The English philosopher Roger Scruton died in January 2020 just a few weeks shy of his seventy-sixth birthday. He left behind a large circle of admirers and a correspondingly large shelf of books in a variety of genres — novels, opera libretti, volumes of occasional journalism, cultural and architectural criticism, and various philosophical works, popular as well as technical. He wrote and wrote about music, hunting to hounds and politics. He also wrote about the subject that brings us together: wine.
Roger was a gifted teacher, always on the lookout for opportunities to educate the ignorant, enlighten the benighted and expand the horizons of those cramped by bigotry and parti pris. His missionary work extended to the pages of the New Statesman, the left-wing organ in whose pages his wine columns appeared. That British magazine later repaid his patronage very poorly, but that is a subject for another day and, besides, it was after he compiled a selection of his columns in a book with the splendid title I Drink Therefore I Am (2010). The back cover of my edition informs the curious that the book is “a good-humored antidote to the pretentious clap-trap that is written about wine today and a profound apology for the drink on which civilisation was founded.” Indeed it is.
Roger was an eloquent apologist for the pleasures of wine, indeed for pleasure period. Like Walter Bagehot before him, Roger, a high Tory himself, understood that “the essence of Toryism is enjoyment.” True pleasure, pleasure rightly understood (as Tocqueville might have put it) is at bottom a conservative prerogative. It is also an ancient one, as the author of Genesis acknowledged when he observed that “God made the world and saw that it was good.” It is (to use a locution dear to our Marxist friends) no accident that Jesus’s first recorded miracle was the transformation of the base liquid water into the precious liquid wine — and good stuff, too, by all accounts.