Wine - Roger Scruton tastes Canadian shyness

Canadians, I discover to my relief, are able to enjoy themselves these days

I am in Canada, in a flat, featureless town, in a hotel with the somehow shabby name of "Quality Suites", overlooking a multi-storey car park, an empty lot, a last row of condemned Victorian houses and, across the Detroit River, a lone Gothic church standing incongruously in the United States. Two anguished questions arise in such places: how can I avoid offending my hosts, and what will they give me to drink? These questions are particularly pressing in Canada, where identities are heavily defended, and where the memory of the temperance movement casts its shadow across the few permitted joys. Instinct tells me to be tentative and deferential, as I tread in my lecture on their liberal toes, and to be prepared to drink beer or worse with dinner, if such is the general will.

To my relief they are friendly and receptive, want to talk about architecture, pragmatism and the rights of animals, and they order bottle upon bottle of Canadian wine. I recall its embryonic versions from a visit 20 years ago, when I was trapped for two desperate months in a university where you couldn't open a window and where wine had to be bought from the government liquor store, whose only affordable brand was the lifeless Inniskillin. Things have improved since then. We are in a Victorian restaurant with a window that opens on to the street (admittedly a street of concrete buildings where no other window opens). The Canadian Pinot Blanc is a credit to the establishment - crisp, dry and tingling on the tongue, with a nice yeasty attack and a melancholy, long withdrawing roar down the tired oesophagus. Conversation becomes lighter as we proceed to the Pinot Noir and the Cabernet Sauvignon, both well-made wines, but with a kind of Canadian shyness that causes them to withhold their secrets as they work themselves quietly into the conversation.

I make a note to make a note of their provenance, this being a really great opportunity to provide our readers with a rare example of global expertise. But another bottle appears, and the conversation turns to politics, or is it pilitocs? At any rate, a frisson of controversy shakes the table, and I notice that my companions are mostly drinking beer. Surely it cannot be that I alone have drunk four bottles?

With mixed feelings I discover that my nearest neighbour, who has so far said little, has been quietly filling his glass and is about to burst into speech. Turning to me with an angry expression, he blurts out: "You were quite wrong." "About what?" I ask, alarmed that my come-uppance is about to come up. He stares long and hard. "Something you wrote once. About the Art of Fugue. But I forget what it was." He raises his glass, and we toast each other happily.

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 15 May 2006 issue of the New Statesman, The worst man in the world?