Home » Uncategorized » Sherry, please: the contents of the 2nd Earl of Chatham’s cellars

Sherry, please: the contents of the 2nd Earl of Chatham’s cellars

One thing’s for sure about the Pitts: they liked a drink or six. It started with Pitt the Elder, and got worse with the next generation. The Younger Pitt was famous for knocking back several bottles a day (although said bottles were, obviously, smaller then than they are now… still). The 2nd Earl of Chatham’s drinking habits are less obvious, but there were telling habits of his being, to use an appropriately nautical expression, “three sheets to the wind” during office hours while First Lord of the Admiralty.

While Governor of Gibraltar he was famous for his hospitality, and it seems he acquired a taste for Spanish wines while there. (It seems appropriate that one of Gibaltar’s biggest modern wine distributors trades from offices in the “Chatham Counterguard”.) When Chatham died in September 1835, his executors brought in a high-society wine merchant, Charles Bertram, of 162 New Bond Street, to value the late Lord Chatham’s cellars in Charles Street.

This is what Bertram found:

Chatham's cellars, from National Archives PRO 30/8/370 ff 78, 147

Chatham’s cellars, from National Archives PRO 30/8/370 ff 78, 147

I should say right off that I am no wine expert myself. Far from it — I’m virtually teetotal and have been for fifteen years. However, just a glance at this list tells me two things: first, that Chatham had a lot of wine in his cellar for a nearly-eighty-year-old widower, and second, that he really, really, really did not care for French booze.

I think it’s fair to say Chatham had a sweet tooth. Most of the wine in his cellar seems to have been the variety served up as an aperitif or dessert wine. Sherry seems to account for the majority of it, in the largest quantities (sixteen dozen bottles, plus eight, of “Sherry Cadoza”, whatever that is — it seems to have something to do with the kind of cask, but I would be grateful if anyone could explain further).

One variety in Chatham’s cellars, Haurie, had a sterling pedigree: the Haurie brand claimed to be the oldest exporters of sherry, having been founded during the War of the Spanish Succession. 19th century wine specialist Henry Vizetelly described Haurie sherry as a wine “over which Steele may have become more light-hearted, Swift more morose, Bolingbroke more eloquent, and Addison more didactic”. It probably already had a high reputation by the time Chatham acquired his eighteen bottles, but twenty years after his death Haurie sherry brought back four first-class medals from the Jerez Exhibition.

In addition to sherry, Chatham also had a great deal of Madeira. Much of this seems to have been received as a gift from other people (“Sir J. Bouten”, Lord Melville, Sir Andrew Hammond — an old friend from Chatham’s days at the Admiralty — and Lord Powis, the son of the famous Clive of India). Possibly it was a case of the following:

Lord Powis: Lord Chatham, I’ve brought you a gift.

Chatham: More Madeira. How kind.

Powis: I know how much you like it.

Chatham: Can’t you just bring me sherry next time?

So far, so sweet (although some of the sherry, I guess, might have been of the dry variety). But I suspect very little of it was, given most of the rest of the cellars’ contents was pretty sweet too. Chatham certainly favoured the sweeter varieties of Madeira: “Malmsey”, for example, described in 1858 as “a luscious sweet wine … used principally as a liqueur, or at dessert”. (Malmsey wine was described by the same source as being “a strong astringent, and used against dysentery”, although I suspect Chatham did not really use it for medicinal purposes.)

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He also, however, seems to have been partial to Sercial, an “exceedingly rare” variety of Madeira described by Vizetelly as “somewhat spiritous” and known by Portuguese locals as “the dog strangler”. One source from the 1840s was, however, more appreciative: “This fabulous nectar, with its mellifluous flavour, has the pungent aroma of a posy of sweet-smelling flowers.” It seems this one is best left in the bottle for ten years or so. Possibly Chatham brought it back from Gibraltar with him, along with the three bottles of “Campanario” (another variety of Madeira from the west cliffs of the island near Funchal), although the age of the wines is not mentioned.

