"England long since ceased to be a wine drinking nation"
André Louis Simon (1877–1970) was the charismatic leader of the English wine trade for almost all of the first half of the 20th century, and the grand old man of literate connoisseurship for a further 20 years. In 66 years of authorship, he wrote 104 books. For 33 years he was one of London's leading champagne shippers; for another 33 years active president of the Wine & Food Society. Although he lived in England from the age of 25, he always remained a French citizen. He was both Officier de la Légion d'Honneur and holder of the Order of the British Empire.
A Contribution to the better Understanding of Food and Drink together with a Gastronomic Vocabulary and a Wine Glossary
1951 Michael Joseph, London
There are people – millions of them – for whom life simply means keeping body and soul together for as long as possible; they eat and they drink when and what they can. But there are others; there are men and women who not only live but enjoy life; who fully appreciate all that is good and beautiful, be it purple moors or the blue sea, beautiful music or beautiful wines. They are not gross materialists; on the contrary; they loathe the greed and intemperance of the glutton; they are blessed with that innate love of harmony which makes us pause and forget our cares when in our soul the echo of Beauty’s call is heard
In all times and among all nations, we find the praises of wine sung by the poets and we find also wine more highly valued as men become more civilized. And how could it be otherwise since Wine is harmony. What tonality, what modulations, what a melody there is for the connoisseur in a glass of brilliant wine, fragrant with the subdued perfume of verbena and violets, as softly it flows upon its downwards and last journey, lightly touching the taste chords of the palate!
Of course, it is quite possible to live – to live a long and virtuous life - without having ever tasted a glass of wine, looked at a picture or heard a note of music, but what a life!
What is Wine?
Wine is the living blood of the grape. Wine is harmony; a marvellously complex and well-balanced blend of ever so many different substances in a solution of water and alcohol.
Wine is the living blood of the grape: it possesses life; it is liable to sickness and doomed to death.
Wine is purer than either water or milk because no typhoid or other deadly germ can live in wine.
Wine requires and repays care, the loving care which is the only care that is intelligent and worthy of so precious a gift.
The bulk of the wine made every year from the world’s vineyards is just plain, honest, rough wine; very cheap, not always pleasant, but very wholesome.
Much wine is also made which can justly claim to be both fair and honest as well as moderate in price.
Some wine, in particularly favourable years, is made from a comparatively few world-famous vineyards and may rightly boast to be in a class by itself; such wine is never cheap; it is very fine and there is never enough of it.
If any proof were wanted that England long since ceased to be a wine drinking nation, one would only have to turn to English sauces: Apple sauce (sweet), Bread sauce (cloves), Curry sauce, Horseradish sauce, Mint sauce, Onion sauce, all sauces which may be excellent with water, beer or whisky, but not wine.
To appreciate form and colour, sound and scent, the true perspective and the right place which give to all things their greatest charm and value, is a gift of which artists have been given a fuller share than the rest of us, but it is by no means their monopoly; it is our common heritage, the very core of what we are pleased to call Civilization.
There are some well-meaning people in the world, who would be only too pleased to understand wine, but who are convinced that it is beyond them; they imagine that they lack the time, the disposition or the means to become wine connoisseurs. In this they are entirely wrong. Are there not a great many people who can neither paint nor play, and yet thoroughly enjoy good music and fine painting? They can also enjoy good wine.
When grapes are ripe they are gathered and crushed: then their sweet juice ferments and becomes wine.
Fermentation may be slow or quick, partial or complete, satisfactory or otherwise, but it is as inevitable as it is natural. It transforms grape-sugar into alcohol and grape-juice into wine. There never has been and there can never be any wine without alcohol.
There are many different kinds of wines, because there are many different species of vines, because of the great differences which exist between the soil, aspect and climate of all the vineyards of the world, and because of differences between various methods of growing grapes and making wine.
A sound wine is a healthy wine; health alone is harmony.
Good wine may become worthless, if badly kept or kept too long, but no bad wine will ever be made better by age or attention; the longer it is kept, the worse it will be.
A Wine Primer: a text-book for beginners on how to buy, keep and serve wine.
What is a Connoisseur? A Connoisseur is one who knows and loves that which is good, beautiful, uncommon, interesting; everything that is the best of its kind and, above all, genuine. To become a Connoisseur one must be keen and one must be trained.
Many can see who do not appreciate beauty any more than a cow looking at the most glorious sunset.
Many can hear who do not appreciate harmony any more than a dog in an organ loft.
