Jonathan Ray on picking favourites



This month Jonathan Ray – Berry Bros. & Rudd alumnus and drinks editor of The Spectator – steps up to the plate as our guest blogger, considering the question he is asked most and its answer.

After many years in the wine trade (including several at Berry Bros. & Rudd) and two decades writing about wine as drinks editor of The Daily Telegraph, GQ and currently The Spectator, it’s the question I get asked more than any other. Well, apart from “Where the hell have you been and what time do you call this?”

And no, it’s not “Where do you stand on screw caps vs corks?” (Screw caps.) Or “Who drinks Sherry these days?” (Me.) Or “Are so-called natural wines here to stay?” (Bloody hope not.) Or “Whither English sparkling wines?” (The sky’s the limit.) Or even, “Why bother to decant?” (It makes any vino look/taste better.) No, the question I get asked more than any other is this: “What’s your favourite wine?”

I always feel I’m meant to give a swanky answer such as 1908 Fonseca, 1961 Ch. Lafite or the latest DP en magnum, if only to allow my questioner to cap this with a finer, rarer wine they’ve had the good fortune to meet and are aching to tell me about.

But then I would categorise the above as memorable wines rather than favourite wines. No, a favourite wine is a wine that one comes back to again and again. Such as the Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Blanc I have every single time I dine at Bellamy’s in London’s West End. Luigi keeps directing me elsewhere on the list and I keep scuttling back to the Crozes. And why not? I love white Rhônes and it’s a belter.

A favourite wine is a wine that one relies upon. Whenever I pass a Majestic, I grab some of The Ned Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (currently £7.98 if you buy six). It’s nothing fancy but it’s utterly delicious, crammed with fresh, vibrant, tropical fruit with a crisp, clean finish. Everyone I give a glass to loves it and I always have some in the fridge.

A favourite wine is a wine to which one has a sentimental attachment. After many happy years working at Berry Bros. & Rudd, like everyone else I became pretty much addicted to Good Ordinary Claret (currently a snip at just £9). These days it’s better than ever: soft, supple, smooth and packed with lively bramble fruit. I love it because I love Berry Bros. & Rudd (apart from anything else, I met my missus there) and I love it because it’s bloody good.

A favourite wine is a wine stumbled upon by chance. I recently was given a glass of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne (£42). I had low expectations, erroneously believing it to be akin to that dreaded supermarket staple, Heidsieck Blue Monopole. But good grief, it was astounding! A headily flavoursome mix of toast, brioche, caramel, butterscotch and white peaches, it fair knocked my socks off and continues to do so.

A favourite wine is… well, heck, it’s whatever I’ve got in my glass right now. A Picpoul de Pinet I think, a sample sent by the importer. I can’t remember either producer or vintage and can’t be bothered to go downstairs to look. But it’s well-chilled, crisply tasty and hitting the spot just so. Cheers!

Jonathan Ray is drinks editor of The Spectator and the regular wine columnist for a number of magazines including The Field, Boat International and Spear’s. When he’s not writing, he helps produce (and helps drink) the award-winning Brighton Gin.