Suresh Menon
Print Run Print RunRSS FeedFeeds  | Archives
Suresh Menon on cricket books

Vintage Arlott

The master's writings on wine tell us more about him than his autobiography did

Suresh Menon

March 9, 2008

Text size: A | A

Arlott's passion for wine was matched by his hospitality © BBC

Some of the finest writers on the game have written with equal felicity on matters outside of cricket. The obvious example is Neville Cardus and music. Then there is John Arlott. To understand him and get a clearer picture of the personality, one must look beyond his cricket writings. Arlott on Wine (edited by David Rayvern Allen) tells us more about the writer than his autobiography did. It is a treat both for those who believe that too much snobbery is attached to wine-drinking, as well as for those who can tell a Cabernet Sauvignon at 60 paces.

This collection of pieces published in the Evening News, wine magazines, and above all, the Guardian, is charming and literary; it is passionate and verges on poetry.

Jancis Robinson, acclaimed wine writer and author of The Oxford Companion to Wine ("The greatest wine book ever published", according to the Washington Post) has written, " I owe so much to John Arlott." Arlott himself pays tribute to some "vintage personalities" who taught him about wine - how it is made, how to drink it, and most of all, how to acknowledge it as one of the most civilised drinks a man could have.

It began after the 1948-49 cricket tour to South Africa, when Arlott decided to holiday in Sicily, having resolved to keep off alcohol and bring the colour back to his cheeks after weeks of indulging on tour. The resolution was broken on the third day thanks to the flask of wine in the hotel room; it led to a trip to the vineyard, enormous consumption of Italian vintages, and the awakening of the wine columnist who lies dormant in all of us who write professionally and drink for pleasure yet never throw a bridge between the writing and the drinking.

In the irritating manner he has of speaking about himself in the third person (a style which ruined his autobiography), Arlott says, "Without being, or pretending to be, the world's greatest connoisseur of wine, (he) became, and remains, well up in the front rank of those who enjoy it." The justification for drinking wine, says Arlott, "is pleasure".

Wine is bottled poetry, wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. Perhaps that explains why there is as much dogma about wine-drinking as there is about poetry-writing. Arlott has the self-assurance to tell his readers that drinking wine is a personal choice, and what works for one person need not necessarily work for another. Even the thumb rule - white wine with fish, red wine with red meat - "is a counsel of safety, not a rule," says Arlott.

It began after the 1948-49 cricket tour to South Africa, when Arlott decided to holiday in Sicily, having resolved to keep off alcohol after weeks of indulging on tour. The resolution was broken on the third day thanks to the flask of wine kept in the room

What comes across in the book is Arlott's hospitality and sheer enjoyment of wine. This, the editor Rayvern-Allen tells us, is "never more apparent than when he is entertaining at home". His hospitality is legendary and "every guest is treated in exactly the same way, whether they be casual royal caller or urgent delivery boy. A bottle appears from the well-stocked cellar below, a glass is immediately to hand, and an air of contentment and conviviality surrounds the table."

From such deep passion do the words gain their unbearable lightness of being, as it were. And from wide experience come such nuggets as the information that the Tate Gallery restaurant has the cheapest luxury drinking in England (this was written in 1976), that teenage parties should not be underestimated (and therefore that it might be a good idea to soak the carpet in advance with a fire-extinguishing liquid!), and that some excellent wines never become fashionable and therefore remain affordable. There is, too, sound advice on dealing with hangovers.

Arlott, who died in 1991, hoped "always to have enough to drink and hope that when we go, there will be enough for our children to drink, and to share with our friends and their friends. Because (wine) is the most civilised tipple in the world." And it takes a civilised person to write about it with such affection and knowledge.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore

RSS Feeds: Suresh Menon

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Email Feedback Print
Suresh MenonClose
Suresh Menon Suresh Menon went from being a promising cricketer to a has-been, without the intervening period of a major career. He played league cricket in three cities with a group of overgrown enthusiasts who had the reverse of amnesia - they could remember things that never happened. For example, taking incredible catches at slip, or scoring centuries. Somehow Menon found the time to be the sports editor of the Pioneer and the Indian Express in New Delhi, Gulf News in Dubai, and the editor of the New Indian Express in Chennai. Currently he is a columnist with publications in India and abroad, and is beginning to think he might never play for India.
Related Links
Must-Read Books : In the name of the father
Players/Officials: John Arlott

    Trott's torment

Mark Nicholas: Cricket - batting specifically - defines Jonathan Trott, which makes his continued suffering all the more painful

    'Commentators must stop stating the obvious'

Bowl at Boycs: Geoff Boycott on hyped-up TV coverage, and the appointment of Peter Moores

    All change in Pakistan's domestic structure. Again

Osman Samiuddin: A recent proposal to shake up the first-class set-up reinforces that change is the only constant in Pakistan

    The cricket tragic who bowled Bradman

Former Australian PM Bob Hawke loved cricket. And he once left the Don speechless with the force of his political convictions

Moores and the shadow of the past

Jon Hotten: His second spell as England coach might be nothing like his first, but memories of it will hover nevertheless

News | Features Last 7 days

Crunch time for Sehwag and Gambhir

The former Indian openers haven't been shining lately, but the IPL presents an opportunity for them to show their class

England's Pietersen folly

They were making good progress in building a world-class side, but not getting rid of Kevin Pietersen after the texting saga in 2012 cost them greatly

The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it

'Sri Lankan fans embrace the team, not just icon players'

Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara go over their World T20 win, and feel grateful to have fans whose support remains unwavering in victory and defeat

The captain's blunder

Plays of the day from the IPL match between Chennai Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab in Abu Dhabi

News | Features Last 7 days