Exactly this time last year I was lunching with Hugh Johnson and Ben Howkins at their Club in Saint James’s and was bemoaning the fact that modern wine books were either well-written but weighty reference books or buying guides with recommended rankings on the 100 point scale. What had happened, I asked, to the ‘literature’ of wine. In the 1960s I was immersed in books with titles like The Wayward Tendrils of the Vine and Stay Me With Flagons, steeped in history, certainly geographical, but mostly about people. Wine was the thread, but no more than that for these books told the stories around wine, of which there were many. For learning about wine, the vines, viticulture and vintages, André Simon and Alexis Lichine provided the facts with their own insider’s decades of experience.
Hugh suggested that we look into re-creating the kind of books that taught us with so much pleasure. And this we are now doing. Just today, Friday 13th September, I attended a lunch at The Spectator presided over by Ben Howkins with the ‘Speccie’s’ Johnny Ray in the chair, to celebrate the publication of Ben’s Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent, our third Académie du Vin Library title. Six Sherries were served: manzanilla as the aperitif, then fino followed by amontillado, oloroso and palo cortado, ending up with the rich Pedro Ximénez. Probably none of the guests, many regulars at the Spectator Wine Lunches, had ever had an entire meal accompanied by sherry, but there were no complaints.
When I introduced the Académie du Vin Library before handing the floor to Ben, there was another coincidence from our lunch the year before. At that time, we had remembered the pleasure of The Compleat Imbiber, the annual created with such flair by Cyril Ray, Johnny’s father, from 1957 over 20 or so editions, the pages stuffed with erudite musings on wine, delving far back into the past. It is with immense pleasure and a high degree of excitement that we are putting together our own version of the under the title In Vino Veritas. This will be, as was the Compleat Imbiber, the obligatory Christmas present for a wine lover.