Wine Talk

Snooth User: Alan C

Historical Wine Question

Posted by Alan C, Jul 28.

Hello,

I am a writer working on a historical piece, and wondered if anyone had any ideas about what fine wines and champagnes Londoners would have been drinking in the late 1930s. Surprisingly hard to find!

Thanks,

Alan

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Replies

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Reply by rckr1951, Jul 28.

Duncan - Where are you?

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 29.

Classified growth claret and tete de cuvee champers from the major houses would be a safe bet. Also plenty of port and some Madeira after dinner. Maybe still some Rhein & Mosel whites, though those were more popular in the previous century.  How about cocktails?

Are you writing fiction, or non-fiction? And what class/type of individuals, conservative or avant-garde, upper crust or hoi polloi?

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Reply by duncan 906, Jul 29.

RCKR1951  I am not that old!

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Reply by EMark, Jul 29.

Alan, you appear to be working on an interesting project, and you have posed an interesting question.

Dmcker referenced "claret."  "Claret" is the term commonly used in England for red wines from the Bordeaux region of France, and, yes, they would have definitely been popular in the 1930s..

The "Classified Growth" description refers to a "ranking" of Bordeaux wines that dates back to the middle of the 19th Century.  Here is a Wikipedia entry for the Classification of 1855,  Since I assume that you are looking for labels that mid-20th Century English would have been buying and drinking, the list of Chateaux will give you a good starting point.

Regarding Champagne, there are many old houses that I think you can reliably cite, e.g., Bollinger, Krug.,Moet et Chandon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicqot.  Each of these makers offer different bottlings. I am not very knowledgeable in these but, for example the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne or the Veuve Clicquot Grand Dame are higher end bottles from these two makers.

The Port/Madeira suggestion is good.  I might also suggest Sherry.  I have no suggetions on labels.

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Reply by duncan 906, Jul 29.

Talking of old Champagne houses I do remember that when Chuchill died in 1965 Madame Pol Roger attended his funeral and the comment was that she was greiving because she had lost her best customer. I do remember his funeral which was televised although I was only a child at the time

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Reply by GregT, Jul 29.

Riesling, sherry, and claret, most likely. Those are what Queen Victoria liked.

And according to some, that was the golden age of wine. Gladstone reduced tarriffs on wine in the mid 1800s, hoping to turn Brits into wine lovers and not beer lovers or even worse, gin fanatics. In the late 1800s gin was like crack in the 1980s and 90s. Eventually, there was a sufficient middle class and wine was affordable as well as considered "continental" and chic. Consumption of fortified wine from Portugal and Spain fell during the late 1800s, replaced by lower-alcohol still wine. Partly that's a result of the enmity with France falling away - Portugal and Spain, after the Armada anyway, were more reliable allies than France, what with Napoleon and all.

What's interesting is that in the 1930s, Great Britain imported only a fraction of the wine that France did. France was both the biggest producer and consumer.

My suggestion is to look at economic literature rather than wine literature - there's a lot more written about consumption, taxes, trade, etc. And there are a few books - one is called something like "The Politics of Wine in Britain" or something of that nature, and it's not that old so should be in print.  There was also an article in Fine Wine a few years ago that covered some of this.

 

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Reply by Alan C, Jul 29.

Thanks for all the great suggestions - very helpful, gives me some great places to dig.

DMCKER, It's a fiction project. The main drinkers/characters are upper-crust, not at the top of the aristocracy, but fairly high up the food/wine chain; politically, middle of the road. Yes, cocktails are involved, but they're easier to nail.

Thanks again, Alan

 

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 29.

For the cocktails one useful source could be the Savoy Cocktail Book. Imagine you might have considered that hotel, its grill and its American Bar, as potential settings. Though more brash than the likes of Claridges and the Connnaught it's considered by many Britain's greatest hotel over the 20th century. Plus it's not far from the theater district.

Cultural and personal-taste 'political' statements could be made by deciding on a particular champagne brand, and sticking with it from NV through to the tete de cuvee. Not sure of the exact timing, but doubt that Pol Roger's back then was called 'Winston Churchill.'

