Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Nine Tailors with a good Hock

Wherever else I might find myself taking issue with Dorothy L. Sayers, one thing I love about her books is how often she mentions wine. Admittedly since reading 'Ask a Policeman' it's been harder ignore the affectation involved, maybe more so because I can recognise a touch of my own wine snobbery there as well.

Sayers approach to drinks and drinking is even more codified than Georgette Heyer's, with far more class nuances added. It makes me curious about how well informed her average reader was then, and now, because the impression I get is very much us and them. One day I'd really like to have a proper look at what she's up to with details like that.

Meanwhile I've chosen 'The Nine Tailors' specifically for its bleak midwinter setting, though in truth any Sayers would fit the bill here, because what Sayers does, that Heyer cannot, is shine a light on what the inter war wine connoisseur might have been drinking.

I'm going to skip over Lord Peter's love of vintage port in favour of his, to me, much more interesting love of a good German wine. In the U.K., German wine still hasn't recovered its reputation from the 1970's craze for Blue Nun and cheap Liebfraumilch. Which is a shame because we're really missing out on something good.

In Sayers day German wines were still extremely highly regarded (rightly so) even if now it's hard to imagine. My introduction to the joys of an excellent Riesling came at the end of my first shift at oddbins. A bottle was opened (it was a Von Buhl, over a tenner then, and has never been forgotten) and it was a revelation. I'd picked up the common prejudice about sweeter wines but fortunately was to shy to question the choice, and open minded enough to embrace it.

Hock is a generic English term for German wines generally (just as claret refers to reds from Bordeaux) and if I can persuade anybody to go out in search of German wine the only thing I'm going to specify is this - don't be cheap about it, you get what you pay for. There are reasonable wines to be had for around the ten pound mark (think about what a couple of drinks would cost in a pub and that's not really a lot).

What makes these wines so exciting is the balance between their sweetness and acidity. The acidity gives them a freshness and zing that means there's nothing cloying about the wine. That they're lower in alcohol is a good thing too, especially if you're looking for a lunch time wine, and that sweetness makes them an interesting match with spicier food too. They're also really interesting wines to cut your tasting teeth on, or so I found, precisely because they are rather unfashionable which encouraged me to drop my preconceptions and really think about the wine in the glass. Lord Peter, and Miss Sayers knew a good thing long before I did.


  1. Must try Lord Peter with Hock, what a great idea. Nine Tailors is one of my favourite Wimseys, became even more so when I discovered that purely by accident, I'd ended up living next to the river where he has his accident at the start of the novel.

    1. Oh, I love things like that, it really brings books to life.

  2. I completely agree about the German wine. Over here in the Netherlands we are fortunate to be able to buy it for very reasonable prices, and/or cross the border and buy directly from the vintners. Of course the white wines are the more famous, but I love the reds as well.
    And I must say, I wouldn't mind having a Bunter to serve me my Riesling or Spätburgunder and a few nibbles to go with it... I hear he makes excellent coffee as well... :-) I'm reading 'Whose Body?' at the moment and I'm really enjoying both the lively writing and the references to food and wine in it.

    1. The reds are really hard to find in the U.K, specialists sometimes have examples but virtually nothing available on the high street. It's a catch 22 from a sales point of view. We're gold that we can't get more lines into the range because they don't sell, but because there are so few around customers can't buy them (even if they wanted to). I think I might re read The Documents in the Case next.

  3. It's been years since I read this novel, thanks for reminding me.
    The inimitable Adolphe Menjou wrote an autobiography called 'It Took Nine Tailors'.
    BBC TV used to show a Christmas movie with Menjou and I think the young Bette Davis, but they seem to have dropped those sparkling old Hollywood classics.
    J Haggerty

  4. Sayers might be complicated but she's always interesting.