How Empress Josephine made Bordeaux fashionable

There wasn't a single bottle of Bordeaux in King Louis XVI's cellar, but 30 years later Napoleon's Empress Josephine had amassed a vast collection of luxury Bordeaux wines, launching a fashion that put Latour and Margaux on high society tables.

In a new exhibit, "Josephine's Cellar: Wine at Malmaison during the Empire", at the National Museum Chateau de Malmaison just outside Paris, visitors catch a rare glimpse of what was served at the Empress's table, and the innovations in wine production and trade during Napoleon's rule.

The hand-written inventory of Josephine's 13,000-bottle collection reveals a surprising diversity, as sophisticated as the exotic menagerie and gardens she created at Malmaison, her last residence.

While most of her contemporaries were drinking Burgundy, Champagne and sweet wines from the Mediterranean, Josephine filled her guests' glasses with Bordeaux, Cotes-du-Rhone and wines from as far away as South Africa.

Her cellar, "faithful to 18th century taste, really announces that of the 19th century," summed up Elisabeth Caude, the exhibit's curator.

Napoleon, on the other hand, had a penchant for the pinot noir of Chambertin, Burgundy, and watered down his wine, said the curator.

Josephine, raised in Martinique, also kept an impressive collection of rum - 332 bottles at the time of her death. She used the rum to make punch for her extravagant parties, adding sugar, tea, cinnamon and lemon.

Her Caribbean roots also influenced her taste in wine. Bordeaux, France's main port at the time, exported wine to the Caribbean. When she became Empress, members of her entourage had ties to Bordeaux's estates, notably Chateau Latour, and did their best to promote the wines to the Empress.

Meanwhile, England, fearing that France's anti-monarchist revolution might bring the guillotine across the Channel, enforced a crushing blockade on France's sea trade routes. Bordeaux winegrowers lost their most lucrative client, England, and turned to the domestic market, and the woman at the heart of high society.

Four decades later, Bordeaux wines were officially classified into five "growths" according to their commercial value for the 1855 Universal Exhibition. That classification became a way for consumers to judge quality and value, and remains for the most part relevant today.

But Josephine was well ahead of that trend. At the time of her death, 45 percent of her wine collection was Bordeaux. To have such an important stock of Bordeaux, at that time, demonstrates a "very confirmed particularism", according to curator Alain Pougetoux.

She owned remarkable quantities of the four wines that would be later classified as First Growths in 1855: Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Haut Brion, as well as sweet wines from Sauternes. One entry from the inventory of her cellar: "463 bottles of wine from Chateau Margaux, estimated 926 francs".

The exhibit also traces evolutions in table manners following the Revolution.

Fashionable hostesses adopted a Russian style service: for the first time, glasses were set with the place settings prior to the arrival of the guests, whereas before a valet had circulated with glasses and a carafe during the meal.

It was also a time of innovation that brought beautiful new things to the table: crystal. Up until then, the English had monopolized its production through a carefully guarded secret. Progress in French glassmaking opened the door to elegant glasses, stronger bottles and new forms.

The exhibit also displays many curiosities, like the escutcheons that once draped the necks of bottles. Labels were very rare at this time, and this was the only way to show what was in the bottle.

Not to be missed, several intriguing bottles, notably those of the Emperor. A bottle of Margaux Bel Air 1858 has this inscription on the glass ribbon seal, "Defendu d'en Laisser" - forbidden to leave any of it.

The exhibit runs from now until next March 8. It then travels to the Napoleon Museum in the Arenenberg Castle, Switerland, from April 10 to October 10, 2010, and then on to Rome at the Museo Napoleonico from October 2010 to February 28, 2011.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution