Wednesday, 25 November 2015


"A dry wine, diuretic, and it tastes flinty." That's a description of Chablis from the 1830s which - although I don't know if Chablis makes one go to the toilet any more than other wines - mostly still holds true today. The wines, almost always from Chardonnay, have such high acidity from the cool climate that they feel dryer than most, furthered by a mineral, chalky, flinty mouthfeel. Those dry, often austere, flavours can make Chablis a difficult wine, appealing more to those with acidity fetishes than those who like their wines rich and fruity. However, as I have recently discovered tasting the wines of one Chablis producer, this perception of Chablis is complicated by a surprising variety of styles.

the appellation

Chablis is south west of Paris, one of the furthest north regions in France where quality wine is made. Back in the nineteenth century, when it supplied much of Paris's wine, the vineyards extended further south to connect it with the rest of Burgundy. However, after phylloxera hit and the railway connected Paris to the cheap wines of Languedoc, the lower-quality vineyards weren't replanted, meaning that there now exists a 100km gap between Chablis and the Côte d'Or. During the twentieth century, Chablis began to retreat even further: the cool climate results in spring frosts that can wipe out a vintage before it's even begun. The 40,000ha planted in the 1880s had reduced to 500 by the 1950s. Spring frost is now countered by sprinklers and heaters, which have led to a resurgence in the region, with plantings back up to around a still small 3,000ha.

Chablis is divided up into Chablis AC, the broad appellation whose quality can vary; the Premier Cru vineyards, which controversially extend into areas not traditionally associated with quality Chablis; and Grand Cru, seven vineyards on a slope overlooking the village. There's also Petit Chablis, whose soils are different from the rest of Chablis and which can produce good-quality and good-value wine.

the producer

Laroche are a producer I've found hard to avoid: one of their wines was a staple of hangingditch, the shop I worked at in Manchester, and now the wines are imported into the US by Wilson Daniels, whom my wife works for - which is why I've had the chance to taste their wines recently. One of the most interesting aspects of Laroche is that they are one of the few top French producers to use screwcap closures on all of their wines, even the expensive Grands Crus - or at least they were until recently, as their new vintages have returned to cork closures. They're coy about why they have made this return, but one can only conclude they feel that the guaranteed cleanliness of the wines comes at the expense of their ageing capabilities. We are still at an early stage of understanding how wines may age under screwcaps, but Laroche have been quick to abandon the experiment, perhaps because the quality of corks has improved greatly over the last ten years.   

from screwcap to cork

the wines

St-Martin 2014 (c.$30)

Made from grapes taken from selections of Laroche's 60ha of holdings around Chablis, their entry-level wine has the high acidity characteristic of the region. What I like about it is the body and weight that comes from eight months of lees ageing, meaning that the acidity doesn't overly dominate. It needs those nutty, bready aromas from the lees, because otherwise the aromas would be rather too neutral. ✪✪✪✪

Les Vaudevey Premier Cru 2013 (c.$46)

Of the wines listed here, this perhaps feels - despite some oak ageing - the most classically Chablis: a very restrained nose of lemons and lightly baked apples, with high acidity and a dry finish on the palate. There's a slight creaminess from those baked apple aromas, with some nutmeg. It's all very subtle, and I'd like to try this with a food equally high in acidity. ✪✪✪✪

Les Vaillons Vieilles Vignes Premier Cru 2013 (c.$53)

The "vieilles vignes" aren't that old, planted in the 1970s and 80s, but the nose is more expressive and there is more weight to the wine on the palate than the previous Premier Cru. It's that extra weight which distinguishes the two wines, as the baked apple and nutmeg aromas are otherwise quite similar. ✪✪✪✪✪

Les Blanchots La Réserve de la Obedience Grand Cru 2012 (c.$165)

This is the stand-out wine, but also the one that's least typical of Chablis, with a rich, oaky creaminess that lends the wine a true Burgundy feel (the wine has been aged in 25% new oak). However, the acidity is still bracingly high, refusing to let the oak drag the wine down into a heavy brusqueness. This is like Burgundy on acid. ✪✪✪✪✪✪✪

Chablis, with its acidity and restrained aromas, is still not a region I have quite come to grips with. I would certainly like to experience more Chablis producers to gain a better overall understanding of exactly how the Premier and Grand Cru wines differ from each other - Patrick Piuze is one producer worth indulging in. But having recently tasted these wines at home and at various events, I now appreciate the variety of styles made in Chablis, which have far greater body and weight than I previously appreciated, even if they all share one characteristic: acidity. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

WSET Educator Course

This blog has had a bit of a hiatus recently, as I was busy preparing for - and then doing - a WSET Educator Training course in San Francisco. The course was an intense, challenging, yet highly rewarding experience, which I feel has improved my teaching methods and helped me greatly understand what the WSET want students to learn from their courses - something I've wanted to get to the bottom of for a long time.

the course

Just to give an idea of the intensity of the course: I walked into the classroom at 8:30 on Monday morning, to be greeted by Master of Wine David Wrigley, who created the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting and who was leading the course. At the back of the room sat another MW, Mary Ewing-Mulligan of the International Wine Center in New York, and two MWs in training, Jim Gore of the WSET and Mary Vari from Toronto's Independent Wine Education Guild. As introductions go, that's as intimidating as it gets.

Feeling intimidated at the beginning of the course is quite usual, though, and the friendliness and support of the teaching staff quickly became clear. Together with the tutors, the class, which featured students from the US, Canada, and Jamaica, formed a strong bond which saw us through some challenging sessions.

The first day was mostly spent learning about best teaching methods. My favourite advice for preparing a lesson was that you should create a list of topics where knowledge is assumed, those that must be covered, those that could be covered, and those that must not. As well as being a good preparation tool, this really clarified what was expected of students at the different WSET levels. Those levels are divided into Beginner (Level 1), Intermediate (Level 2), and Advanced (Level 3). An important thing I learnt is that Level 1 is aimed at those in the service industry wanting, or having, to do a one-day course, while Level 2 is for those who want a more in-depth knowledge of wine. However, both courses are for students who have no assumed prior knowledge.

Having learnt this, we were given a series of facts about Chablis to divide into assumed, must cover, could cover, and must not for a Level 2 class. Each group of would-be teachers placed the most basic facts about Chablis into assumed knowledge. As David pointed out, we'd all fallen into a carefully-laid trap: there is no assumed knowledge at Level 2.

Realising the difference between each level was one of the most valuable aspects of the course. Level 2 is, I finally learnt, called Understanding the Label for a reason: at the end of the level, students should be able to explain a wine label - what the wine tastes like, what the terms mean, what the grape varieties used are. Meanwhile, at Level 3, which is called Understanding Style and Quality, it's about the why - why the wine tastes like it does.

On the second morning, we were led through the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting by Jim Gore, in which I had to give a tasting on a standard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Again, most valuable was understanding the approach the WSET wants for each level: Level 1 is quite simple, learning about the different basic types and styles of wine; Level 2 is about how the taste of a wine reflects what's on the label; while Level 3 is about why the wine tastes like it does, going much further into describing its different structural elements.

I also learnt that the WSET are going to formally add BLIC (Balance, Length, Intensity, Complexity) to the Level 3 Systematic Approach to Tasting. This is a way of assessing the quality of the wine which, although not perfect, makes it clearer than before what students should be looking for in a wine when drawing conclusions on the wine's quality. Is the wine balanced? How long is the finish? How intense are the aromas? How complex is the wine? Although the student still has to write an accurate tasting note that logically leads to quality conclusions, using BLIC will help focus students when thinking about quality. (Another change when the WSET Level 3 is relaunched in August is that the spirits component of the book is to be removed, with a separate Level 3 for spirits to be created at some point.)


By far the most intimidating and challenging aspect was being assessed teaching. On the afternoon of the second day, we all had to give a 15-minute class on an assigned topic, in my case German labelling terms. Teaching the topic also required creating a PowerPoint presentation and a detailed session plan. Despite plenty of experience teaching, I have never been so nervous presenting in front of a class. Maybe it was the two MWs at the back of the room assessing me; maybe it was because all the pretend Level 2 students in my class were my peers already holding or studying for the Diploma. My presentation went well enough and got good feedback from both the assessors and the other students, but my throat was dry, I stammered for words, and wasn't as coherent as I wanted to be. Fortunately, the third day was mostly free to revise our presentations and work with fellow students to help us improve: the collegiate nature of the course definitely benefitted everyone's presentations and confidence, including my own.


The final day saw us being formally assessed, and after three days of learning, studying, and practising, I felt no way near as nervous as I did for the practice assessment.

