Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wine History: Wine and the English

     The English have always had a fondness for eccentrics.  Prime Minister William Gladstone, who presided over Parliament during much of the 1880’s certainly ranked among these. A man of many quirks and strange habits, Gladstone once observed, “I have made it a rule to give every tooth of mine a chance, and when I eat, to chew every bite thirty two times.  To this rule I owe much of my success in life.”

     Whatever the reason for Gladstone’s success, some speculate that his most important accomplishments may have been lowering the tariff on French wines and permitting grocers to stock and sell wine.  For the first time, the many varieties of French wines, together with German Rhines and Moselles, became widely available in England.

     By the late nineteenth century, a variety of wines were supposed to be set out for a proper dinner party:  sherry with soup and fish, hock or claret with roast meat, punch with turtle, champagne with whitebait, port with venison, port or burgundy with game, sparkling wines with the confectionary,  and for dessert port, tokay, madeira  or sherry.

     Although the Victorian’s enjoyed a variety of wines, they did not indulge in the excesses in quantity known in earlier times.  It had been the custom in Georgian times, for example, to drink a bottle, per person, after dinner.  Indeed, King William IV expected his governmental ministers to be two bottle men, if only to keep level with the typical Anglican cleric.

     Sherry came into fashion when the Prince Regent announced that he would drink nothing but sherry.  The Prince’s sudden conversion came about after a British privateer captured a French merchantman sailing between Cadiz and Le Havre.  In the ship’s cargo were two butts of a remarkably fine brown sherry destined for the table of the Emperor Napoleon.  Presented to the Prince Regent instead, sherry won an immediate and passionate convert.  

     Edward VII, while still Prince of Wales, is credited with having popularized champagne in England.  Edward preferred light Chablis and extra dry champagne, and these were produced specially for the English market, with spectacular results.  In 1861, some

three million bottles of champagne were exported from France to England.  By 1890, England was importing over nine million bottles of French champagne annually, almost half of all of the champagne being produced.

No comments: