The British wine trade might get lots of things wrong, but one of the things it does incomparably well is tradition. The biennial International Wine Trade Dinner crams all that ceremony, heritage and history into one oddball, brilliant evening.
Dinner suit duly donned, I went along not knowing quite what to expect. It took place at Vintner's Hall, the spiritual home of the London wine trade. Around the three long tables sat nearly 150 wine trade supremos - winemakers, journalists, buyers, MWs - with a top table that included royalty in the form of HRH the Duchess of Gloucester.
I was seated about as far from her as possible.
As you might expect the wine was very impressive - and very traditional:
- Pol Roger, Brut 2002 champagne
- von Schubert, Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Alte Reben Riesling trocken 1997 Ruwer
- Ch Léoville-Barton 2000 St-Julien
- Ch Rauzan-Ségla 2000 Margaux
- Royal Tokaji Mézes Mály Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2003 Tokaj
- Graham's 1997 port
And we finished with a 1976 Hine cognac that was landed in London in barrel and bottled in 1993. They were all delicious, but the Rauzan-Ségla probably stole the show.
The whole event was a celebration of the wine trade, and inevitably involved a fair amount of back-slappery, but the spirit of the evening was a forceful reminder of what makes the wine trade great - conviviality and communion.
Plus it featured a host of eccentric conventions throughout the evening - military drumming from the Honourable Artillery Company, singing the national anthem, a succession of formal toasts and a ceremony known as The Loving Cup, which involved passing a goblet of wine around the room and bowing to your neighbour as everyone takes a sip in turn.
I've probably broken some ancient code of silence by writing this, and might end up locked in their cellar for all eternity. Without a corkscrew.