Thursday, 22 June 2017

Berry Bros. & Rudd: My Secret Shame

So PK has been on at me for ages, years, even, about Berry Bros. & Rudd, legendary wine sellers of Piccadilly, established in the seventeenth century, impossibly period retail premises, outrageous client list (Lord Byron, the Aga Khan, Napoleon III, the British Royal Family past and present), superlative knowledge of high-end wines (eight Masters of Wine working for them), history issuing from their eighteenth-century headquarters like an invisible gas, a surprising number of drinkable wines listed online for under a tenner, I mean, he says, why wouldn't anyone get down to 3 St. James's Street, SW1, and have themselves the heritage time of their lives and come away laden with drink? 'Go on' he concludes, 'you know you want to', the phrase he invariably uses for anything I really don't want to do.

How do I know I don't want to? Because I've been past the place plenty of times and everything about it puts me off, apart from the facade and a beetling covered alleyway next door which bears a plaque set on the jamb of its entrance arch: In this building was the legation from the Republic of Texas to the Court of St. James 1842 - 1845. Everything else makes my blood run cold. And yet, just to shut PK up, I will give it a go.

Give it a go is of course a relatively nuanced term. What it means in practice is that I stand at the windows (like the poop of a Napoleonic ship of the line, gnarled and lacquered with centuries of paint), peer inside and see nothing that appears to be a shop. In one part of the building there seems to be a sitting room, recently vacated by Beau Brummel or Queen Mary; in another part there is a Georgian office or counting house, a handful of scriveners seated at desks towards the rear of the space. The window displays contain a handful of sullenly impressive wine bottles, each poised on a single metal stand like a museum exhibit. There are no prices. Apart from the enigmatic bottles in the windows and the legend Wine Merchants in quiet gold lettering, there is nothing to make the uncommitted pedestrian believe that he is in fact passing a wine store. It might as well be an antiques dealer. And although this particular pedestrian knows that he is passing a wine store, he does not stop and go in; he just keeps moving. That's what the place is saying: nothing for you here, nothing you could make sense of.

What makes it worse is the fact that Berry Bros. & Rudd are not alone in this act of deadly hauteur. Next door is a shop owned by Dunhill, for the pleasure of extremely serious cigar enthusiasts. When I peer, hobo-like, through its window, all I see are three expensively-dressed men propping up a counter, talking; in the window it says Cigar Lounge; there is a humidor; I move away.

And on the other side of Berry Bros. are two even greater villains: Lock, the hatters (oldest hatmakers in the world, clients include Lord Nelson, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Kennedy, Winston Churchill) and Lobb the bootmaker (Queen Victoria, Frank Sinatra, Churchill again). Lobb scarcely announce themselves at all, their shopfront bare except for a couple of By Appointments over the doorway and a dusty shelf in the window bearing an assortment of single shoes, apparently dropped there by chance, and an old cardboard box. In other words, I am faced, overall, with about a hundred feet of pure retailing disdain. Why, exactly, am I meant to feel good about this?

Yes, I know that high-end shops like to make themselves inaccessible and I understand that Berry Bros. aren't going to have a chalkboard outside shouting about a supremely chuggable pinot grigio, just to get me in. But there is a limit to the amount of patrician indifference I can put up with, not least because in the modern, disintermediated, world, Amazon (bless them) will supersubtly know what I want almost before I know it myself and silently and efficiently get it to me without my having to do anything more than caress my phone. Just the idea of an antiquated Piccadilly snob shop playing hard to get makes me mad. And a wine shop at that! Where the whole transaction is already rank with elitism, even in a high street outlet! What the hell kind of world are we living in? What the hell kind of world is PK living in? Not for the first time, I tell myself that I must never, ever, act on one of his suggestions again. Only this time I really, really, really mean it.

CJ






Thursday, 15 June 2017

Thursday, 8 June 2017

2014 Chinon: Cold

This week's style icon: James Joyce

CJ turned mulishly aside from his glass. Aversion to the smell of proofing. Messrs Wait & Rose, stockists. Indifferent cellarage, make a pretty profit of it, though.

- Tastes of rubber. Is there something the matter with it?

Outside the late sun freed itself from the clouds, shining dully on Victorian brickwork, London Stock, corporeal entity of Lud's Town.

PK cleared his throat.

- Sure, now, and there's a trick for that fellow. Chinon, it's a bloody mongrel unless you give it a spell in the cooler first. Give it a chance to reflect on its wrongdoings.
- Is that so?

CJ eyed him narrowly, twisting his glassstem by degrees across the deal tabletop: churchchurchchurchchur. Wonder does he drink all he says he does? Old was his mutton and his claret good. Toper's complexion, broadveined map of dissipation, d.t.'s in the fullness of time. She keeps him in line, though. Distaff's duty. Insurance policy. Which reminds me: did I renew? Hell to pay if not. Whole house burned to rubble, conflagration of London Stock, sea of glass mingled with fire, Oh Japes! There'd be some explaining.

- Take it from me, he said, half a day in the boreal, you wouldn't recognise it. In like a lion, out like a lamb. What is it they say about those wines? A thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the Loire? No, that's not it.

Mantling, PK recrossed his legs and plucked from the warp of his workingman's jeans a diminutive trace of lint; after which he folded his hands before him prelatewise. Claretfaced omniscience. A bearded panjandrum, his utterances never cease to amaze. One night only. Finest English wool.

- But you accept my point.
- It's a thing to take into consideration, CJ said. Why don't they advertise it?
- They do. On the bottle.
- Oh, blazes they do. Arp.
- There on the side.

Yes. He fingered the bottle, womanly shoulders, a white elipse, Domaine du Colombier. Refreshing if served lightly chilled. With stilted movements he spoke mutely of his disappointment, a sigh, lethargic. Birds descanted as the evening drew on, the garden outside slowly blackening in the windowpanes. Tremulous birdsong, nightjar, thrush, nightingale. Jug jug to dirty ears. Your heart you sing of. Skeins of nightfall, windingsheet of dark winding the dark world in.

- You have me.
- Like a Beaujolias.
- We could open another bottle. That. Behind you.

Eternal neophyte.

- What? This one? God, a Malbec: γνῶθι σεαυτόν! Did I ever tell you of the time we got lost in Bordeaux trying to find the football game? That was a shennanigan. The looks we got on account of having drink taken. Johnny Frenchman didn't know what to make of us.

PK shook, panting with soft laughter, his greying poll starting up behind. Terrible business! That Frenchie with his eyes like hatpegs at two in the morning. Forth, beste, out of thy stal! And they say we're finished! Three ruffians. No wonder he looked surprised.

- But the food was tip-top. No mistakes there.

Served lightly chilled: a motto for your escutcheon. How, in Latin? Vix gelidus. No, too cold. Like a Cava, icicles forming in the neck. Heat of Iberia. Great admirer of all that, he is. Wouldn't think it to look. Wears a hat on sunny days, aversion to ultraviolet rays is it? Attraction of opposites. German physicist, not Röntgen, X-rays they were, see the skull beneath the skin.

PK wrested the cap clear of the bottle and sentiently admitted half a gill of red wine to his glass, motioning thereafter in convivial dumbshow to CJ, abstracted at the furthest reach of the table. CJ, still frowning, pushed his own glass back across the soiled woodgrain. Tschink. Imperial purple.

- This'll bring tears to your eyes.
- So, in the refridgerator, then?
- It's your only chance. Unless you honestly prefer Caoutchouc de Chinon, that inveterate Gallic prank.
- There's no telling what they won't try, CJ said with forebearance. Mortification, did I pay good money for this?

From the street a motorcar sounded mockingly its horn.

- Confirmation! said PK. The divine afflatus! Oh, that's a good one.

CJ(oyce)