Drink | Wry Society

The fine wine lover

A pair of aspiring City oenophiles aim to get to grips with the top French grape, lest they be found in possession of a Fawlty palate.

August 25 2010
Adam Edwards

It was at a farewell dinner for his CEO in the mid-1990s that a young David Bayker made the mistake of praising the claret when it was, in fact, a burgundy. And David’s shame was painfully magnified when his department boss, Bill Stanley, smugly paraphrased the famously ignorant Basil Fawlty remark that most of his guests “wouldn’t know the difference between a bordeaux and a claret”.

Bill himself had a certain rudimentary knowledge of the grape. When he first entered the City his modus operandi had been, like every other struggling slicker, to order the second least expensive wine on the list. However, as his salary increased so did his social and financial climb of the charts and now, with great flourish, he usually ordered the fourth, or even the third, most expensive.

In fairness, his years of drinking on expenses had given him a moderately good palate. He could tell a Margaux from a Musigny and a decent Spanish rioja from an aspiring Chilean merlot.

He could order, for example, a 2003 vintage in restaurants and make a toe-curling joke about it being “rather nouveau”, when he knew that it was, in fact, an excellent year and drinking exceptionally well. And he would boast that, while most rich men bought by label not taste, he could differentiate between Le Pin and Pétrus (which he couldn’t). His smattering of knowledge, coupled with an obsequious City wine merchant, allowed him to believe that he was the Robert Parker of the Square Mile.

David, on the other hand, was not so flash about his oenology. After his Fawlty moment he began to swot up with a Berry Bros & Rudd Wine School course and continued with a series of tutorials and tastings. And it was not long before he was something of a connoisseur with a decent cellar in his Notting Hill home.

It was a well-balanced collection with some fine vintage bordeaux that was ready to drink, some new claret that he was laying down (he’d already ordered his selection for 2009, tipped as a year to match the excellent 1982), a drop of burgundy (red and white), a selection of Loire wines, some Côtes du Rhône for everyday drinking and a rack of New Zealand chardonnay (“for the girls”).

But he was most proud of his case of Château Guillot-Clauzel. In spring he had taken a weekend break in St Emilion to sample the 2009 en primeurs, including a rare tasting at Le Pin on the Pomerol plateau. And while he was there he was shown the tiny neighbouring property of Guillot Clauzel. The 1.7 hectares is owned by the Etienne Clauzel family but, when Monsieur Clauzel Senior died, the family allowed the esteemed Dominique Thienpont to manage their winemaking. He was the very same Dominique Thienpont who oversaw – and still oversees – the five acres of Château Le Pin on the other side of the hedge. And so David couldn’t resist buying a case of the Clauzel for £300.

“The nose has Le Pin-like hints of Morello cherries and is almost burgundian in style,” David told his partner, Suzie, proudly adding that if it had been Château Le Pin it would have cost him about £20,000 a case and yet almost nobody could tell the two apart.

Later that month, Suzie threw a dinner party to celebrate David’s 50th birthday and asked along a clutch of his City colleagues, including the boastful Bill, who had generously bought David a bottle of 2005 Château Le Pin, knowing that he had recently visited the vineyard.

During dinner Bill droned on and on about the decanted wine – “the finest wine in the world offering gorgeous aromas of cedar, plums and black cherry liqueur... blah, blah, blah...” – not realising that he was, in fact, drinking the 30-quid Guillot Clauzel.

And finally, David could bear Bill’s swanking no longer. “I see you don’t know the difference between your good Pomerel and your good ordinary claret,” he said wittily. And for the first time – at least with wine glass in hand – Bill was struck dumb.