Greg makes several good points, such as using economic surveys as reference lit, and that gin was not considered a classy drink at all for quite some time, though its cocktailization from the '20s on gradually changed its image. That and the likes of Pink Gin overseas at Empire military posts in India and elsewhere safely familiarized it  and brought it up by its bootstraps. Even exotic Martinis overseas at Harry's Bar with Hemingway et al. started with the cheap stuff.

Would be great if you could answer back here with any references you find, including the Politics of Wine in Britain and Fine Wine book and article Greg mentions. Will be happy to take a stab at any more questions you might have, and be sure to let us know when your story is published!  :-)

 

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Reply by EMark, Jul 29.

Here's an idea, Alan.  Track down the movie The Rains Came.  It takes place in India, but many of the characters are British.  There is a restaurant scene that includes a closeup of the restaurant's wine list.  That should give you some insights into British wine preferences of that era.

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 29.

You're placing a lot of trust in the production design folks, Mark.  ;-)

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Reply by Alan C, Jul 29.

What do you think of Krug Champagne, 1928? One of the best champagne vintages apparently, but would it have been out of reach price-wise in 1939?

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 30.

It's a famous vintage. Why not? But what's the occasion? And just ordering Krug doesn't demonstrate a lot of personality....

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 30.

Alan

Maybe if you contacted with Jancis Robinson and/or Andrew Jefford who are highly cfredentialled wine writers, they may know or may know a wine historian who may have the answers you seek

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 30.

Good suggestion, Stephen. Those are two good names to start with, but there are others, too.

Michael Broadbent and Hugh Johnson qualify as senior statesmen in the crowd, and both were alive in the 1930s, even if not yet of drinking age. I've drunk with both and they absolutely know their stuff, and the past wine culture of the UK. Johnson is still active to a certain degree, though Broadbent is pretty much retired to my knowledge. Other names from the next generation that might be worth accessing would be Stephen Spurrier and Clive Coates and Oz Clarke, though I'm sure there may be opinions from members of these boards about the views that have been expressed in the past by any of these names. These days there are also the likes of Fiona Beckett, Simon Woods, and Jamie Goode, to name a few.

It all may be a question of whom you are able to access.

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 30.

http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/106

This maybe a helpful link

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 30.

and Another

http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/894

 

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Reply by D9sus 4, Jul 30.

Alan, read some P.G. Wodehouse or Agatha Christie novels to get a better feel for the drinking habits of Londoners from that time period. More gin than wine at that time I think. Sherry would probably be their wine of choice, and sweet not dry. As for Champagne, probably a Taittinger or a Bollinger, but most likely some brand that doesn't exist anymore.

I agree with the erudite DMCKER about Hugh Johnson, but Michael Broadbent, really? After the 1787 TJ Chateau Lafite Bordeaux debacle? Ok, I'm sorry, but it made me re-think everything he ever said about wine. And yes, I am keenly ware of his contributions to wine collecting, but... maybe this is not the right thread to discuss this subject. 

Mea Culpa, D9sus4

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Reply by Diego Andrés Díaz, Jul 30.

What an interesting topic!! Maybe you can use more academic material, like articles from economic or history reviews. Or go straigh to the source and look for advertisement in magazines and newspaper from the era. 

Im sorry i cant give you exact examples rigth now, but im going to look further tomorrow.

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Reply by Alan C, Jul 31.

Thank you for all the interesting ideas. I will try reaching out to some of the experts suggested and see if anyone responds. Thank you for the great links STEPHEN HARVEY

D9sus4, I am a huge reader of English mysteries and a BBC TV lover, and, yes, sherry, cocktails, whiskey and brandy come up a lot. Yet, I've read historical accounts that during the 1930s England imported massive amounts of French wine, and one source states that the English drank more French wine than the French. Social class had a lot to do with what people drank, e.g., beer, whiskey, sherry or fine French wine, which was a more upper-class beverage.

This link was interesting in terms of some high end vintages in '31: http://www.winedecider.com/en/vintage/1931.htm 

It's harder to find medium ranked wines, which would be what my characters would primarily drink. As DMCKER points out, I'm sure there are subtleties around class, age, etc., around exactly what wines people of a particular social set drank. That is quite difficult to determine.

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Reply by Alan C, Jul 31.

Hey EMARK, I found "The Rains Came" on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-yfOLoUAxc

Is the menu at 14:39 what you were referencing? If so, it looks this version of the film was cropped, since you can't see the whole menu.

Thanks for the idea.

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