The fifteen-minute class was immediately followed by a ten-minute tasting also at Level 2; in my case the wine was a Chianti Classico. Although we were only able to taste the wines a few minutes before our assessments, we had been promised that the wines would be typical of their region. My Chianti Classico was certainly that, and it was quite straightforward talking the class through the red fruits, high acidity, and medium tannins of the Sangiovese. 

After the morning-long assessment, we all sat in a large room waiting to be called in and told whether we had passed or not. The hours passed as we waited, nervously joking with one another. Three hours later, I was finally called in to be told I had passed and I had the makings of a very good teacher.

This means I am now fully qualified to teach Level 2. Once I have finally finished the Diploma (just the fortified wine unit to go), I will have to return to become a fully accredited WSET Educator by teaching a Level 3 tasting and learning how to mark Level 3 papers. Then, I hope, I will never have to do an exam again.

Monday, 19 October 2015


Mercurey is an appellation too easily passed by: when I visited Burgundy earlier this year, we drove straight from Santenay, the Côte d'Or's most southerly appellation, to Beaujolais, missing out on Mercurey and the other Chalonnaise and Mâconnais winemaking areas. At the time, I regretted not being able to explore these overlooked areas, but that's the way it goes sometimes. However, even passing through I was able to appreciate the green, pastoral countryside of the Chalonnaise, quite different from the wide, stony land of the Côte d'Or. In the Chalonnaise, there is less of an emphasis on winemaking than in the Côte d'Or: there are cows, sheep, trees, and grass, the vineyards spread out between villages and farmsteads.

It's also far less celebrated than the Côte d'Or, meaning its wines do not fetch the high prices of its famous neighbour. The wines attract less attention and fervour, but still retain the high quality expected of Burgundy. All this means great wine can be had for affordable prices, not always the case in Burgundy.


The Chalonnaise is to the west of the river port of Chalon-sur-Saône, a town whose importance dates back to Roman times. The name of Mercurey itself gives away the area's Roman roots: it's called after the Roman temple built there to Mercury, the god of commerce and thievery. The Saône is a large, historic trading river that winds its way through southern Burgundy and Beaujolais down to Lyon, where it connects with the Rhône. As ever, wine and trade are historically connected. The wines were highly valued by the Dukes of Burgundy - Philip the Bold called them "the best and most precious" wines in 1395 - but their relative distance from the centres of Beaune and Dijon kept them away from a proper appreciation of their quality, a situation which still exists today.

Côte Chalonnaise

The Chalonnaise winemaking region is just 25km long and 5km wide, a narrow stretch of land whose vineyards are scattered between farmers' fields. Its wines constitute 16% of Burgundy's total production. There are five villages which have their own appellations: Bouzeron (Burgundy's only senior appellation for the Aligoté grape), Rully (known for its sparkling wine under the Crémant de Bourgogne appellation), Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny, which produces the best white wine in the region. Although Chalonnaise is a continuation of the Côte d'Or, it has a variety of soils creating a real diversity of styles of wines around the region.


the vineyards of Mercurey, with wines tasted highlighted
The variety of soils is most realised in Mercurey, a small village to the north of the Chalonnaise. Vineyards face north/north-east, while others face south/south-west. Altitude is as important as aspect, as Mercurey is in a valley with styles of wines changing according to the vineyard's position in the valley. There are five different types of marl soils and another fifteen of limestone, changing from pebbly, stony, and shallow limestone to deep soils near the river without any limestone. It's a large appellation, which accounts in part for its diversity (only Chablis and Pouilly-Fuissé are bigger). 3.5m bottles are produced a year, 15% of which are white and the rest red. There are 32 Premiers Crus vineyards, covering 168ha (27% of the area); no Grands Crus, and no plans for any - Mercurey needs to get its wines better known around the world, rather than enter the painful world of French wine bureaucracy.

I attended a tasting of six Mercurey wines, one white and five red, which was interesting proof of the village's diversity, quality, and value. The wines were surprisingly fruit forward for Burgundy, meaning that they are likely to appeal to a wide range of consumers, but did not lack for complexity. The diversity may make it difficult to explain Mercurey to consumers, but the wines can be summed up in two words: fruits and acidity.