Many can taste what they drink who are interested as much in the quantity of the supply and as little in its quality as some of the animals at the Zoo.
Pictures, music, and wine may be good, bad or indifferent; it is all the same to those who cannot see, hear or taste; and it is very nearly the same to those unfortunate people who do not see, hear, or taste with the keen, apprehensive, appreciative mind of the connoisseur.
The Connoisseur must possess a lively sense of appreciation and be guided by good taste. Good taste is nobody's monopoly, and different people may have good taste who have not the same tastes.
The Connoisseur must neither give up his individuality nor fall into eccentricities; he must cultivate the sense of 'measure,' of true proportion, which is the hall-mark of good taste.
The Connoisseur must be prepared to make mistakes; they are inevitable, they should be helpful, and they must not make him lose confidence in his judgment.
The Connoisseur must be critical and not take for granted that the expert is always right; but he must not be self-opinionated and refuse advice.
The Connoisseur must not be extravagant or hasty; but he must still less be mean or casual.
The Connoisseur must school himself to resist temptation; he must learn to go without that which he cannot afford and to leave alone fakes, doubtful bargains, and 'just-as-good' substitutes which cost less and are worthless,
The Wine Connoisseur
The Wine Connoisseur is one who knows good wine from bad and who appreciates the distinctive merits of different wines.
The Wine Connoisseur drinks wine in moderation, but regularly and appreciatively. It is excess—not habit—which blunts appreciation.
A little wine every day costs very little money and is the safest, as well as the pleasantest, tonic for body and mind alike. But wine, whatever its name, its age or its cost, must be honest if it is to be good and to do good.
How can you tell good wine from bad; how can you become a Wine Connoisseur?
By using your senses and your common-sense. By looking at it, smelling it and tasting it with critical eyes, nose and palate before committing it to your veins and your brain.
Look at your wine critically: it must be not only clear but brilliant, be it ruby or amber, young or old, cheap or dear. If it be dull or thick, reject it; if bright, let it go before the tribunal of your nose.
Smell your wine critically: it must be clean-smelling. If you
can detect the slightest mouldy, foul smell, or some unnatural, artificial scent, however faint, leave it alone, if its discreet aroma is pleasant, remain a while with bowed head over your glass: try to remember the occasion when you last met the same charming 'bouquet' and what was the name of the wine.
Then you may send your wine to the next court where your palate awaits it.
Taste your wine critically: it must be clean and pleasant. If you detect any unsavoury, sour or merely suspicious taste, spit it out as you would a bad oyster or a piece of tainted meat. if the wreath of tiny taste-buds of your tongue and palate recieve your wine joyfully, pause but one instant, again to search your memory for the name and vintage of the wine you are drinking and then swallow it gratefully.
Wine is the living blood of the grape; it possesses life; it is liable to sickness and doomed to death.
Never buy any wine—be its price ever so cheap or its name ever so famous—which is not sound. A sound wine is a healthy wine: health alone is harmony.
The best wine for you to buy is the wine which suits you best not the wine which it suits somebody to sell to you.
Buy wine from a wine merchant with a reputation to lose.
Never buy a wine as a speculation: it is not safe.
Never buy any wine that you do not care for, and do not buy more of any wine than you are likely to require.
When tempted, be wary lest you fall! Bargains are not safe: it is better to pay more and buy less; but buy well.
Public Auctions are not safe. It is better for you to give the wine merchant the price he asks for: if his wine fails to satisfy you after a time, whatever the cause, the wine merchant will see you through: his responsibility lasts as long as the wine he
sells; the auctioneer's responsibiity lasts no longer than the auction.
When buying wine, place quality first, variety second, quantity third, and cost last. Always buy some cheap, new, sound beverage wines even if you can afford to buy the most expensive wines as well.
Buy cheap wines to drink habitually and fine wines to drink occasionally.
Trust your wine merchant or leave him. Train your palate so that you may trust your own judgment; but find a wine merchant whom you can trust as well.
Buy fair wine and treat it fairly. Find a home for it—a cool, dark, and quiet home: a good cellar.
A good cellar should be underground, but well ventilated; cool in summer and winter alike, and scrupulously clean.
When wine is delivered to you, remove straw envelopes and paper wrappings; examine every bottle and reject faulty ones.
Never lay down a bottle of wine which shows signs of 'ullage' —that is to say, the cork of which has allowed some of the wine to ooze out.
All wines should be binned in a horizontal position, so that the whole of the inside face of the cork is constantly in contact with the liquid; failing which the corks will shrink, some air will find its way into the bottle, and the wine will be spoilt.
