Uncorked: No 10's wine list revealed

Tasting notes of prime ministers' cellar tell the story of official hospitality

For visiting heads of state, it must be one of those nagging questions – just how important are they to their British hosts? The answer, it seems, may well lie not in the size of the honour guard, nor the depth of pile on the red carpet, but in the wine list.

An unusual insight into how the British government entertains its high-end guests has been revealed by the release of the tasting notes for the £3.2m official wine cellar used to lubricate the wheels of international diplomacy at state banquets and Whitehall receptions.

The 61-page rundown of the 36,527 bottles held in the Foreign Office-administered cellar beneath Lancaster House in central London reveals the quaffability – or not – of the collection of some of the world's most sought-after wines from Château Lafite to Krug.

As a result, any potentate offered a glass of the Corton 1961 Grand Cru Côte de Beaune can rest assured that he or she is being subjected to the very best in vinous flattery that Her Majesty's government can offer.

If a carafe of the Louis Jadot Meursault Charmes Premier Cru 2006 arrives at the table, however, the dignitary may as well jump on the first presidential jet back home.

The notes, released under the Freedom of Information Act, describe the Corton 1961, worth £500 a bottle, as "a national treasure" with "great charm and staying power". Consigning the wine the status of a nuclear weapon in Britain's booze arsenal, the document adds: "Use with extreme caution for Heads of State – fabulous wine."

The little-loved Meursault Charmes, costing around £40 a bottle, fairs less well. It is rewarded with the terse description: "Do not use."

Despite the austerity drive being administered from 11 Downing Street, the coalition has not been shy at deploying its wine stock to impress overseas visitors. Last year, Government Hospitality, which runs the cellar, served up 5,547 bottles – a 20 per cent increase on 2011-12.

This was partly due to the influx of the international great and the good generated by the London Olympics and Paralympics, and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. There were also more run-of-the-mill gatherings such as a lunch for President Sarkozy of France in Downing Street and a gathering for the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party at Lancaster House.

But the days when HMG's stocks of Château Lynch Bages and Hine cognac were an open-ended resource for bibulous ministers and their guests have drawn to a close. Following a review ordered by William Hague in 2010, the cellar now operates on a self-financing basis, selling off some of its gems to finance acquisitions of new stock.

Last year, 54 bottles of high-end claret, including a case of the sought-after Château Pétrus, were sold for £63,000 to fund purchases of nearly £49,000 to be laid down for future banquets. Nonetheless a formidable cache of tipples remains, dominated by clarets and Burgundies, with a patriotic smattering of English wines, which accounted for 17 per cent of the wines served last year.

The tasting notes, based on the opinions of the Orwellian-sounding Government Wine Committee and consisting of a retired senior diplomat and four Masters of Wine, do nothing for clichés about the language of the genre. The descriptions favour phrases such as "sound and fruity, with more still to come", "stable and tired", and "intense aromas, but a little immature".

But they also offer intriguing insights into the drinking habits of the powerful. Margaret Thatcher had a soft spot for the 1961 Château Margaux Premier Cru Classé, according to a 1989 comment which reads: "The Prime Minister calls it silky."

A brandy – the Château de Laubade Armagnac – is not considered worthy of New World visitors ("Lovely and mellow – use with European guests"), while the home-grown Somerset 10-year-old cider brandy gets a lukewarm "V appley, but not great".

The Foreign Office insisted the wine cellar was an essential diplomatic tool. A spokesman said: "Whether it is national celebrations, state visits, or receiving guests of government, the UK prides itself on giving a warm welcome through its business hospitality. The Government Wine Cellar supports this work in a cost-effective way."

But it is also not above using big occasions to dispose of wines that do not quite meet its highest standards. The most popular claret served last year – 55 bottles of the 1988 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – is described in the notes as "Downgraded to B and thought aggressive – no hurry to use".

The service also sneaked out three bottles of the ill-starred 2006 Meursault Charmes. The Foreign Office was unable to confirm at which state occasion it was served – nor whether the guests approved.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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

    Guru Careers: .NET Developers / Software Developers

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: our .NET Developers / Software Dev...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-Qualified Accountant) - Manchester

    £23000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat