too. John Ireland - composer (among other things) of the last great hymn in the English hymnal - lived here, and Alan Rawsthorne was a frequent visitor. The prolific David Matthews lives in Deal even now, as does the talented Jean Hasse.

Even for the unmusical, there are reasons for visiting Deal. Here are two of them: first, it has a complete marine eco- system, which, because the Goodwin Sands shut it off from the Euro-trawlers, cannot be pillaged but only fished. Hence it has a real fish shop, selling a renewable local product. Second, it is the home of Frank Ward, under whose house on the seafront lies an old smugglers' cellar, stretching beneath the roadway and containing an unrivalled collection of vintages, the result of a lifelong love affair with wine.

A small-scale dealer taking his own stand against the global madness, Frank is also a true amateur de vins, who would rather drink his wine than sell it. If he sells it nevertheless, it is in a fit of generosity that momentarily blinds him to the defects of his countrymen. Everything that Frank sells bespeaks his own researches, his personal friendships with growers and his love of the places from which his wine derives.

You can find excellent examples of the French appellations in the supermarkets; but Frank's products have the extra nuance of flavour, history and expertise that could never be guessed from a label. His 2000 Pouilly Fume from Serge Dagueneau et Filles, now at the beginning of its life, is one instance. Fairly priced, like all Frank's wines, at £9.80 a bottle, this wine will teach you that the Sauvignon grape, carefully nurtured on the banks of the Loire, produces not just the clean, sharp contours of youth, but also a suggestive cloak of luxury around the narrow shoulders - a real Venus in furs. If you are into this kind of thing, then raise the stakes to £14.80 and try Frank's extraordinary 1998 Sancerre made from old vines by Henri Bourgeois - clear proof that Loire wines have the power to last and to increase in complexity. The Pouilly suggests a thrilling affair, but this invites a marriage.

Frank has a striking collection of Rhone wines from the Mont Redon estate, whose Cote du Rhone Blanc 2000, at £7 a bottle, is what we have all been looking for. Made from Provencal grapes such as Clairette, Grenache Blanc and the beautifully named Bourboulenc, this offers depth and fruit at a rock- bottom price. When Sam was given his share, his lips parted in a smile: the first time I have seen such a thing in a horse.

Frank also has an excellent dinner-party red from the same region: a Coteaux d'Aix en Provence 2000, Chateau Calissane, at £6.40. Those who wish to taste Provence without spoiling the place by going there ought to try this deep, fruity product, and also its expensive cousin - the amazing Clos Victoire 1998. In short, if you really do care about the planet, visit Frank at www.frankward.ltd.uk

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 11 February 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Take cover: evil is back