That's enough tiffing, let's get back to the tippling


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AS YOU might imagine, I am as distressed as the next fellow at any news of conflict in the world of vintage wine. "Least said, soonest mended" has long been my motto, so I trust that none of my fellow scriveners will choose to make mischief today by repeating the story of the fearsome row between Mr Michael Broadbent of Christie's and Miss (Msss!) Serena Sutcliffe of Sotheby's.

Let it blow over, say I! But for those of you who missed this greatly upsetting episode, let me fill you in. During the course of making a programme on the dread gogglebox, my old friend and quaffing partner Michael Broadbent, director of wine at Christie's, let slip his personal dislike for his counterpart at Sotheby's, Miss Serena Sutcliffe. But as a Master of Wine myself, I am as anxious as anyone to heal this rift between two dear old friends. So I shall say no more about it. No good can come of repeating uncalled-for remarks. Suffice it to say that Michael referred to Serena as not only "haughty and nose-in-the-air" but also "pretentious". But do let's please put the matter to rest. The world of wine has long been a most civilised oasis of delicious friendships, and I for one have no intention of repeating such grotesque "tittle-tattle" before a wider audience.

Of course, it has happened before, and I daresay it will happen again. I well remember an historic wine-tasting held in the Garrick Club in the spring of '83. It goes without saying that I was there. I wrote a widely- respected column for Decanter magazine at the time, as well as earning a not inconsiderable sum for acting as wine, lager and flavoured cola consultant to the Happy Shopper chain of stores. I also oversaw an international franchise on wine-related products bearing the Arnold insignia - The Famous Arnold Miracle Corkscrew ("Just twist and pull hard"), The Arnold Pocket Wine Handbook, with each wine awarded its own expert symbol, telling the reader whether, in my opinion, it was red or white, and most prestigious of all, The Arnold World Atlas of Wine, with a cross over France, so that readers could learn where most of the best wine continues to be made.

Also present at the tasting were my fellow wine-buffs Sir Roy Strong, Kingsley Amis, Michael Broadbent, Serena Sutcliffe and my old friend and quaffing partner Chris Kelly, the stalwart presenter of the BBC's Food and Drink Programme. All went well - we were tasting, if I remember rightly, an excellent Grands Echezeaux at the time, to which I was adding a good measure of ginger ale, to give it a bit of life - until, 20 minutes or so into the session, Serena let out a high-pitched yell of indignation. It stopped us all in our tracks: indeed, I watched in horror as Roy coughed and spluttered, Burgundy pouring out of his nose down through his moustache, across his chin and on to his kipper tie, the whole lot having "gone down the wrong way".

"Stop cribbing from my notes, you damned cheat!" Serena was yelling at Michael.

"I never!" replied Michael, his voice shivering with indignation.

"You're worse than that Chris Kelly, you are!" continued Serena, at which point Chris lumbered over from the other side of the room and told her to step outside and say that. "How bloody dare you!" It was Roy, who, having wiped his moustache with his kipper tie was now swinging it, lasso- style, around his head - a trick he had learnt when appearing in his Wild West Show at the V&A some 20 years previously.

"What the...? yelped Kingsley Amis, as Roy's kipper lasso missed its true target and instead hooked itself around Kingsley's left ankle, sending him toppling over on to Serena Sutcliffe, whose half-filled glass of Echezeaux then flew through the air, hitting Michael Broadbent fairly and squarely on the nose.

By this time, the rest of the Garrick Club had become inveigled in our little vinous contretemps. On the upper landing, Lord Rees-Mogg had Mr Oz Clarke in a half-nelson, and down in the members' dining room Lord Goodman was hitting Miss Jancis Robinson over the head with a decanter. Meanwhile, that consummate imbiber Lord Weiden- feld was screaming "Pull her wings off!" as Dame Margot Fonteyn as the dying swan pirouetted out of the club with a bottle of cheap Beaujolais Nouveau under each arm.

An upsetting memory, and one that I do not air lightly. But if this article can help those of us in the wine-tasting community to put our problems behind us, and to work together towards a more peaceful future, then my efforts will not have been in vain.

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