Saintsbury, George (1845-1933)
A don (Regius Professor of Rhetoric at Oxford), journalist, political writer, and author of books of criticism and of what are now little-read works on English literature. He became famous in the wine world for his Notes on a Cellar-book, (1920). This was an account of the wines he bought and what he thought when he drank them, from 1884 to 1915. (The original manuscript was sold for the second time at Christie’s in 1977.) It certainly started a fashion for wine writing of a particular sort. He includes useful historical references and anecdotes, and the writer shows definite charm and enthusiasm for the company he entertains, as well as for the fare he provides. Many people have begun their wine reading with Saintsbury and no wine lover can ignore him. He writes, however, in a style that seems somewhat mannered today. Some highly respected members of the wine trade share my own inability to find him other than irritatingly pompous and oddly ignorant of the background to the wines he drank, as well as being both ultra-conservative (perhaps he could hardly have been otherwise) and opinionated.
Saintsbury does not appear to have been one who easily shared his enjoyment of wine outside his personal friends. In his last years, when some very eminent wine lovers – members of the trade and laymen – formed the Saintsbury Club, which is an organisation possessing a fine cellar and with a great tradition for its dinners and the speeches or ‘orations’ made thereat, the Professor would have nothing to do with them and their celebrations. However wine lovers must read the reprint of the Cellar-book and make up their own minds. (Personally, I am sure that I should have found him a ‘Dear lady’ condescending type of man and he does not seem as if he would have been responsive to questions at all.) Whereas even the scholar might have to be desperate to get anything from his other prose today, the Cellar-book is a landmark in wine writing which no one can ignore.