January 18 2013
The award-winning novelist and memoirist has an OBE for services to literature – and a penchant for particular Médoc clarets
I first started buying wine from Haynes Hanson & Clark (HH&C) in 1994 after I moved from London to the Cotswolds. It was just before Christmas and I desperately needed some champagne because all my wine was in storage and I couldn’t get it out in time. So I literally rushed into the shop and bought loads of Pierre Vaudon, which I’ve been buying from them ever since.
In those early days I spoke to Nick Clarke. But now I mostly talk to Charlie Stanley-Evans, who joined in 2000 and has become part of my Saturday morning ritual in Stow. Because I’m such a regular, we’ve become good friends. We even go to the same gym – although Charlie takes his exercise a bit more seriously than I do.
I’m quite evangelical about HH&C and actively recommend them to all my friends. Despite the Stow shop’s modest size it has an incredible range. I love to browse the shelves just as I would a bookshop and then fill up the back of my Land Rover.
Buying wine on the internet is anathema to me because it’s just so sterile and distancing. I suppose HH&C has a website, but I’ve never looked at it. If we want real shops, we have to support them.
What I like about HH&C is the way they spend time getting to know their customers. Charlie understands my palate and my pocket. He knows that I like particular clarets from the Médoc and certain white burgundies. Occasionally, he’ll try to steer me towards more exotic locations. But we end up back in France. I am quite old fashioned in that regard. I don’t do the New World with all that alcohol. My motto is ‘one liver, one life’.
Most of the wines I buy for weekday drinking are £15-£20 a bottle and Charlie often puts together a mixed case of things which he knows I like.
From time to time, I buy more expensive bottles because I can afford to and it gives me a huge amount of pleasure. For instance, I bought a lot of 2000 bordeaux, including cases of several of my favourite chateaux, such as Lynch-Bages, Léoville-Barton, Talbot, Ducru-Beaucaillou and Léoville-Las-Cases.
At the time, Charlie encouraged me, saying, ‘You’ll be so pleased in years to come.’ And lo and behold, he was right.
Haynes Hanson & Clark, Sheep Street, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire GL54 1AA (01451-870 808; www.hhandc.co.uk).
The man behind J Sheekey, Scott’s and Le Caprice dabbles in wine futures – but stays faithful to his Grand-Puy-Lacoste
Oddly enough, I don’t remember the first time we met. However, Gary [Boom] assures me it was at a shoot hosted by a mutual friend in Devon about 10 years ago. In which case, it was one of my first, when I was probably a bit wet behind the ears. Just like Gary, I became hooked on the sport. And that’s really how we got to know each other and became very good friends. Since then we’ve been to a lot of shoots together and drunk some excellent wine.
Although he’s one of the best salesmen I’ve ever come across, it was actually I who suggested that the two of us work together. Almost invariably, I like my business relationships to remain just that. But because I genuinely admire his passion, honesty and integrity, I made an exception to the rule, which I have never regretted. With Gary, what you see is what you get. He’s a genuine guy and runs a very good business at Bordeaux Index. If I need something special for the boat or the plane at short notice, it’s always there on time.
Like me he believes in quality, which makes things very easy. I always go to the best specialist in whatever field it happens to be. So Gary is my wine guru. Early on, it became pretty clear to me that we both liked the same things.
But what’s also great about Gary is that he’ll only recommend wines that he believes in. He doesn’t just put me into the trophy wines such as Petrus, Sassicaia and Haut-Brion, which I love. He’ll also make sure I have enough of other favourites, too – Pol Roger and Grand-Puy-Lacoste. I can’t think of an occasion when he’s got it wrong.
Mostly, I buy for drinking, but I’ve also done quite a bit of wine investment with Bordeaux Index as well. This is very much a specialist area and for my money, no one does it better than Gary. His track record is incredible and, as a result, I’ve done very well from it. The market might stumble occasionally but it will always come back.
I’ve got a lot of friends who say they can spot a first growth from a fifth growth or a left bank from a right bank. But mostly it’s bluff. Gary, however, doesn’t just know the chateau and vintage, he’ll know the vineyard and the winemaker, too.
Bordeaux Index, 10 Hatton Garden, London (020‑7269 0703; www.bordeauxindex.com).
