The origins of the modern wine dinner started to become clear in the London wine trade in the early twentieth century. What occurred there, seemingly from a small band of wine lovers intent on sharing their dedication to wine, gave form to a tradition that has been passed like bread along the table from one wine dinner to the next ever since. It all started, as many important wine-dinner traditions seemed to, with a bottle of Château Haut-Brion.
André L Simon (see here with a young Hugh Johnson, his protegé) was French wine merchant and author who lived most of his life in London. Hugh Johnson described him in his Oxford Companion to Wine entry as ‘the charismatic leader of the English wine trade for almost all of the first half of the 20th century, and the grand old man of literate connoisseurship for a further 20 years’. There is perhaps no more pointed a tribute to the importance Simon placed on gastronomy than his book The Art of Good Living. By today’s wine text standards, it is a thoughtful, passionate and somewhat vague work but his philosophy is clear. ‘Wine is the living blood of the grape. Wine is harmony; a marvellously complex and well-balanced blend of ever so many different substances in a solution of water and alcohol.’ Simon was ‘one of those guys’ whose passion for wine and contribution to the industry remains legendary today.
One of Simon’s lasting contributions was to start a wine dinner in honour of the great professor, gastronomer and author of Notes on a Cellar Book, George Saintsbury. An honourable nod in itself, the tradition was the forbearer of The International Wine & Food Society. According to Dorothy Richardson Jones in her biography of Saintsbury, the King of Critics, it was during a luncheon on 5 February 1931, while enjoying a bottle of Chateau Haut-Brion 1874, that a group of diners including Simon lamented Saintsbury’s absence.
This is my latest column for JancisRobinson.com. To keep reading, please click here.