Châteauny Blair: Labour's staggering £1m wine bill

It's one of the Government's most closely guarded secrets. But we can reveal the contents of the fabled Whitehall cellar. By Marie Woolf and Raymond Whitaker

Today, however, The Independent on Sunday is in a position to lift a corner of this shroud of secrecy. Since Tony Blair took office in 1997, we can reveal, New Labour has spent almost £1m of taxpayers' money on replenishing the supplies cellared under Lancaster House.

At any time there are 37,000 to 39,000 bottles tucked away in the official wine stock, including 180 different clarets. But oenophiles eager to know more have been rebuffed: because its holdings are so extensive, the Government claims, that revealing exactly what it has, and how much, could disrupt the entire market for fine wines.

Yet along with the urge to remain discreet, the authorities cannot resist boasting about some of their coups, such as a 1961 Château Margaux acquired for £3 a bottle. Each is now worth £1,000 a time. How many bottles do they have? "It's not something we are prepared to discuss," said a spokesman.

Although the wine store is the responsibility of the Foreign Office, giving rise to all those jibes about diplomats spoiling their guests with the finest vintages as well as the Ferrero-Rocher chocolates, it is used for hospitality across government, which entertains some 30,000 guests at more than 300 events a year. Robert Alexander, the head of government hospitality, is advised by a committee of four Masters of Wine, who hold blind tastings. The aim is to select young, cheap wines, then store them until they are ready to drink (and worth considerably more). Their budget is about £3.50 a bottle; since the Government hospitality wine cellar laid down wine worth £95,264 this year, one might guess that Mr Alexander bought nearly 30,000 bottles. But that is another official secret.

"The champagne corks have certainly been popping in government departments since Labour came to power," sniffed Norman Baker, Lib Dem MP for Lewes, whose parliamentary question last week revealed official expenditure of £850,000 on wine since 1997, with the £1m mark likely to be reached by next year.That is only a fraction of the overall hospitality budget.

Looking at the information made available, the IoS wine critic, Richard Ehrlich, commented: "I can say one thing with certainty: some of their parties will be a lot more fun than others. This is a two-tier list, with some bottles of profound grandeur and others that are merely sound and pleasant. For a chance to drink those in the first category, I'd sell a kidney. But the Government will be saving them for high-level boozing and schmoozing. Much as I would love to give the Government a good kicking, though, I have to say they have spent their money well in this instance."

The Government's hospitality cellar supplies everything up to dinners at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence, where, another recent parliamentary question revealed, guests since May 2005 have included Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy and film director Anthony Minghella. They, along with senior foreign dignitaries who need impressing, would presumably be served the '61 Château Latour or similar. Slightly below this exalted level, the store is strong on English wines, which Ehrlich called "right and proper", adding that "all the producers are good ones": Denbies, Chapel Down, Camel Valley, Ridgeview, Three Choirs.

Ordinary taxpayers at some local government do, however, might find themselves drinking Domaine de Planterieu, a Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. Ehrlich's verdict: "This utterly inoffensive white has graced many a metropolitan drinks party, including some of mine."

One Whitehall insider put it in context, saying: "It's the sort of wine we'd serve to journalists."

EXPERT'S VERDICT

CHATEAU LATOUR 1961

One of the greatest vintages of the last century, and Latour was especially successful that year. You'd pay around £1,500 a bottle for it.

CHATEAU MARGAUX 1961

Worth about a grand - less than the Latour, but since the Government paid only £3 a bottle, they're probably not complaining.

CHATEAU PÉTRUS

No vintage specified, not that it matters much: this wine is always hilariously expensive, around £500 to £2,500, depending on vintage.

DOMAINE DE PLANTERIEU

Perfectly sound if thoroughly unexciting vin de pays with 11 per cent alcohol, about £4 at your local Waitrose.

THREE CHOIRS

A good English producer, like the others on the list. But we don't know what they bought from each.

Richard Ehrlich

Suggested Topics
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices