In our first Jot on the artist and cook Scotson-Clark, we referred to the time he spent working in the City just after he had left school. After reading further into his very autobiographical book we now know much more after about this period in his life. It seems that one of his jobs was as a clerk in ‘ a very old-established wine business ‘. He describes the premises with the eye of a painter:
‘ The office was spacious, with large windows. In the winter a comfortable fire burned in the large open grate in the outer office. Green silk curtains screened the lower part of the windows from the vulgar gaze of the passer-by, and corresponding green silk curtains screened the upper part of the desks from the customers or visitors who chanced to call. The ledgers were so large that it was as much as I could do to carry them from the safe to my desk. Quill pens had retired in favour of steel ones on my entry, as had the sand-box in favour of blotting paper. There was no evidence of wine about the place—that would have been vulgar—but the atmosphere was charged with a delicious blend of the sweet aromae of wine, brandy and corks, that came up from the cellar…’
Scotson-Clark then goes on to describe the process of wine-tasting performed by the chief of the business, ‘a most polished gentleman if the old school’.
‘ I have often him with six or seven glasses of wine before him—each glass with a hidden label on the foot, reject four o five on the bouquet alone and then the remaining ones would be tested and arranged in their order of merit before the labels were looked at. And then came the final test of colour. A special old Waterford glass was used for this. It was most beautifully cut, though the lip was as thin as a visiting card. The stem was a trifle dumpy because it had been broken many times and blown together again, and with each repair , so had the stem shrunk. Then there was a special glass for claret, one with an out-turned lip. He liked it because it distributed the bouquet. Now the dock glass you will remember is slightly larger at the bottom than at the top, the alleged object being to concentrate the bouquet so that it escapes just below the nostrils…The glass should be wide enough at the top to admit the nose of moderate proportions, for the bouquet of the vintage is of great importance as the taste.
Champagne should not be taken from a tumbler except as a “corpse reviver” in the forenoon, and at that hour and, for that purpose, an inferior wine is as suitable as a good one, especially if it be “Niblitized”, that is, has incorporated in it a liqueur glass of brandy and a squeeze of lime, with the rind dropped in the glass. Neither the palate nor the stomach is in a fit condition to receive champagne before 8 p.m., and then it should be taken from the thinnest of thin glasses, either of the trumpet or inverted mushroom shape….On principle I am against hollow stems, except as curiosities. Nor do I like coloured glasses, except for hock which is apt to be slightly cloudy
I have always loved the tall, graceful thin-stemmed sherry glasses, and here again one can no more enjoy a glass of Montilla or Amontillado out of a port glass, than one can a glass of Cockburn or Kopke out of a sherry glass. One might as well try to play tennis in a football suit. It can’t be done.
One of my moist cherished memories—one that constantly recurs to my mind, was my one and only taste of “Duke’s Montilla”. This was a special sherry of the vintage of 1815, shipped over when the Duke of Wellington was at the zenith of his popularity and named after him by the grateful Spaniards. What higher compliment could they pay him? \My dear old chief was sick unto death and the doctor said he could anything his soul craved. He desired a bottle of “ Duke’s Montilla”, but he was far too gone to take more than a sip, so his son, one of the rarest of mortals, brought the remains of the bottle back to the office so that I might taste it. “You may, “ said he “ Never get another opportunity.” I never have had, but I can still taste that glorious win—there times round the Cape, ten years in wood, and some fifty-five in bottle.
When my own time comes I fancy that a glass of Sandeman ’64 would be a fitting stirrup-cup, but before I die, the gods willing , I shall go to Spain to revel in the bodegas of Jerez. For years I have had a standing invitation to visit the Garvey cellars. I want to taste the “ natural “ wine of Spain, the wine that has no added spirit, the wine if which a parson once told me” you can drink a bucketful without knowing it.”…
Incidentally, we would like to know what ‘ Kopke ‘ is. Also, rather confusingly, in the cocktail boom of the 1920, a ’ corpse reviver’
contained no champagne but consisted of cognac, calvados and sweet red vermouth shaken and strained.
To be continued