Robin Butler on Twitter

June 2012

In my May newsletter, I announced in respect of my business, that ‘an important development had occurred’.  I can now reveal it.  I am delighted that I was asked if I would collaborate with someone who is probably better known in the world of wine than almost anyone else alive.  His books on wine have sold in millions, literally, and his writing is very highly respected, not only by the general public, but also by his peers from all around the world.  If you haven’t guessed already, he is Hugh Johnson.

As nearly all my readers will know, wine is a very broad subject encompassing aspects which  differ in varying degree, but all of which give rise to opinions strongly held, depending on the viewpoint of who is doing the writing or tasting.  There are so many factors governing how a wine tastes, from where it was made, what vinification methods were used, to the grape varieties, vintages - and a great deal more.  Add to all these complexities the question  of personal taste and the subject becomes a labyrinth of opinion and science, as well as its fair share of hocus-pocus.

Hugh has written about almost every aspect of wine in a manner which I, and I know countless others, find eminently approachable.  In Hugh’s writing you will read little of volatile phenols, ph values in soil types, or micro-organisms in differing yeast strains; such stuff is for those who are studying for the Master of Wine course or actually making wine, although I suspect he is very knowledgeable about these intricacies also.  He chooses instead to narrate stories around the people and places which lend character to wine and he does so in inimitable style.  He is the type of writer whom one enjoys reading because of the fluency and gentle precision of his prose - then it suddenly dawns that one has learned as great deal.

In addition to his vast knowledge of wine, Hugh also had a shop - The Hugh Johnson Collection - for many years in St James’s, London, San Francisco, Japan and elsewhere, where he had antique, reproduction and modern wine accessories for sale.  Some of his wine glasses he designed himself, but he also had a wide range of practical antique decanters and other accessories.  I am therefore delighted that my business is now able to offer ‘The Hugh Johnson Collection’, where you will find a fine selection of fine decanters (primarily) and other accessories.  Some have his ‘seal of approval’ while others are from his own private collection.   There are some stunning pieces.

Among the items in the Hugh Johnson Collection is an amazing example of a decanting machine.  Because of the way they were made and the materials used, they are very prone to wear and tear, to such an extent that most fail to do their job efficiently.  Indeed they are usually worse than useless because they jerk from one position to another shaking the wine in the process, when the whole point of them is to tilt the bottle they hold gradually and  gently.   However we have found one which despite its age (it is c.1880) seems hardly to have been used and therefore performs very precisely.  You can see this all Hugh’s pieces under his own category (lower right hand side) on my website.  

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A couple of weeks ago, a family member sent me an e.mail with a picture of a modern decanter of ‘striking’ design.  It was given as a wedding present, and I am told that the recipients use it frequently.    Clearly they like it.  There is no denying it has elegantly flowing lines - if you’ll forgive the double entendre.    However, apart from the fact that it costs considerably more than a standard fine Georgian decanter in excellent condition, I feel that it is different just for the sake of being different.  The elongated spout looks as if it would be very easily caught on a full sleeve or passing tea-towel and in addition it looks very awkward to handle.  The company who made it, Riedel, make several other designs which are even more modish and clearly they sell them in large numbers. For my part, and I am certain many of my readers would share my view, that I’d prefer a straightforward 200+ year-old decanter, because such decanters are utterly fit for purpose.  It is also because antiques have stood the test of time and won’t become unfashionable in a few years’ time, nor will they loose their value a soon as they have been taken out of their box.

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Carol and I spent a week in the mountains of Andalucia recently.  Apart from magnificent scenery and a most comfortable hotel, we also enjoyed the wines local to the region of Ronda near where we stayed.  They may not be world famous, and apart from an Albari o, I did not recognise a single vineyard name on the various bottles we had, but they were all excellent - full of fruit and eminently quaffable.

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