Uncorked: A wine so Haut, he had to write it in his diary
by Pat Kettles
Special to The Star
Apr 24, 2013 | 4859 views |  0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The 350th anniversary of the mention of Chateau Haut-Brion in Samuel Pepys’ diary was celebrated last week at Cambridge University in England. Pepys, born in 1633, was a 17th-century bon vivant, serial philanderer, lover of fine clothes and, most importantly, a diarist.

Born the son of a tailor, Pepys loved all things sartorial and made frequent references in his diary to putting his closet in order. His brilliance propelled him through Magdalene College, Cambridge. He used the help of his father’s first cousin, Sir Edward Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, to launch his career, first serving Montagu’s secretary. Later he served as Clerk of the Acts in the Navy Office, Clerk of the Privy Seal and, finally, Secretary to the Admiralty.

He was interested in natural science and became a member of the Royal Academy, subsequently serving as its president.

Pepys began keeping a diary on January 1, 1660, and brought it to a close on May 31, 1669. He wrote in a type of shorthand of his own invention. His diary entries give vivid, first-hand accounts of daily life and events of 17-century England such as the Great Fire of London and the Black Plague.

Pepys would have loved Facebook. His diaries also chronicled such mundane things as what time he woke and went to bed, where and with whom he dined, the foods served and wines consumed.

His diary entry dated April 10, 1663, reads, “Off to the Exchange with Sir J Cutler and Mr Grant to the Royal Oak Tavern in Lumbard Street … and there drank a sort of French wine called Ho Bryan, that hath a good and most particular taste that I never met with.”

This passage from Pepys’ diary was on display at the Cambridge celebration, but it is not the earliest mention of Chateau Haut-Brion in writing. The cellar record book of King Charles II dated 1660 contains a reference to Hobrionno no doubt referring to Haut-Brion.

The English had developed a fondness for claret, the red wines of Bordeaux, several hundred years before Pepys’ diary entry although earlier clarets often spoiled on their voyage across the English Channel. Because England was often at war with the French during this period, the English turned to their ally Portugal to supply their wines. These Portuguese wines were fortified with brandy to stabilize them for their long voyage to England. Port became the libation of choice and Bordeaux clarets like those from Chateau Haut-Brion were available only to the privileged few.

Chateau Haut-Brion is located just outside the city of Bordeaux. Grapes have grown on this property since Roman times. The founding of the estate dates back to April 1525. Wines from this estate have always been prized. Haut-Brion was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. From the 16th century onward, Haut-Brion went through a series of owners. The estate was purchased in 1935 by American banker Clarence Dillon. The estate is now managed by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, a great grandchild of Clarence Dillon.

When the great wines of Bordeaux were classified in 1855, only four wines were awarded top ranking. Haut-Brion was among them.

It’s been alleged these wines received their ranking based on prices commanded at the time, and not necessarily quality. Haut-Brion was pricey then as now. Expect to pay approximately $1000 per bottle for the 2010 vintage that wine critic Robert Parker awarded a perfect 100 point score.

Ironically, in the now famous 1976 Paris wine tasting, where a panel of French judges tasted blindly an array of the top wines from both America and France, Chateau Haut-Brion came in third behind the number one wine in that category, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars from the Napa Valley in California. Ironic because it was innovations at Haut-Brion — selection of rootstocks and clones, handpicking, fermenting in stainless steel tanks and aging in a combination of old and new oak barrels — that American wine pioneers emulated in their quest to make wines that could rival those made by the great chateaux like Haut-Brion.

Contact Pat Kettles at pkettles@annistonstar.com.
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Uncorked: A wine so Haut, he had to write it in his diary by Pat Kettles
Special to The Star

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