One wine he definitely did bring back from Gibraltar was the “Paxarete”, or “Pajarete”, a variety of sherry made in the Jerez region of Spain. This would, in 1835, have been at least ten years old, and maybe Chatham was saving it for a special occasion. Paxarete, again, was exceedingly sweet, exceedingly strong, and exceedingly expensive, although one website described it as “considered more of a ladies’ drink” in early 19th century Britain. I suspect Chatham would have disagreed.

So far Chatham’s cellars can be summarised as: sweet, and Spanish (or Portuguese). (The presence of “Malaga wine”, another super-sweet fortified Spanish wine, bears out this hypothesis.) There were some exceptions, however. Chatham had fifteen dozen pints of Constantia, a South African (!) wine from near Cape Town — unfortified, it seems, but renowned for its strength, and described by The Oxford Companion to Wine as “legendary”. (Napoleon, apparently, also drank it while imprisoned on St Helena.) And of course Chatham had a dozen or so bottles of Sancerre, a modest number of champagne bottles, and claret — surprisingly little of it, though, given his apparent love of it in the 1780s and 1790s.

Only one vintage is dated, however: “Bertram’s claret”, specifically named as “1822”. (He had two dozen bottles of it.) I can’t, however, work out if this was a particularly good year for claret, or whether it was the only wine Chatham had purchased directly from Charles Bertram, who compiled the inventory and may just have recognised his own bottles.

1822ricketts

Apart from wine, Chatham had a few bottles of liqueur: “Noyau”, a crème liqueur made from apricot (or peach) kernels (hence its name). Chatham had both varieties in his cellar: the clear (“blanc”, or white) and the “pink”. One magazine from the 1830s described it as “the queen of liqueurs”, although it vastly preferred the white to the pink — which was in any case coloured, generally with cochineal. Chatham apparently agreed, as he had nearly twice as much white Noyau as he did pink.

Apparently Noyeau tastes similar to amaretto, although I have had neither so cannot comment. It is also, apparently, dangerous to drink elderly Noyeau, as apricot kernels degrade into cyanide. I’m fairly sure Chatham died from natural causes, but now I’m wondering.

Apart from “Cadoza sherry”, the only other item in Chatham’s cellars I have not been able to identify is the mysterious “Pardarolli”. Possibly it was another liqueur, but I cannot be certain. I would be grateful to anyone who is able to inform me what it is.

Bertram estimated the total value of all the bottles in Chatham’s cellars at £559.19.0, which is a sizeable sum, particularly as Chatham’s house itself only brought his executors £3000 (once the mortgage had been cleared). His heirs clearly divided the cellars between them, but they did put a small portion of the wines up to auction at Christie’s on 16 May 1836. They fetched £155.4.10.

References

Bertram’s handlist of Chatham’s cellars can be found at the National Archives, Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 78 (dated 1 October 1835).

The Christie’s sales catalogue, giving the list of the bottles put to auction and the amounts they fetched, is at PRO 30/8/370 f 147.

Information on Charles Bertram from Richard Ford Manuscripts.

Information on the wines and liqueurs mentioned in this blog was drawn from:

  • Henry Vizetelly, Facts about Sherry, gleaned in the vineyards and bodegas of the Jerez, Seville, Moguer, & Montilla districts … (London, 1876)
  • Henry Vizetelly, Facts about Port and Madeira (London, 1880)
  • Julia Harding, The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford, 2015)
  • The Magazine of Domestic Economy volume II (1837)
  • Robert Hogg, The vegetable kingdom and its products (London, 1858)
  • Richard Mayson, Madeira: the islands and their wines (London, 2015)
  • “Whisky Science: Pajarete and the wine treatment”, 3 March 2013, from here
  • Wikipedia pages on Constantia, Noyau, Malaga wine, and Sancerre
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