Mercurey wines

Maison Louis Max Les Rochelles 2013

From a co-operative producer, this was the one white we tasted, and it was a classy example of a Burgundy Chardonnay. A smoky nose at first, with fresh, ripe fruit aromas of pears, nectarines, and apricots. There was a dry, stony, flinty aspect to the palate, which is apparently characteristic of Mercurey, giving the wine a very nice texture, followed up with a crisp pear finish and white pepper spices. As with the reds, the acidity was high and refreshing, lightening the smoky, oak nature. ✪✪✪✪✪

Domaine de l'Europe Les Closeaux 2013 (c.$30)

The only village Mercurey we tasted, and the most fruit forward and immediate. The nose was very fruity and Pinot Noir, with raspberries and red cherries. The tannins were lightly grainy, with refreshing acidity. A simple, straightforward, if very pleasant wine: I was surprised to learn that the wine retails for a rather pricey $30 when one of the virtues of Mercurey's wines is its value. ✪✪✪✪

Domaine Nathalie & Jean-Claude Theulot Les Champs Martin Premier Cru 2013 ($37)

A darker colour and a much more complex nose, with restrained red and black fruit aromas of strawberries and blackberries. Taking time to open up, there were also subtle aromas of orange pith, paprika, and liquorice, as well as smoke and oak. On the palate, there was a refreshing acidity; the fruits were ripe and intense, with more liquorice and paprika aromas, while the tannins were firm and structured. An exceptional wine: and at $37 for a Premier Cru it reaffirmed my belief in the value of Mercurey. ✪✪✪✪✪

Domaine François Raquillet Les Vasées Premier Cru 2013

The reds we tasted moved further south around the appellation with each wine. The soils change, as does the elevation, and the difference between the wines was noticeable. This was much fruitier, ripe and rich, with vanilla and coffee beans also marking the wine out. A very open wine, with soft, unaggressive, but structured tannins. The vines are fifty-five years old, definitely adding a fruity concentration to the wine. ✪✪✪✪✪

Château de Chamirey Les Clos du Roi Premier Cru 2012

The use of oak varied in the reds: for me, 25-30% new oak seems optimum. This had 40% new oak, and it was too much, giving the wine a toasty, oaky character, augmented by clove aromas. Intense and tannic, the much-needed acidity lifted the wine out of its oaky heaviness. ✪✪✪✪

Domaine de Suremain En Sazenay Premier Cru 2012

Perhaps my favourite of the tasting and, in contrast to the previous wine, aged in just 10% new oak. However, the nose was quite closed and needed some thought to appreciate it. The palate really expressed the quality of the wine: the acidity was so lively and uplifting, indicating that it will last many more years, the tannins were ripe giving the wine a fruit quality that wasn't initially apparent on the nose, and the oak was balanced and integrated. ✪✪✪✪✪

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Value of Bordeaux

My difficulty with Bordeaux is that the wines I can afford to drink, I don't want; the wines I want to drink, I can't afford. Although the wines of Bordeaux are much imitated around the world, this is why their reputation has suffered in recent years. Inexpensive Bordeaux offers little of either the quality or value for money that similar wines from Australia, South Africa, Chile, or, indeed, other areas of France give, while the premium wines compete with more accessibly priced, yet still high quality, wines from all around the world (Napa is an exception to this rule, its market not too much different from Bordeaux's). Bordeaux relies too heavily on investors and the nouveaux riches of the US and China, instead of producing wines that the general consumer can afford to buy.

I went to a tasting in San Francisco that challenged this reading of Bordeaux's market, and which demonstrated that the Bordeaux wine industry is determined to compete at the lower end of the market by aiming to produce good-value, inexpensive wines. Whether those wines can compete with established New World brands remains to be seen.


The dry white wine of Bordeaux has two advantages: it rarely fetches the exorbitant prices of the reds, making it often good value, and one of the two important grapes is Sauvignon Blanc, a grape riding the wave of international trends. The other grape is Sémillon, which back in the 1960s was the most planted grape in Bordeaux, black or white. Sémillon results in high-quality wines, but it's not fashionable, its waxy weightiness not always inviting. Put Sauvignon Blanc on a label, the wine sells; mention Sémillon, it stays on the shelf. As a result, Sauvignon Blanc is becoming more and more widely grown, and this is how the dry whites of Bordeaux are going to compete on the international stage.

