Monday, 13 May 2013
Britain is no longer a country for the cellar of an old wine buff called Hugh Johnson
The world's best-selling wine writer, 74 year old Hugh Johnson, is moving from his house, which has a five-room wine cellar, to one with a coal hole, to be closer to children and grandchildren and as a consequence is selling off his private cellar after half a century of collecting.
Like many an old downsizer, Hugh is struggling to let go. Speaking of a pair of magnums of chablis about to go under the hammer in an Essex auction room he said :
"I shouldn't be selling them. I don't want to look. You see, when I look at the bottles I know exactly how they will taste."
In last monday's sale at Sworder's Auctioneers over £100,000 worth of wines went under the hammer, including :
* rare vintages dating back to 1830.
* a £2,000 1945 Chateau Latour made in the balmy summer after VE Day at the end of the Second World War.
* his own 'desert island bottle', a single 1971 German riesling which sold for £6,000.
* an amphora dredged from the Mediterranean dated AD100.
For many in the wine world the sale of Hugh's wine marks the end of an era that began in the 1960s when it was the preserve of the elite and Britons drank on average just a third of a glass a week. Between then and now, Johnson's annual pocket wine guide, featuring hundred of bite-sized verdicts, has sold 12 million copies, his 'World Atlas of Wine', first published in 1971, close to 4 million and wine consumption in Britain has increased twelvefold.
Hugh is among a small group who are believed to have tasted the oldest wine ever, a 1540 Steinwein from Germany of which he said :
"The sugars created by the sunshine in the summer of 1540 were there and that was miraculous. There is only one bottle left and the owner says he won't open it which is stupid."
In his career Hugh :
* advised British Airways on how to deliver better wine at 35,000ft.
* started the first newspaper wine club at the Sunday Times in the 1970s.
* was among the first to push the credentials of the New World wines that now fill supermarket shelves.
* in 1976, established the 'Zinfandel Club' to promote California and declared an Australian wine, Penfolds Grange, the equal of a top Bordeaux.
* in 2005 expressed regret at the influence of the American wine critic Robert Parker :
"Imperial hegemony lives in Washington and the dictator of taste in Baltimore."
Before leaving his lifetime's collection, there was a moment for a last sniff and sip. He uncorked a bottle of Tokaji, a sweet and golden Hungarian wine from a famous vineyard he helped rehabilitate in 1990, swirled and inhaled its musty aroma and said :
"Wine connects man and nature and time in a way nothing else does, In a bottle of wine you have an identity created by a craftsman with materials at his disposal, which include the weather. That can't be replicated and it stays alive for centuries."
Hugh and the origin of wine :