The BBC’s Middle East editor, author of The Arab Uprisings: The People Want the Fall of the Regime, does his best buying over a convivial lunch
I began buying from Handford Wines by chance. Back in 1998 I briefly lived in Holland Park, just around the corner from its original shop on Portland Road. One day, I wandered in and was immediately impressed. Fourteen years on, I still am.
Wine is a genuine passion and I’ve bought a lot from Handfords including quite a bit of en primeur bordeaux, red and white burgundy, various rhônes and a good few Spanish and Tuscan wines. They also have a great selection of the more affordable, everyday drinking wines. I remember buying my first Albarinho there when the variety wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now.
I like the fact that they are small and incredibly good at what they do. Both James Handford and his business partner Greg Sherwood are Masters of Wine, which is pretty remarkable for such a boutique operation. As a result, they have some amazing connections around the wine world – and not just among the big names. They’ve some fabulous lesser known small growers, too. Their inventory is nothing if not comprehensive.
I’ve always found the pair of them to be incredibly friendly, accessible and helpful, especially when it comes to advice. And I very much enjoy their company, ideally over a good lunch. Recently, we all went out to Cambio de Tercio, where the pair of them spent nearly 10 minutes debating which wines to order. It was extremely convivial.
Although I’d consider them as friends now, I’m not entirely sentimental. I do compare their prices, which are fair and competitive. And I still buy some wine from Berry Bros & Rudd and a local wine shop in East Dulwich, called Green & Blue, which is excellent.
About nine years ago, Handfords moved premises to the Old Brompton Road in South Kensington. It’s a lovely shop but isn’t in a great part of town for me. And being away such a lot for work, I tend to do much of my buying by email. Even so, I pop in whenever I can.
Also, I make a special point of going to at least one of its big wine tastings at the Orangery in Hyde Park, which normally take place twice a year. It’s a great opportunity to taste some new wines alongside some old favourites, as well as catch up with James and Greg. However, I probably don’t spit quite as assiduously as I should.
Handford Wines, 105 Old Brompton Rd, London SW7 (020-7589 6113; www.handford.net).
The Wong Hau Plastic Works VP, one of Hong Kong’s preeminent collectors, prizes rare Lafleur vintages – and the occasional private vineyard tour
I first met Richard [Sutton] years ago at a dinner in Hong Kong and we got on immediately. However, in those days he worked for Corney & Barrow, whom I still buy from. It was only when he joined Armit that he began to look after me personally.
To me, Armit is a bit like Corney & Barrow, but smaller; its prices are reasonable and it has some great exclusivities. On top of that Richard makes sure that I get allocations of my favourite wines. For a serious collector, that is absolutely critical.
With fine wine, I want to deal with someone who is confident, knowledgeable and capable. Certainly, Richard is very engaging and has lots of savoir-faire. Now, if I need advice he is invariably the first merchant I turn to. Also, I just really enjoy talking to him about wine – particularly over a good bottle.
Without question, the relationship has developed and matured and I like to think we’ve become firm friends. I see him at least three or four times a year and certainly whenever he is in Hong Kong. If he is hosting a wine dinner here, I always go if I am free. If not, we try and meet up for lunch instead.
One of the most memorable occasions was a Château Lafleur dinner he invited me to at the Landmark Mandarin Hotel. Lafleur is my greatest red-wine passion. It helps that Armit is its London agent. Richard has dramatically improved my access to it.
When Armit found a European cellar with some extremely rare and great older Lafleur vintages, Richard gave me first refusal and I took full advantage. Not that long ago, he also helped organise a private visit to the chateau to meet the winemaker Baptiste Guinaudeau. When we went around the tiny vineyard, Baptiste seemed to know every vine personally.
Meanwhile, Richard continues to surprise me with rare bottles to add to my collection. Recently, he came across a very unusual 2009 Meursault Les Vireuils Dessus that is made by the great Jean-Francois Coche-Dury, which very few people know about. Somehow Richard managed to get me a case of this magnificent wine at a very good price. Then, miraculously, he came up with a magnum of Anne Claude Leflaive’s Le Montrachet, which I am keeping in London. Apparently, Armit only gets six bottles, which go to its six top customers. Luckily, it seems I am one of them.
Armit Wines, 5 Royalty Studios, 105 Lancaster Road, London W11 (020-7908 0660; www.armitwines.co.uk).