There were sixteen dry white wines available to taste; eleven of them were Sauvignon Blanc dominant and these were the most inexpensive whites on show ($8-$20). They had characteristic grassy, vegetal aromas with a dry, refreshing acidity; simple, but pleasant and attractive wines. However, I am not sure how well they would fare on the international stage despite the affordable prices: the wines are not as pungently aromatic as New Zealand's, nor as steely and flinty as Loire's.

My overall impression is that $15 is when a dry white Bordeaux becomes interesting and engaging. That's also the price point when Sémillon becomes more involved in the blend, and the use of oak is more likely. My two favourite whites were Château Grand Abord (Graves, 2014; $17), which was 80% Sémillon and showed a creamy, lightly oaky spiciness and baked apples, and Château Respide-Médeville (Graves, 2013; $29), an almost equal blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon, with a little Muscadelle thrown in. The latter demonstrated everything good about white Bordeaux blends, with fresh, floral, stone fruit aromas, a nutty, spicy palate, with a refreshing acidity - but at $29 it's appealing to a very different market than the more inexpensive, green, vegetal Sauvignon Blancs.


This is where pricing gets difficult and it's hard to find good-value wines. The inexpensive reds, which started at $10 at the tasting, just aren't that good. The tannins are bitter and green, the fruits far more restrained than similar wines from Australia or Chile, and there's little or no oak to give the wine structure or longevity. Most are not appealing, fruity, or forward enough for those consumers buying wine in the $10-15 range.

On the evidence of this tasting, quality red Bordeaux begins at around $25-30 and really kicks in at $30-40. That's a very difficult price bracket: more expensive than most consumers are willing to spend, competing with high-quality, arguably better value wines at the same price from around Europe and the rest of the world, but not expensive enough to attract the wealthiest customers.

Nevertheless, there are some good-value wines to be had for those willing to spend in that $30 price range. I was pleasantly surprised by the Bordeaux Supérieur appellation, which I had always dismissed as being rather basic (it can come from anywhere in Bordeaux, but has a slightly higher minimum level of alcohol than standard Bordeaux AC) - but it was only the pricey ones ($25-30) that impressed. The major appellations that offered good value were the Right Bank: being Merlot based and less aggressively tannic than the wines of the Haut-Médoc, they are fruity and inviting to drink at a young age. Château Moulin Pey-Labrie's 100% Merlot from Canon Fronsac ($28) had a lively acidity lifting the gripping tannins, with bright red plum and violet aromas, while Château de Viaud-Lalande's 2010 Pomerol ($30 - also 100% Merlot) had tannins well integrated with the ripe but not plump red fruits, with a nice spicy finish.

One more thing: Bordeaux's labels are hopelessly old-fashioned, most with a château seemingly drawn by a destitute artist from the nineteenth century possessing only a blunt pencil to draw with. In Bordeaux, a château simply refers to any winemaking enterprise - "a straggle of sheds," as Kingsley Amis puts it in On Drink, rather than an actual castle - but it devalues the whole Bordeaux brand when it's used with $10 bottles of wine. If Bordeaux is truly to compete with inexpensive wines from around the world, it needs to rethink its packaging as much as it does its quality.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Kingsley Amis on Drink

Kingsley Amis was a very funny writer, though he's rather unfashionable now for his middle England conservatism. This insularity, however, is part of the charm of On Drink, a book he wrote in the early 1970s. A very personal guide on how to drink properly, the book reveals the still nascent drinking habits of the new British middle class as well as Amis's own, often rather peculiar, tastes.

Amis centres his advice on drinking at home, in part because, in his view, "the pub is fast becoming uninhabitable" due to the constant presence of piped music and televisions and the rise of theme pubs. Amis was also writing in the 1970s, when middle-class dinner parties were becoming increasingly fashionable, and it is at would-be hosts that Amis aims his advice. His main concern "is not being given enough" to drink at such parties, but he goes on to tell exactly what should be bought, how it should be served, and, most importantly, how it should be drunk.

