An enforced Dry January, and best-buy burgundy from the newly released 2022 vintage. See also Jancis's diary – January 2024. A version of this article is published by the Financial Times.
I’ve never been a fan of Dry January and had no intention of being a convert this year. January is the busiest month in London’s crammed professional wine-tasting calendar. There are at least 21 showings of the latest available vintage of burgundy (2022 this year) in one week alone (which began this year, on top of it all, with a big tasting of Greek wine). The week afterwards are the important three-day blind tastings of all the most sought-after wines from the four-year-old bordeaux vintage (2020 this year). Quite apart from the usual plethora of merchants’ portfolio and regional showings.
So when an old friend invited us to a sumptuous-looking villa in Marrakech for a week last month, I showed her my diary and pointed out regretfully that dégustation oblige.
But in the end I bitterly regretted that decision. On 9 January I took to my bed with a debilitating cough that seems to have settled like a wheezy frog on my chest. (I tested negative for whooping cough and COVID.) I had to ask my fellow Master of Wine Andy Howard to cover all the burgundy tastings I was due to attend, sharing the responsibility for our coverage with Julia, who also nobly stepped in to blind-taste all the 2020 bordeaux the following week.
I’d already been in bed for a week from Christmas with a really bad cold. Then had a few days’ respite at the beginning of the year before going down with a relentlessly streaming cold (again) and this pernicious cough. I’ve always said that the one wine that seems to bring cheer even when one is ill is champagne. So I tried a glass in the early stages of the cough – and found it wanting. Every evening at the beginning of this horrible sick period I’d try another sort of wine and every evening it would seem less and less alluring. Not that I lost my sense of smell. Far from it; I’ve become extremely picky. I just lost any desire for the fermented grape juice that has been my nightly friend for decades.
There was admittedly one evening when I welcomed a mouthful or two of 10-year-old madeira, but I think that was more as a linctus than a taste treat. My tastes changed completely. What the liquid did to my throat became more important than any effect on the tasting equipment in my nose. Ice-cold water seemed like nectar and was, unexpectedly, preferable to any hot drink. (Why was ice-cold liquid a balm when ice-cold air seemed like a painful assault?) And for the first time I fell in love with fresh orange juice and Innocent’s cloudy apple juice – each with the fruitiness and acidity that I usually so appreciate in wine and yet now seeming infinitely preferable to it.
When on day eight of all this I finally snagged a doctor’s appointment (UK-based readers will understand) and the doctor told me cheerily that this state of affairs could persist for ‘four to six weeks’, I snapped. Enough of every icy, damp breath being a pain. How about some warm, dry air? There was nothing useful I could do in London, so how about trying to speed up the recovery?
Basically a thwarted travel agent who writes about wine as an excuse to make travel plans, I started to compare temperatures and relative humidities of possible destinations. Caribbean? Too far. North Africa? Nights too cold. (Other friends kept sending annoyingly golden-hued daytime pictures of them on a dahabeeyah on the Nile as I lay snivelling and spluttering with a mega-pack of aloe vera tissues by my side.) Andalucia and the Balearics? Not quite dependably warm enough.
Tenerife in the Canary Islands, a four-hour fight away, seemed most alluring since it is reliably low 20s during the day (70–75 °F) and no colder than about 17 °C (63 °F) overnight – and we’d been before and sort of knew what we were letting ourselves in for. A further incentive came in the form of Ferran and another wine professional willing and able to make informed restaurant recommendations on the island. Which reminds me, I have forgotten to mention one very important consequence of this pesky cough. Around day two or so I completely lost my appetite. I could manage the odd grape or small tangerine but anything more substantial seemed just too much. I have lost at least 4 kg (9 lb). The hope was that a bit of exotically Canarian cuisine might titillate my taste buds.
Just after booking the flights and a sedate, small hotel pretty close to the airport, I made a major discovery about my condition. Two of my most respected fellow senior Masters of Wine had experienced exactly the same thing – including going off wine and losing their appetites. Both are now back on the wiggly and narrow.
