Desert Island Discs – and wines

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I mentioned in previous dispatches that Downton Abbey’s creator Julian Fellowes “luxury choice” on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs was “two enormous casks of Château Margaux”.

Guests on Desert Island Discs are invited to imagine themselves cast away on a desert island, and choose eight recordings, a book, and a “luxury” (which must be inanimate and of no use in escaping the island or allowing communication from outside) to take with them.

Wine has been a popular choice for castaways over the years.

Château Margaux was also chosen by the Russian ballerina Natalia Makarova when she guested in 1984. Unlike Fellowes, she chose a specific vintage: the great 1961.

Specific wine or vintage requests like this are uncommon. However, General Sir John Hackett chose “six dozen bottles of Château Latour 1962”, the last – and very good – vintage of Latour made under continuous family ownership (de Chavannes, de Clauzel, de Ségur, de Beaumont) since 1670. In 1963, the British financial group Pearson became the majority shareholder with 53%. Harveys of Bristol, which was subsequently bought by the Allied Lyons group (and where the late Michael Broadbent MW was then working), acquired a 25% stake.

The American singer Gene Pitney wanted “a case of Opus One wine” – the only non-European wine choice that I could find.

Most Desert Island Discs wine requests are generic and without a specific amount. Journalist and politician Julian Critchley asked for “a case of wine”; Cecil Day-Lewis simply for “wine” in 1960 (though on a second appearance in 1968 he had switched to Bourbon); and the actor Donald Sutherland wanted a “case of really good vintage wine”.

Some guests specify a country or region. The politician Roy Jenkins requested “a case of Bordeaux wine”; the conductor Sir Simon Rattle “German white wine”; the American-born British chef Robert Carrier“Burgundy wine”; the conductor John Eliot Gardiner “Sancerre”; and the author P D James wanted “claret”.

A few of the interviewees on Desert Island Discs take the precaution of stocking up to ensure a plentiful supply while marooned.

The politician David Davis asked for “a magic wine cellar that never runs out”; the author Ken Follett an “entire cellar of a great collector of French wine”; the explorer Robin Hanbury-Tenison “a cask of claret”; the actor Laurence Harvey “a barrel of wine”; the author Edna O’Brien “a vault of very good white wine”.

The largest viable wine request was probably that of the journalist, author, and restaurateur Quentin Crewe, who requested “the cellar from Trinity College, Cambridge”, where had studied in the early 1940s and been sent down (expelled) for partying. One wonders how much wine was left after Crewe had left Trinity, which is the richest of the Oxbridge colleges and is said to have a cellar of 25,000 bottles.

Trinity College, Cambridge

A surprising request was a “drinking fountain with taps for Sancerre and claret” by Lord (Norman) Tebbit, the British politician who was known for his austere mien and for telling the unemployed to “get on your bike” and look for work.

Sancerre was also chosen by the actor James Nesbitt, who fancied “a bottle of chilled Sancerre for every night”.

Some guests are eminently practical. Jancis Robinson (who she?) wanted a “cellar of wines and a corkscrew”. The actor Hugh Williams chose a corkscrew – but, perversely, no wine.

If I was stranded on Radio 4’s desert island, I would take the most recent edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack as my book.

For the luxury item… Do I take a guitar, or razors, or a shower, or wine…?

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