Drink

Visiting Burgundy from my hospital bed

The medics were pumping me full of antibiotics. I was determined to co-operate. But there’s no rule against reading…

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

There have been some splendid rumours about my health. According to the most exotic, I was cas-evacked from a hill in Scotland, flown to St Thomas’s by private plane and then tested positive for Chateau Lafite. The truth is more banal — and much more reprehensible. I had neglected an infected foot: what an idiot. Finally, it came out in revolt. By the time I did turn myself in to Tommy’s, I was not far from being seriously ill.

That has had one advantage. I think that it put me off the booze. The medics were pumping me full of antibiotics and I was determined to co-operate. One or two rakes have offered to smuggle in a bottle of hooch; I adamantly declined. Nothing would come between me and the cure. More-over, I did not feel like a drink. It is 18 days since I had one and there is no sense of deprivation. This has a further advantage. I have to diet, and the only regime which has a hope of working is an Atkins variant, allowing a fair ration of red meat and red wine. But they all have an entrance fee: 14 grog-free days. That is no longer a problem for me.

Until now, I had given little thought to health. Now that it has forced itself on my attention, one conclusion is unavoidable: the crucial importance of ethos and morale. At Tommy’s, over-hearing the handover from the night staff to the day staff is a life-enhancing experience (for some patients, it may also be a life-prolonging one). The kids going off duty sound tired, as well they might. But it is a fulfilled tiredness. They are determined to ensure that the new team are fully briefed. Inspiring stuff.


Like most hospital patients, I have resorted to escapist literature. Unfortunately, my copy of Jasper Morris’s book on Burgundy is many miles away, but a friend brought me the latest edition of Clive Coates. One might have thought that it would be a dangerous present for someone in my condition. How many pages of Clive could one read — how many lines — before succumbing to an overwhelming thirst?  The antibiotics carried me through.

To his task, Clive brings joie de vivre reinforced by decades of experience and a conscientiousness worthy of St Thomas’s Hospital. The result is a magnificent combination of history, science, personalities, anecdotes and judgments. This is his homage to Burgundy. It is a worthy one.

It will remind you of long-consumed bottles and meals. That can have a melancholy aspect. Inevitably, some of one’s fellow roisterers have now crossed the Styx. Reading the section on Le Musigny, a remarkable day came flooding back to memory. I had been staying with a girl who was then the American ambassador to Luxemburg. Significantly well off and equally well educated, she ran her embassy in some style. We spent most of a day with old friends of hers, a retired Dutch diplomat and his wife, a principessa; both, alas, fin de ligne.

They had devoted their lives to aesthetics, in a small manor house full of delights. Our host — wish I could remember his name — talked me through his Delft plus other blue-and-whites. In the grip of a collector’s fervour, he had spent decades stalking some of the pieces he coveted.

At dinner, the wines matched everything else, but I can only remember the solitary red, a Le Musigny from the mid-1960s. I thought that it was superb, just about as good a Burgundy as I had ever tasted, and said so. Afterwards, I felt uneasy. This was a household founded upon discrimination in which approval was weighed on Troy scales and praise came dropping slow. My comments had surely lacked sophistication.

Now I am relieved. Clive Coates avers that Musigny at its best can be as fine as anything from Burgundy. If it is good enough for him…

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


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