Mark Savage MW of Gloucestershire wine merchant Savage Selection, blessed with one of the most respected palates in the UK, reported the mould-breaking news, ‘I did not open a bottle of wine this year till about 14 January’. Former head wine buyer for The Wine Society Sebastian Payne MW had even more shocking news. He’d been invited to a wine weekend in Sussex in November and emailed that even though the organiser had ‘offered Latour 1945 for lunch, and there was a magnum of Montrachet that evening, I could not face either and drove home feeling absolutely lousy and wheezed and coughed for weeks. Oddly as you say, no loss of smell, but complete loss of appetite for wine, for the first time for about 40 years.’
What is almost more worrying for me is that my current condition seems to encompass a distaste for wine but not a distaste for alcohol. On the flight to Tenerife, I was quite happy to sip a Bloody Mary (even if not all of the miniature of vodka and without being convinced that every one of the 21 ingredients in the can of Virgin Mary mix was essential). And on my first night in Tenerife, desperate for something really cool and fizzy from a mini-bar void of sparkling water, I actually sipped some … beer.
Other effects of this disturbing condition are breathlessness and general feebleness. Going from zero steps for 11 days to 4,000 on the day we flew was a bit of a shock, but worth it for the uninterrupted sunshine and lung-friendly air. It was a lot more fun lying by a pool than in a bed in King's Cross. l slightly resented how far our room was from the breakfast terrace (such problems!) and had to make the journey slowly.
The first time I shuffled out to dinner, at the family’s request for photographic proof of recovery, I ordered the local Trenzado white from Suertes del Marqués, the producer that put Tenerife on the international wine map, I enjoyed a few sips but still have a way to go before the cough removes its talons and I really, really look forward to a glass of wine again. My verdict on Tenerife? Weather glorious, cough remorseless.
Very many thanks to our wonderful team for covering for me during this nasty period,
Better buys among 2022 burgundies
For the first time in this section I am basing my recommendations not on my own palate but on those of my extremely trustworthy colleagues and fellow Masters of Wine, Julia Harding and Andy Howard. All prices in bond.
Dom Daniel Dampt, Côte de Léchet Premier Cru, Chablis or Les Lys Premier Cru, Chablis
£228 per case of 12 ib Haynes Hanson & Clark
Dom des Hâtes, Beauroy Premier Cru, Chablis
£120 per case of 6 ib Lea & Sandeman
Dom Roy, Vaulorent Premier Cru, Chablis
£134 per case of 6 ib Montrachet Fine Wine Merchants
Dom Claudie Jobard, Les Cloux Premier Cru, Rully
£315 per case of 12 ib Haynes Hanson & Clark
Dom Gilles Morat, Le Haut de la Roche, Pouilly-Fuissé
£162 per case of 6 ib Robert Rolls
Dom Boris Champy, En Bignon 421, Hautes-Côtes de Beaune
£258 per case of 12 ib Haynes Hanson & Clark
Dom Berthaut-Gerbet, Fixin
£300 per case of 12 in Stannary Wine
Maison de la Chapelle, Les Bâtardes, Irancy
£186 per case of 6 ib Robert Rolls
Dom Georges Joillot, Les Noizons, Pommard
£195 per case of 6 ib Uncorked
Dom de Bellene, Vieilles Vignes Hommage à Françoise Potel Premier Cru, Beaune
£245 per case of 6 ib Goedhuis
Dom Lignier-Michelot, En la Rue de Vergy, Morey-St-Denis
£255 per case of 6 ib Berry Bros & Rudd
Dom Rapet Père et Fils, Ile de Vergelesses Premier Cru, Pernand-Vergelesses
£282 per case of 6 ib Stannary Wine
Dom A-F Gros, Les Boucherottes Premier Cru, Beaune
£295 per case of 6 ib Goedhuis
Dom Edouard Confuron, Le Pré de la Folie, Vosne-Romanée
£345 per case of 6 ib Clark Foyster
For tasting notes, scores and suggested drink dates for well over a thousand 2022 burgundies, see our guide to the 2022 vintage in Burgundy. For international retailers (not stockists) see Wine-Searcher.com.
Cross-section of the human lung by mikroman6 via Getty Images.