Travelling tight

Christopher Pincher enjoys the wine list at the Travellers Club

On Wine

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

“Now the Travellers Club is a fine club, a grand club, without being pretentious.” These were my unctuous utterings to its then chairman, the late Sir Peregrine Rhodes, in response to his polite inquiry as to why I wanted to be a member. When a few minutes later he addressed the bright, expectant faces of the candidates arrayed before him in the clubhouse library and used the same flattering formulation, I knew I was in.

It has been a very satisfying quarter century. For the Travellers is a fine club. Founded by Lord Castlereagh in 1819 at the height of his political powers; built by Sir Charles Barry at the apogee of his architectural imperium; populated by envoys, statesmen and not a few spies, plonked down in Pall Mall between the Athenaeum (full of bishops) and the Reform (full of philosophers), the Travellers is a friendly club; it is an intimate, embracing place and really is not at all pretentious. Yet the best thing about the club is not its clubhouse, grand though it is, nor its warm and chatty membership, welcoming though they be. The best thing about the Travellers Club is its wine list.

I was first introduced to this long and luscious catalogue of delights in the summer of 1996. My guides were my proposer, Johnny Leavesley, and the late Charles Macauley, who attacked the list with the same careful intensity as the club wine committee who attended it.

They began, often as not, with a crisp country chardonnay such as a Macon Uchizy. This is now very much a club staple, though back then was a more unusual choice. Yet its fresh flavour, citrus assault on the roof of the mouth, then buttery finish in the throat quickly found favour with me. Philibert and Gerald Talmard pick their grapes early to ensure their acidity, then ferment them to deliver a breeziness that makes this Macon the perfect beginning to any meal, or to no meal at all. I still, almost always, start every club lunch or dinner with an Uchizy.

We usually followed this white with a rich claret such as a Batailley Cinquième Cru (a much better Bordeaux than the rather antiquated grape growth classifications suggest) from 1986 or 1988. This leathery, tawny mixture with violet lip and tonnes of blackcurrant and tobacco works its magic on even the most unwilling palate. It is ripe and tasty, yet smooth and without the viscosity that sometimes makes less refined reds rather heavy going. I recommend it for any evening where the courses are drawn out and the nights are drawing in.

The Travellers wine list has withstood the tests of time and the depredations of such worthy opponents as Robert Dóry, Michael Keane and the great Bruce Anderson. The others may have retired to another world, but Bruce continues his withering offensive against the cellar unabated and with unabashed enthusiasm. He has not beaten it yet, but he is still trying.

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