Bruce Anderson

The best bottle to come from the Gigondas


One needs wine more than ever, yet when imbibing, it can be hard to concentrate. So much is going on. We were at table and the news came through about Slovakia. Was this an obscure incident, regrettable but below the level of geopolitics? Or would it become a second Sarajevo? Fortunately, that seems unlikely. In Mitteleuropa, there are always ancestral voices prophesying war and there is usually plenty of dry timber. But it does not seem that this assassination attempt will be the spark.

The Barruols have a reputation for delightful eccentricity but they are committed to their bottles

When we had come to that conclusion, there was an obvious next step. Gavrilo Princip nearly missed his chance to murder the Archduke. If he had failed to do so, would there still have been a war? We decided that the answer was yes. The central powers were squaring up and the public mood resembled that of a war horse pawing the ground and waiting for the sound of trumpets. Winston Churchill did warn that the wars of peoples would be more terrible than the wars of kings but even he did not realise what everyone was letting themselves in for. The bands struck up, the flags flew, the joyous troops set off – to chew barbed wire in Flanders, during the second fall of man.

One hundred and ten years later, the damnosa hereditas of 1914 is still with us. The fall of empires always leads to carnage. In 1914, the precarious state of Europe led to war and chaos. The precariousness persists and shows no sign of being resolved.

So pass the wine. We were drinking various bottles of Gigondas from the house of Barruol. Louis is the current maître but the family have been there for 500 years. They call their wines Saint Cosme, as in Cosmas and Damian. The Barruols have a reputation for delightful eccentricity yet they are committed to their bottles. Their range stretches from Côte du Rhone upwards to Château Saint Cosme and Côte Rôtie. They are all good value and I do not believe that a better wine comes out of Gigondas. Berry Bros are their agents in London, which is not surprising. They have been in the business for almost as long as Saint Cosme and they know excellence when they taste it.

Apropos excellence, sadness does not only arise from politics and statecraft. Admittedly, Tony O’Reilly, who has just died, had not been well – and he was 88. But he was a broth of a boy and earned a magnificent send-off, as befits one of the most remarkable men to emerge from modern Ireland. He burst into fame as a rugger player for both Ireland and the British Lions. Still in his teens as an international, he was a Prince Rupert of a winger who could bring crowds roaring to their feet. Whenever he had the ball, there was the possibility of a try.

He then became an equally dashing businessman which led him to philanthropy and the ownership of newspapers. Above all, he played a crucial role in modernising Ireland. In the decades after the travails and bloodshed before Eire broke away, Éamon de Valera led the infant nation into a sterile and backward theocracy. Matters would have been very different if Michael Collins had not been assassinated; the wrong fellow was shot.

From the 1950s, everything started to change and Tony was part of that process. A proud Irishman, he was equally at ease in London and New York. By 1960, it appeared as if a new Ireland was coming into being, with him as one of its leaders and as befits a member of an Irish side which included Prods and Papists, Tony did not have a sectarian atom in his anatomy.

I saw a bit of him when he owned the Independent. I do not remember what we drank, but no one went thirsty. He loved talking politics, culture, rugby and the human condition. Larger than life, he was a life–enhancer. We will cherish his memory.