A dance to the music of wine



As reviews of the season’s country operas start to fill the broadsheets, Simon Field MW – Champagne, Rhône and Spain Buyer – advises on the sustenance required to take you from overture to final bow.

Financial hardships aside, ENO is on a high at the moment and the ROH is, well, the ROH. Magnificent temples of culture the pair of them, we are so lucky to have them in London; but they do not score especially well when it comes to picnics on the lawn, Keatsean mellow and celebrating the remains of the day with crystalline arias still in one’s head. For such indulgence it has to be the Country House Opera, a complete experience where the contents of the hamper are as significant as the performance on the stage (well, almost).

Glyndebourne is, of course, the most well-known: imagine my pleasure when the Christies proved, over a decade ago, that bucolic bliss and Richard Wagner need not be incompatible with an outstanding Tristan. Indeed, next month will be my first visit to Longborough for the self-same work; a most attractive prospect. My loyalty, however, lies behind the glorious Greek porticos of Grange Park Opera, located, conveniently enough,  about 10 miles north of my home in Winchester. The semi-ruined mansion comes complete with the patronage of Lord Ashburton and the artistic direction of the engaging and dynamic Wasfi Kani; and, of course,  the most beautiful grounds… et in arcadia ego, or maybe Scotch ego, with chorizo if it’s Carmen or maybe boudin noir if the opera is from the French repertoire.

Simple is best for these occasions, I find: taramasalata from a Grecian urn, green olives and ajo verde to start. Vintage Champagne dominated by Chardonnay does the trick here, with R&L Legras and Pierre Peters particular favourites. Our friend Mr Hancock at Wright Bros supplies the lobster, to be accompanied by salad, new potatoes and samphire, and little else, apart, of course, from a white varietal that is both crisp and uncompromising. A Grüner Veltliner from Herr Prager, maybe with a little age, is always popular; or, if one is feeling especially flamboyant, a Condrieu – the Coteau de Vernon from Georges Vernay is my favourite. A pudding calls, naturally enough, for a pudding wine; summer pudding with Tokaji, maybe a Betsek from Royal Tokaji.

And then, if one is keen to stay awake during Act Two (or Three) and if the evening is balming appropriately, it may be an idea to save the indulgence of the cheese platter until the end of the performance. Cheese can, once again, match the origin of the opera, although I quite like to play the patriotic card and select locally. The wine will have travelled a little further. Berry Bros. & Rudd Own Selection William Pickering 20-Year-Old Tawny usually gets the nod; depending on who is driving of course.

This season it’s Eugene Onegin and La Bohème, both glorious revivals, and then a very promising Samson and Delilah; oh, and Bryn will be singing in Fiddler on the Roof.  Afterwards a tour of the old house, where part of the roof has, in all probability, fallen down, and then a magical valedictory stroll on the lawns; and then back again the following week, hopefully.

Read more about the art of the picnic, and explore our range of wines and spirits for Summer 2015 on bbr.com, including our Opera in the Park mixed case.