If his diaries are to be believed, the late Alan Clark always went to bed early on New Year’s Eve, avoiding noisy parties to get a good night’s kip in his castle at Saltwood. Some of you may be considering a similar approach to the election results tonight. Give or take the castle, you’ll be retiring at 10pm with a book and nothing stronger than a mug of cocoa. If so, this column is not for you.
I love elections. Even if the outcome is as predictable as tomorrow’s sunrise, I enjoy the sense of occasion, the feeling that I’m participating in a great democratic settling of scores. But there’s something else, too. Tonight gives me an excuse to truffle through my cellar in search of wines from previous general election years.
For as long as I can remember, the wine writer Oz Clarke has held an election night party at his house. We, his friends, just have to turn up with a bottle. Whoever wins this evening, we will be drinking wines from 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2005. It’s a clever way of defusing the tension. No matter which party you support — and how badly it’s doing — there’s always something interesting to drink.
Actually, we winos could have been better served by our prime ministers’ sense of timing. With the exception of 2005, which is still young, and (in some regions) 1983 and 2001, recent UK election years haven’t coincided with great vintages. If you take Bordeaux as your reference point, 1979, 1987, 1992 and 1997 were all poor or mediocre years. Think how much better things would be if we’d had elections in 1982, 1986, 1990, 1995 and 2000 and were drinking those vintages instead.
If you don’t want to adopt the Oz Clarke model, you could choose a wine that shares the name of the man you’d like to be the next prime minister. There’s a precedent for this. In the last US presidential election, Palin syrah, an organic red from Chile, received a lot of attention. Sales plummeted in Democratic San Francisco, but did brilliantly in Texas, and presumably Alaska. Ideal with moose meat…
Here in the UK, Conservative voters might be tempted by the sound of the Cameron Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, but probably not for long. One of its wines, Vino Pinko, has a sketch of Che Guevara on the label, while its website looks distinctly left field. I doubt they’ll be drinking that at Central Office.
Or what about something from Brown Brothers in Australia? Drinking a tarrango from Down Under would give Labour supporters the chance to show solidarity with Gordon, possibly for the last time before he’s defenestrated on Friday morning. In fact, the wine is doubly appropriate. If Labour does as badly as many commentators predict it will do, emigration to Australia might be a tempting option.
As far as I know, there are no wineries with a Nick Clegg connection. The only link between vino and the leader of the Liberal Democrats – and it’s a tenuous one — is the character of Norman Clegg in The Last of the Summer Wine. Maybe Lib Dems could leave the DVD running while they drink something more appropriate?
To cover most of the political spectrum, I’ve picked six wines for tonight. As well as that Brown Brothers red, there’s an English wine for UKIP supporters, an organic Muscadet (with an appropriately low carbon footprint) from the Loire for Greens, a Spanish red for Lib Dems, produced close to the home town of Nick Clegg’s wife, and a claret for Tories. This may sound dangerously European to the eurosceptic wing of the party, but remember that Bordeaux was in English hands from 1152 to 1453, thanks to the marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and the future Henry II.
Last of all, I’ve chosen a fantastic fizz. Whoever wins tonight, months and possibly years of cost-cutting and austerity will follow. The early hours of tomorrow morning could be the last time you’ll feel like drinking Champagne for a while.
2008 Brown Brothers Tarrango, Victoria (from £6.29, 13.5%, Tesco, Waitrose, The Co-operative, Sainsbury’s)
Made from a grape that was developed in Australia in the 1960s (by crossing touriga nacional and sultana), this is like an Aussie version of a basic Beaujolais. Light, fruity and red cherry-scented. Try serving it lightly chilled.
2008 Chapel Down Flint Dry, Kent (£7.69, 11.5%, Waitrose)
The grape varieties may be suspiciously German (huxelrebe, schönburger, bacchus and reichensteiner, since you asked), but the wine is as English as a morris dancer’s bells. A crisp, nettley, bone dry white with teeth-tingling acidity.
2007 Domaine de L’Ecu Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine, Expression de Gneiss (£10.99, 12%, Vintage Roots, 0800 980 4992; www.vintageroots.co.uk)
The best Muscadet I’ve had in years. Guy Bossard’s bio-dynamic, age-worthy wines are as complex as many a white Burgundy, but at a fraction of the price. Mealy and rich, with lovely freshness and a complex, stony finish. Greener than green.
2006 Legaris Crianza, Ribera del Duero (£13.99, or £11.19 by the mixed case, 14%, Oddbins)
Appropriately youthful and appealing to hispanophile red wine drinkers, this full-bodied yet appealingly elegant all-tempranillo red is oaky and aromatic with bright red and black fruits, firmish tannins and a dusting of vanilla spice.
2007 Les Tourelles de Longueville, Pauillac (£23.99, 13.5%, selected branches of Tesco; www.tesco.com/wine)
Like David Cameron himself, this may seem unpalatably young to some, but it’s actually a very forward, eminently palatable red Bordeaux. Savoury tannins, sweet oak, fresh acidity and supple, merlot-dominated fruit are nicely intertwined here.
Taittinger Prélude Grands Crus Champagne (£30, 12%, Majestic)
Reduced from £45 until further notice, this is just the thing to drink on election night. It’s an equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, showing delicious, bottle-developed notes of toast and grilled nuts, elegant bubbles and a long aftertaste.
Originally published in The Times