Thursday, July 12, 2012

Napoleon's 'sober' Empress Josephine had 13,000-bottle wine cellar

Far from a teetotaller, France's former empress had a vast cellar of top Grands Crus and wines from around the world – a collection into which dipped freely when entertaining guests at her extravagant dinner parties.
The entire inventory of her cellar, handwritten in 1814, is on display at a new exhibit which opened on Wednesday at her final residence, in the Paris suburb of Rueil-Malmaison, along with a host of 18th and 19th century bottles, crystal glasses and punch bowls.
"Until now we had very little information about what people were drinking at the time and the wine served," said Amaury Lefebure, the director of the National Museum of the Chateaux of Malmaison and Bois-Preau.
"This very precise inventory of Josephine's cellar, which includes a number of Grands Crus that still exist to our day, gives us a wonderful glimpse of what was served at the empress' table."
"We knew she was a good hostess, but this confirms that she possessed the best wines of her time."
The compilation of the inventory began days after Josephine's 1814 death – shortly after she organised a royal reception for Czar Alexander I.
The greatest surprise in the 13,286-bottle wine list was the clear predominance of bordeaux, as Parisian high society usually plumped for burgundies at the time.
"Under the ancient regime, the English were the greatest drinkers of bordeaux while Louis XVI didn't have a single bottle in his cellar. So we can say that Josephine launched the post-Napoleon fashion for Bordeaux in France," said Mr Lefebure.
Elegant champagne flutes inscribed with a J for Josephine or N for Napoleon and topped with a crown, feature in the exhibition. Josephine kept relatively few bottles of champagne – around 100 – as it was prone to explode due to the poor quality of glass at the time, according to the exhibition's curators.
But her tastes went much further afield, with wines from Cyprus, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal as well as South Africa and Hungary.
The empress also kept hundreds of bottles of rum from her native Martinique, which she would serve at dinner parties in punches kept in gilded bowls.
"We know from her head chambermaid that Josephine was a 'very sober woman,'" said Mr Lefebure. "She was partial to very sweet wines including champagne and also rum punches that drew on her Creole origin, but we know she drank it all with moderation – like Napoleon."
The emperor's favourites were burgundy and champagne, but he also grew fond of South African wines during his time in exile on Saint Helena, the South Atlantic island where he died in 1821 at age 52 – not far from Cape Town.
Sadly for wine historians, none of the actual bottles from the cellar are featured in the exhibit because all of Josephine's wine has long been consumed.
"La Cave de Josephine," runs through March 8 next year.

No comments:

Post a Comment