If you are so short of cellar space that you cannot bin away your Champagne or other cased wines as soon as you receive them, be careful to see that the cases are lying flat and not on their sides; otherwise the bottles inside the case would be in a vertical instead of in a horizontal position; half of them would
be neck downwards and safe, but the other half would be standing up and likely to grow flat after 'a time.
When binning Port, see to it that the white 'splash' on the bottles be always uppermost; it will then be exactly the same position as before it reached your cellar, and the crust, which is bound to be disturbed by the moving, will settle down much better into the old grooves which it has made for itself in the very metal of the bottle.
Watch your bins of wine. Be on the look-out for any 'weepers,' so as to remove them and use them quickly before they have become 'ullages.'
Wine needs, and repays, care. Wine deserves not the hireling's care, but that loving care which is the only care that is intelligent and worthy of so precious a gift as Wine.
How to Serve Wine
Wine should always be served in brilliant condition.
All red wines with bottle-age throw a sediment which fouls the wine if it passes from the bottle into the glass. All such red wines should be carefully decanted.
Whenever possible, decant your old wine in the cellar, straight from the bin.
Take the bottle gently from the bin and lay it softly in a cradle. Remove the metal cap or the wax protecting the outside face of the cork.
Wipe the upper lip of the bottle all round and thoroughly with a clean cloth.
Drive your corkscrew slowly right through the centre of the cork and draw the cork steadily without any jerks, without either haste or hesitation.
Once the cork is drawn, wipe the inside lip of the bottle with a clean cloth, take hold of the bottle firmly in your right hand,
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and SLOWLY pour its contents into a decanter held in your left hand.
Place a lighted candle or an electric bulb behind the shoulder of the bottle and watch the wine as it passes out of the neck of the bottle. As soon as you see some loose sediment come to the neck of the bottle, stand the bottle up. What wine may be left in the bottle is unfit for consumption; it is far better to lose a little wine and much sediment than to spoil a decanter of good wine with a little sediment.
Do not serve wine from a basket or cradle if you can help it. It is always better to decant it.
The temperature at which you will serve your fine wines is of great importance.
Avoid extremes: use neither fire nor ice; shocks are always bad for wine.
White wines should be served cold; they may be iced, but no ice should be put in the wine itself.
Red wines should be served at the temperature of the dining-room. They will be spoilt if warmed up quickly, either by being dipped into hot water or placed near the fire.
Decant old Claret one hour, and old Port two or three hours, before dinner. Let them stand in the dining-room, where they will take the temperature of the room.
Never serve fine wines—or fine brandy—in small glasses. Use large glasses, but never let them be filled to the brim, except with Champagne. The subtle 'bouquet' of a wine is its greatest charm, but you will never be able to appreciate it should your glass be too small or too full.
Fine glasses materially add to the enjoyment of fine wines: they enable one to appreciate its brilliant colour. Above all, it is absolutely indispensable that both decanters and glasses should faultessly clean. The cloth used to wipe and polish glasses
should never be used for anything else; the finest wine will be completely ruined if served in glasses which have been wiped with a dirty cloth.
The order in which wines should be served varies according to individual tastes and the food served. The classical order, however, is as follows:
The book was written in 1946 as a "a text-book for beginners on how to buy, keep and serve wine". We live in a different age.
A Connoisseur is one who knows and loves that which is good, beautiful, uncommon, interesting; everything that is the best of its kind and, above all, genuine. To become a Connoisseur one must be keen and one must be trained. p 143
Perhaps there was a higher proportion of connoisseurs in 1946 compared to today. Perhaps there were more people, pro rata, who understood words such as good, beautiful, uncommon, interesting, genuine, be keen and one must be trained.
If today's average drinker stands in the bar drinking from the bottle, what hope is there for the proportion of wine connoisseurs to grow?
The Wine Connoisseur is one who knows good wine from bad and who appreciates the distinctive merits of different wines.
The Wine Connoisseur drinks wine in moderation, but regularly and appreciatively. It is excess—not habit—which blunts appreciation.p 143
"Moderation" is the key word today. The caption for the picture is here.
A good cellar should be underground ....
When wine is delivered to you ... p 145
Although phrases such as these emphasise the era in which they were written, the book as a whole and the extract given here give pleasure to those who love wine. It is not a text book for today's beginner. It is for the wine lover with experience of wine and its enjoyment which will be enhanced from reading it.
But it is like a fine wine which is no longer available.