Andrew Jefford

  • Allusive threads to an earlier sensorial world

    We’re surrounded by gifts from the past: stories, poems, buildings, ideas. They constitute our human nest. The discovery of a new Egyptian tomb (like that of the 22nd-Dynasty temple singer Nehmes Bastet, whose mummified remains were uncoffined after almost 3,000 years of seclusion in January 2012) or a new spider (like the shy but showy, fearsome-clawed Trogloraptor, which was discovered in the caves of Oregon in 2010) deepens understanding, as well as inspiring wonder. I think, though, that you could argue that the recuperative efforts of Don Cauda and the mayor of Monferrato were more impressive still. We don’t just look and learn from what they found. They help us smell and taste the past.

  • At dusk with the anti-Riesling

    One sniff, and I was back. Deep, sweet red fruits, streaked with a little tar and dusted with cinnamon; there was a creamy fullness, too. Call it an anti-Riesling: warm, languid, savory, and salty in place of all that orchard freshness. If Riesling is dawn, this Shiraz was day’s end.

  • A synopsis of life and time

    I’ve tasted 19th-century table wines on a few occasions-half a dozen bottles, perhaps. In most cases, the experience was rather like viewing saints’ relics in obscure Sicilian churches. These were strange objects locked in glass whose gift to venerators was principally an imaginative one, since they now bore no resemblance to the living things they had once been.

  • Reality rearranged by beauty

    It was sunny, to begin with. Amaya Goñi brought us water, and we sipped it at a table in the walled garden. There was, though, change in the air. As we made for the vineyards, white clouds edged over the mountain: vapory buckshot. The tissue of birdsong thinned; a moist stillness fell.

  • The Ballad of the Rosenkavalier

    I seldom feel like Lord Alfred Douglas. This is perhaps just as well, given that the most celebrated of Oscar Wilde’s lovers had a life rendered miserable by self-indulgence, given that he was long estranged from a vengeful and violent father, given that he was an anti-Semite who squandered much of his inheritance in libel actions (both as plaintiff and defendant), and given that the mental illness that ran in his family -one prone to a disproportionate number of “shooting accidents”-was eventually to claim his only son. He was, though, also a poet, and his 1894 poem “Two Loves,” which played a crucial part in earning Wilde his “gross indecency” conviction and two years’ hard labor in Pentonville, Wandsworth, and Reading jails, concludes with the celebrated line, “‘I am the love that dare not speak its name.’”

  • A Galápagos finch of a wine

    Yes, this is the second Australian bottle in succession. Why? I’m living in Australia for 15 months, surveying the land, the sky, and the vineyards that they nourish. I’ve rarely tasted so much wine on a weekly basis over a sustained period. Almost all of it, logically enough, is from Australia. To look elsewhere just now would be irrational and discourteous- though my previous life as a wine nomad will be resumed in an issue or two.

  • In high exultation

    To begin with, I didn’t pay enough attention. Like the congenial rattle of checkers or dominoes from an open window in a nearby alley, it seemed an enjoyable way for those involved to pass the time, but not one about which I needed to know every detail. There was, true enough, Barca Velha, but for me it never quite lived up to its reputation.

  • 96 of One and 12 of the Other

    The cellar may seem like a place of quiet and stillness. Interrogations and debates unfold there nonetheless. There is the obvious one, akin to that telling first glance of the class reunion: How well are you aging? There are therapeutic inner debates: Are you capable of change? Some bottles grow garrulous; others retreat, like stroke victims, to an island of silence from which they can’t be beckoned back. You hope, of course, for a modulated beauty, for every bottle to cross to a sunny upland of Jungian individuation, and the best manage just that. Sometimes, though, the juiciness of youth dries unaccountably into middle-aged rigidity; sometimes alcohol obtrudes or oak constrains; sometimes Brett emerges to dominate, like an unwelcome idée fixe in a oncesupple mind. Cork, too, punctuates the murmur with its jester’s laugh.

  • Moroccan Coffee and Clean Cagettes

    The most apt analogy, perhaps, is the publisher’s slush pile-that legendary stack of unsolicited manuscripts where, sandwiched between laborious first novels, eccentric diets, and the childhood reminiscences of the elderly, the house reader dreams of finding a golden text to wave at cynical seniors. So with the samples delivered to the homes of those who write about wine. All deserve a taste, most a note, but I’ve never come across one that rearranged my inner pantheon in the way that truly great wine can.

  • A Date with a Bottle of Great Burgundy

    First, an admission of failure. Most of the red Burgundy I have bought has disappointed me. Is this my fault? Since I had a chance to taste at least two thirds of it in advance, as barrel samples shown by London retailers about 16 months after the vintage, my own ineptitude may well be to blame. All that prevents me from asking the art editor to scrawl a large dunce’s cap on my head in the photograph to the right is the conviction that at least half of all red Burgundy ever made, and probably everything I have bought, would have been much better drunk from cask than from bottle.