Jonathan Ray, who has updated Simon Hoggart’s cult classic, Life’s Too Short To Drink Bad Wine, relaunched on Wednesday 26th October, picks his top five wines.
Simon Hoggart was something of a hero of mine. He was also my predecessor as drinks editor of The Spectator. I loved his parliamentary sketches and his diary in The Guardian and I lapped up his hilarious annual round-up of those ghastly festive round-robin family letters. I also followed constantly his advice on wine in the Speccie and bought his recommendations frequently.
I was extremely flattered, then, to be asked to revise and update his classic bedside – dare I even say loo-side? – book Life’s Too Short to Drink Bad Wine. In truth it didn’t need much of either, revising or updating that is. Some of the prices were out of date and some of the vintages, but that was about it.
I was also asked, though, to add twelve wines of my own. It took me all of two minutes to compile my list. Excepting one or two absolute favourites of mine that Simon had already chosen in his original ‘over 100 wines for the discerning drinker’ – Pol Roger for one, Zind-Humbrecht for another – I chose the wines that I would hope to find bobbing beside me as I landed on my desert island.
It’s almost impossible to cut that dozen down to five but I’m going to do my best here, if only to provide what I think is a pretty unimpeachable selection and certainly one that will help your Christmas lunch or dinner slip down perfectly if you’re planning this far ahead.
Ambriel Classic Cuvée Brut NV (£28.50; Private Cellar)
English sparkling wine is no longer infra dig. Indeed, the best are now among the very best fizzes in the world, including champagne. Ambriel Brut Classic Cuvée is an absolute delight. Produced by barrister-turned-winemaker, Wendy Outhwaite QC and her husband Charles in Nutbourne, near Pulborough in West Sussex, it’s a bottle-fermented blend of 70% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir and 3% Pinot Meunier and is an absolute and utter peach. It’s toasty and mellow yet apple-fresh and zesty too and is about as fine an aperitif or festive fizz as you’ll find.
2015 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Blanc (£22.50; Yapp Bros)
At pretty much my favourite restaurant – Bellamy’s in Bruton Place, London W1 – this is pretty much my favourite wine. Crozes-Hermitage comes from the northern Rhône and nearly all of it is red. One or two eccentrics continue to make a white version, though, and if there’s a better one than M. Graillot’s, then pray lead me to it. A blend of 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne, it’s gloriously characterful and fair crammed with peach and apricot flavours, wild flowers, an elusive touch of honey and backed by a deliciously savoury, mineral finish.
2015 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay (£27.00; Majestic)
South Africa is producing some of the most exciting and downright tasty wines in the world at the moment and in the first vineyards to be planted in Walker Bay, in the Hemel-en-Aarde (‘Heaven and Earth’) Valley, just above Hermanus in the Western Cape, Anthony Hamilton Russell and his team are producing some of the finest. Although best known for his silky-smooth Pinot Noir, it’s his Chardonnay that I really adore. Barrel-fermented and aged on the lees for nine months, it’s full of poached ripe pears, honey, citrus, butter, cream and toast.
2014 Andrew Quady Elysium Black Muscat (£11.60 per 37.5cl; Tanners)
Based in California’s deeply unprepossessing Central Valley, Andrew Quady made his name producing a sublime, lightly fortified sweet wine from Orange Muscat called Essensia. This was such a howling success that Andrew decided to try his luck with Black Muscat, a grape which supposedly originated in England in the 1700s. And so it was that Elysium was born. It’s one of my absolute favourites. I adore its rose petal aromas, its glorious grapey sweetness and its fine acidity and I love the fact that it’s one of those very rare sweet wines that goes with chocolate.
2012 Seresin Estate ‘Leah’ Pinot Noir (£22.90; The New Zealand Cellar)
Situated in the heart of Marlborough, Seresin Estate is owned by Michael Seresin, the wine-besotted cinematographer who made his name photographing such movies as Angela’s Ashes, Midnight Express, Fame, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The Sauvignons, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs (all biodynamic) made here are stunning. My favourite, though, is the entry level Pinot, ‘Leah’, named after Michael’s daughter and blended from the estate’s three different vineyards. It’s soft, supple, succulent, spicy and vibrantly fresh with bright berry fruit and a touch of herbs.