Kingsley Amis

He recommends a series of cocktails, or short drinks as he calls them, some of them classic - the martini or manhattan, for instance - some of them his own inventions, all described with painstaking and very precise instructions on how to prepare them. The Lucky Jim, named after his most famous novel, is "12 to 15 parts vodka, 1 part dry vermouth, 2 parts cucumber juice," with cucumber slices and ice cubes; Queen Victoria's Tipple is half a tumbler of red wine with Scotch: "The original recipe calls for claret, but anything better than the merely tolerable will be wasted. The quantity of Scotch is up to you, but I recommend stopping a good deal short of the top of the tumbler. Worth trying once," he concludes, advice I have yet to follow. Another, The Iberian, calls for Bittall - apparently "a light (i.e. not heavy) port flavoured with orange peel" which Amis seems to like - dry sherry, and an orange slice, to which Amis adds: "I can hardly stop you if you decide to make your guests seem more interesting to you and to one another by mixing in a shot of vodka." He also recommends punches that would knock out the hardest drinker: The Careful Man's Peachy Punch contains 5 bottles of medium-dry white wine, 4 bottles of champagne cider, 2 bottles of British peach wine, 1 bottle of vodka, and 2lbs of peaches (Amis probably found the metric system a little too European).

Amis's advice to the nation's population of inexperienced hosts is so precise that it extends to listing the essential items a home bar should have, as well as the types of glasses it should be stocked with, for example: "A wine glass holding about eight ounces when full, though it's a sensible general rule not to fill it more than about two-thirds of the way up." There are still restaurants in the UK who could do with following the latter instruction.

Despite the many pages spent detailing how to prepare cocktails, for Amis, serving wine is "a lot of trouble, requiring energy and forethought," and he prefers the simplicity of taking a beer out of the fridge and opening it. Unfortunately for Amis, in early 1970s Britain, "The pro-wine pressure on everybody who can afford to drink at all is immense and still growing. To offer your guests beer instead of wine ... is to fly in the face of trend as well as established custom." Nevertheless, Amis has plenty of advice on how to buy wine and what to buy. Beaujolais "should be attacked in quantity, like beer, and, like beer, slightly chilled, and, like beer, as soon after bottling as you like." Italian wines, it would seem, were too much for drinkers in the '70s: "Some people will find some of the reds a little heavy (cut them with Pellegrino mineral water)."

Amis is at his funniest in describing an inevitable consequence of drink, the hangover. He divides the hangover in two: the physical and the metaphysical. The physical hangover is immediately recognisable, and needs to be dealt with on waking: "If your wife or other partner is beside you, and (of course) is willing, perform the sexual act as vigorously as you can. The exercise will do you good, and - on the assumption that you enjoy sex - you will feel toned up emotionally." After a morning of eating and doing as little as possible, at 12:30 "firmly take a hair of the dog that bit you." The dog does not have to be of a "particular breed," but "a lot of people will feel better after one or two Bloody Marys simply because they expect to."

The physical hangover dealt with, the metaphysical hangover is then addressed, firstly by recognising that it is only a hangover and nothing worse: "When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover." He recommends reading, particularly something gloomy: "I suggest Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich ... its picture of life in a Russian labour camp will do you the important service of suggesting that there are plenty of people about who have a bloody sight more to put up with than you (or I) have or ever will have." He also recommends music - Tchaikovsky or Brahms, or "any slow Miles Davis track. It will suggest to you that, however gloomy life may be, it cannot be possibly as gloomy as Davis makes it out to be." I have to say that I prefer my own hangover entertainment to be a little lighter than Amis's.

Of course, the best way to avoid a hangover is not to get drunk, and Amis has plenty to say on this too. He advises not expending too much energy while drinking, especially by dancing: "A researcher is supposed once to have measured out two identical doses of drink, put the first lot down at a full-scale party and the second, some evenings later, at home with a book, smoking the same number of cigarettes on each occasion and going to bed at the same time. Result, big hangover and no hangover respectively. Sitting down whenever possible, then, will help you, and so, a fortiori, will resisting the tempation to dance, should you be subject to such impulses." Amis feels the importance of sitting down and not dancing so strongly that he italicises the instructions to stress their signficance.

He also makes the salient point that to blame a hangover on mixing one's drinks is to miss the real reason: "After three dry martinis and two sherries and two glasses of hock and four of burgundy and one of Sauternes and two of claret and three of port and two brandies and three whiskies-and-soda and a beer, most men will be very drunk and will have a very bad hangover. But might not the quantity be at work here?"

His final conclusion is one that any reader of this blog will find as equally difficult to follow as Amis did himself: "If you want to behave better and feel better, the only absolutely certain method is drinking less. But to find out how to do that, you will have to find a more expert expert than I shall ever be."