Into the festive spirit

Christopher Pincher enjoys a 2009 Margaux in a dining room steeped in historical scandal

On Wine

This article is taken from the December 2020 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.


I must declare an interest. Swinfen Hall hotel is in my constituency, just on the A38 heading into Lichfield. A venue for weddings (when weddings are allowed), family parties and discreet business meetings, the house was built in the eighteenth century and it retains, despite the depredations of its three successors, the symmetrical elegance of that era.

The dining room, like so many rooms in so many stately homes, is shaded by scandal. Added to the house by a proud father to honour his daughter’s impending marriage, the impetuous child promptly eloped and the room was swiftly shut up. Luckily it is now open again thanks to the imagination of Helen and Victor Wiser, and with panelling, statuary and marble fully restored, the hall serves first class food and drink to discerning customers.

Guests at Swinfen Hall are able to relax and enjoy without risk of their collars being felt

So, let us focus on the drink and as Sir Laming Worthington-Evans was wont to remark, “lubricate our intelligences”. We begin with the 2009 Margaux from Chateau Giscours, one of the largest properties on the Médoc. This well balanced, medium bodied red is ready for drinking now and is a wonderfully piquant, though none too rich, accompaniment to festive foods and post lockdown celebrations.

An initial nuttiness gives way to blackcurrant and thence to tobacco as the moreish liquid wends its way through the pearly gates and down the red gutter. The gravelly subsoil of Labarde makes its presence felt in the tannins which are generous but integrated and which deliver an end note fit for end of year.

Swinfen keeps a good wine cellar. They also keep good liquor. And because they keep both, they keep a good taxi service. Guests are thus able to relax and enjoy without risk of their collars being felt. And to relax with a brandy balloon generously topped with Thomas Hine’s champagne cognac is to rest easy and enjoy much happiness.

Logs crack in the fireplace, liquorice rises to the nose and a creamy, peachy draw rises to the gulp, before all washes away in the warming sensation of a leisurely lunch. Founded in Jarnac nearly three hundred years ago by an Englishman, Hine is the father of cognac Christmases. After a torrid, trying 2020 we must hope that this Christmas he brings us good cheer. We all have an interest in that — and we could all do with some.

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