Robin Butler on Twitter

November 2011

One of the leading lights in the world of spirits is a good friend - John Barrett.  About 30 years ago, I had a lunch-time conversation with him when his business was called The Bristol Brandy Company.  He was, and still is, a leading connoisseur of  spirits, and I asked him about brandy and how best to buy it.  He replied that like most alcoholic drinks, it was best to buy in the very early stages and let it mature - and in the case of fine Cognac, maturation in cask takes about 20 years.  As I had just concluded an excellent deal or two, and in a moment of what at the time seemed wild extravagance, I bought a cask of Hine 1981.  A cask equates to 350 - 400 bottles!  However at less than £8 a bottle, when vintage cognac was selling for upwards of £30, it seemed a good long-term investment, even after paying bottling charges and duty.

Soon after, the BBC (not the broadcaster) was sold to LVMH the French luxury conglomerate, but John retained his interest, and kept his customers informed.  I remember going to see my barrel among many others, including a couple like mine for The Queen, stored 15 - 20 metres below ground in the Gloucestershire countryside.  Cognac matured in the cool damp conditions in England, known as ‘Early Landed’, is quite different from that matured at source, and is thought by many to be superior.   Prudence dictated that I off-loaded a good percentage of my purchase while it was still maturing and I did so, but I still have quite a few bottles, and I am certain that I will not drink them all in my lifetime.

Over dinner one evening 20 years or so ago, Bernard Hine, the head of the firm, told me that his 1981 vintage cognac was a particularly fine year; in fact he said the finest vintage of the century.  Tasting notes, which sound as if they were written by him, can be seen on his firm’s website.  If any reader would like a case of 6, I would be happy to hear from him or her.  I would say that while the prices I have seen on the Internet range from £230 - £445 a bottle, my price will be about half the lower figure if anyone is interested - but I will only be off-loading 3 cases, so it will be a question of first come, first served.

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I was a little surprised at the end of September, to see a large section in our local garden centre given over to Christmas decorations.  While I felt no immediate urge to splurge on such frivolities during our ‘Indian Summer’ it did cause me to think.  It is at about this time of year that I usually receive orders for our modern drinking glasses. 

The reason I stock these glasses is that they tick every box - they are elegant, they do what a modern wine glass should do - to concentrate the bouquet towards the nose - they are a great deal less expensive than other ‘specialist’ wine glasses, and almost above all, they will withstand 5,000 cycles in a dishwasher without becoming cloudy.   Not only that, but apart from the champagne and Burgundy glasses, they come in five sizes from a dessert wine to a very generous red wine.   I understand the prices will increase a little in the new year, so if you would like to place an order in time for the festive season, we will be very happy to help.

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Some things made in previous centuries to aid the enjoyment of wine are well known, but are very difficult to find; they seem to have disappeared from the market.  One such is the mechanical decanting cradle.  They were made at the end of the 19th century, and I used to see a few 25 or 40 years ago, but I have not seen a single example to buy for 10 years at least, although modern ones abound.  I think I found the reason a few weeks ago.  Searching on the Internet, I saw that a Texas auctioneer was selling dozens of them: clearly they were all going to the USA.   Actually old examples seldom work well as the screw mechanism wears making for jerky action, and they are all but impossible to restore, so perhaps we have not lost out.

Another category of hard-to-find wine accessory is the mahogany bottle cradle, or as they were known at the end of the 19th century (when they were reproduced), ‘Cork drawing stands’.  These delightful objects were made around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries.   A few days ago I saw not one, but two coming up at auction in the centre of Ireland.  I booked a telephone bid and secured both, and they can be seen on my website under the ‘Wine Miscellanea’ section.  One is made from finer mahogany than the other - which has already found a new home, although that too, was a good example.  There are one or two other interesting rarities in that category as I write - I hope you will think they are worth a look!

Latest  - Although I have several magnum decanters, I have just found what I think is the most elegant and satisfactory example I have ever had.  It will be on my website later today when I have photographed it.

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