The Wine and Dinner Club

By / Magazine / September 5th, 2011 / 1

In my wine life I find I have reached the tippling point. I no longer hoard my fine wines. I am drinking them. It is not because I have reached an age when I will no longer buy futures of Bordeaux classified growths. Nor was I inspired by a poster I saw in a travel agent’s window: “Fly First Class Or Your Heirs Will.” It’s just that I have a lot of mature wine and I want to make sure that I enjoy it before the whites turn to sherry and the reds become prune juice.

The problem is for the most complete enjoyment of great wines you have to share them with like-minded individuals. For the last 30 years I have been a member of a dinner club called the Saintsbury Society. It was named after George Saintsbury, an Oxford professor of French who wrote a seminal wine book in 1920 entitled Notes on a Cellar Book.

There are, and only have been since it was founded, three members of the Society. We meet in each other’s homes about four times a year. The host cooks the dinner, invites another couple — so we are eight at table — and everyone brings wine of a theme chosen by the host. It could be California Reds, Rhône, Rioja reds, South America, whatever.

There are only two rules for the Saintsbury Society: you cannot cut bread; it must be broken by hand and passed around the table; and if you’re the guests you will not be invited back to another Saintsbury dinner in that house.

Over the years we have consumed some spectacular bottles of wine and since the membership is made up of dedicated oenophiles we don’t mind bringing out the good stuff. The problem is at other dinners when I entertain friends who aspire to drink nothing better than wines with animals on the label. I admit quite candidly, under these circumstances, I am an oenological fascist. I will not bring out great wines and serve them to guests who would rather drink a Martini throughout the meal. I have a mentor for this dubious behaviour — the late President Richard Nixon.

In their book on the Watergate scandal, Washington Post investigative reporters Woodward and Bernstein recorded that Nixon would entertain his southern senator cronies on his yacht, Sequoia, moored in New York harbour. He ordered his staff to serve his guests, who had downed a sequence of mint juleps, “a rather good six-dollar bottle [while] his glass was to be filled from a bottle of Château Margaux 1966 wrapped in a towel.”

Now I don’t go that far but I certainly sympathize with the old rogue. But what I have no sympathy for is the plethora of gadgets and gizmos currently flooding the market. They are meant to make tannic wines table-ready by pouring them through a funnel or some such apparatus. Or those hock puck-like devices that are said to alter the molecular structure of tannins by arousing them with a 45-minute encounter with a magnetic field. After which the tannins become flaccid.
We live in a Peter Pan society that is enraptured by the cult of youth and battles to keep aging at bay at all costs. And yet when it comes to wine we want to force the aging process instead of letting Nature take its course. One of my mother’s many homilies as I was growing up was, “Patience is a virtue.” Let wine mature at its own pace but keep a watchful eye on it because benign neglect could mean a geriatric taste experience.


Tony Aspler, Order of Canada recipient, has been writing about wine since 1975. He is the author of 18 wine books, including The Wine Atlas of Canada and three wine murder mystery novels. The best concert he ever attended was Rush with the Tragically Hip as the opening band. His favourite comfort food is milk chocolate and his cocktail of choice is a Kir Royale. At home, he drinks wine (lots of wine).

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