There were six of us at dinner that night at Mike Schofield’s house in London: Mike and his wife and daughter, my wife and I, and a man called Richard Pratt.
Richard Pratt was famous for his love of food and wine. He was president of a small society known as the Epicures, and each month he sent privately to its members information about food and wines. He organized dinners where wonderful dishes and rare wines were served. He refused to smoke for fear of harming his ability to taste, and when discussing a wine, he had a strange habit of describing it as if it were a living being. ‘A sensible wine,’ he would say, ‘rather shy but quite sensible.’ Or, ‘A good-humoured wine, kind and cheerful – slightly rude perhaps, but still good-natured.’
I had been to dinner at Mike’s twice before when Richard Pratt was there, and on each occasion Mike and his wife had cooked a very special meal for the famous epicure. And this one, clearly, was to be no exception. The yellow roses on the dining table, the quantity of shining silver, the three wine glasses to each person and, above all, the faint smell of roasting meat from the kitchen brought on a strong desire for the immediate satisfaction of my hunger.
As we sat down, I remembered that on both Richard Pratt’s last visits Mike had played a little betting game with him over the claret. He had asked him to name it and to guess its age. Pratt had replied that that should not be too difficult if it was one of the great years. Mike had then bet him a case of that same wine that he could not do it. Pratt had accepted, and had won both times. Tonight I felt sure that the little game would be played again, since Mike was quite ready to lose the bet to prove that his wine was good enough to be recognized, and Pratt seemed to take pleasure in showing his knowledge.
The meal began with a plate of fish, fried in butter, and to go with it there
was a Mosel wine. Mike got up and poured the wine himself, and when he sat down again, I could see that he was watching Richard Pratt. He had set the bottle in front of me so that I could read its name. It said,’Geierslay Ohligsberg 1945′. He leaned over and whispered to me that Geierslay was a small village in the Mosel area, almost unknown outside Germany. He said that this wine we were drinking was something unusual, and that so little of this wine was produced that it was almost impossible for a stranger to get any of it. He had visited Geierslay personally the summer before in order to obtain the few bottles that they had allowed him to have.
‘I doubt whether anyone else in the country has any of it at the moment,’ he said.
I saw him look again at Richard Pratt. ‘The great thing about Mosel,’ he continued, raising his voice, ‘is that it’s the perfect wine to serve before a claret. A lot of people serve a Rhine wine instead, but that’s because they don’t know any better.’
Mike Schofield was a man who had become very rich very quickly and now also wanted to be considered someone who understood and enjoyed the good things in life.
‘An attractive little wine, don’t you think?’ he added. He was still watching Richard Pratt. I could see him give a quick look down the table each time he dropped his head to take a mouthful of fish. I could almost feel him waiting for the moment when Pratt would drink his first drop, and look up from his glass with a smile of pleasure, perhaps even of surprise, and then there would be a discussion and Mike would tell him about the village of Geierslay.
But Richard Pratt did not taste his wine.