The hardcopy version of my review of the Irresistable Inheritance of Wilberforce (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008) by Paul Torday in the Sunday Times today (sorry about the rhyme) was seriously trimmed. Here is the unbowdlerized version.
Synchronicity – meaningful coincidence – is a powerful force in the Mondovino. Earlier this month I was sitting on the quay outside Bascule, mega-bling bar of the Cape Grace on the Cape Town Waterfront, with a six-pack of anoraks ordering rounds of SA icon reds at many hundreds of rands a pop. The only clue that they could afford the bill was the D&G sunglasses of Gorgeous Gus (Allen, co-owner of Constantia Glen) and the Havaiana tekkies of Bruce Robertson (celebrity chef at theShowroom).
Which is how this book opens: tired and emotional Mr. Nobody fronts up at larney London restaurant and orders a couple of bottle of Château Pétrus ’82 at GBP 3000 a pop. The usual form is for the Maitre d’ to ask for an imprint of one’s credit card, but in this novel by Paul Torday, author of bestseller Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007), a lampooning masterpiece of the last days of the Tony Blair Raj, a glimpse of a roll of fifties large enough to choke an elephant, does the trick.
This successor to SFITY is altogether darker and recounts the sobering tale of how a workaholic computer nerd gets seduced by the idle rich upper classes and sells his successful IT company (and his soul) for a crumbling stately pile and a 100 000 bottle wine cellar. It’s gastroporn for winesnobs: pages of bathetic descriptions of great claret from excellent vintages. A bit like the Milestones column in WINE magazine where memorable wines are recalled in florid prose. Great if you’re a vinous voyeur, pretty boring for everyone else.
The book has its moments and a pervasive Leaving Las Vegas kind of alcoholic ennui in a tale told from back to front. Although feeling like you’ve discovered a new prime number is a bit of a non sequitur as there are infinitely many of those.
One of the wines tossed down the sink is a Cheval Blanc ’53: “the wine tasted thin, spiritless. I sniffed it but could smell nothing…” Which clears the decks for synchronicity. One of the Bascule anoraks, recently returned well shaken from a two-hour 400HP powerboat ride to Llandudno during which speeds of 140 Km were achieved, was Dominic Hébrard, whose brother is a French admiral and whose dad Jacques made the bottle Mr. Nobody trashed.
Hébrard senior has a special place in the wine pantheon. When American über-palate Robert Parker arrived for a tasting after trashing his ’81 vintage, Hébrard reportedly set his dogs on the critic and when Parker asked for a bandage to staunch the blood flowing from the bite, Hébrard handed him a copy of the offending tasting note. Which makes the dedication at the end of the book doubly ironic: “with grateful acknowledgment to Robert Parker whose writing enabled me to imagine the many clarets I could not afford to buy, but wanted to describe, whilst writing this book.”