I would have loved to have titled this story ‘Chateau Palmer Sabotaged by An Anchovy Sandwich’ but doing so would have done a great disservice to a wonderful wine. This story is a historical one – and is true. It tells us many things about Claret which is why I found it fascinating.
Claret, as we know, is the old fashioned name that the British gave to the red wine of Bordeaux a couple of centuries ago. At this point in time Bordeaux reds were more akin to the Clairet (from which Claret gets its name) that we enjoy today – it was a paler coloured wine, lighter in body. This was partly due to the fact that we drank it quickly – we couldn’t get enough of it at one point and no sooner than it was made it was shipped across the channel. The other reason was that wine making techniques at the time were very different than those of today. However as times changed so did out palates and we started to enjoy a darker, fuller bodied Bordeaux and the Bordelaise and British wine merchants started to make a British Claret specially for us. By the 18th century Bordeaux reds were beefed up with the addition of Hermitage from the northern Rhone and were also given the ‘English Treatment’ whereby darker, stronger reds from Spain were added to the blend. This story shows the difference between a Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé of the time and a British Claret quite nicely.
Before I continue I have to thank Adrian Green, a reader of my blog on Chateau Palmer, The Prince Regent and Palmer’s Claret which was about how Chateau Palmer acquired its name from the English General Palmer who purchased it in 1814 and how ‘Palmer’s Claret’ became much sought after in London clubs, being particularly appreciated by the Prince Regent – the future King George IV. Adrian pointed me to a memoir called ‘The Reminisences of Captain Gronow‘ and said that the Prince Regent didn’t like Palmer’s Claret and forced the General to rip up his vines and replant. Intrigued, I found the memoir and read that the Prince Regent enjoyed Palmer’s Claret at first, calling it’s bouquet ‘holy Palmer’s kiss’ but that his enjoyment was somewhat sabotaged by Lord Yarmouth who preferred the British Claret and the ignoble use of an anchovy sandwich . . . which nearly caused a duel.
I quote from the Reminiscences:
“Palmer’s claret, under his auspices, began to be talked of in the clubs; and the bon vivant was anxious to secure a quantity of this highly-prized wine. The patronage of the Prince Regent was considered essential, who, with his egotistical good nature, and from a kindly feeling for Palmer, gave a dinner at Carlton House, when a fair trial was to be given to his claret. A select circle of gastronomes was to be present, amongst whom was Lord Yarmouth, well known in those days by the appellation of “Red-herrings,” from his rubicund whiskers, hair, and face, and from the town of Yarmouth deriving its principal support from the importation from Holland of that fish; Sir Benjamin Bloomfield, Sir William Knighton, and Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, were also of the party. The wine was produced, and was found excellent, and the spirits of the party ran high; the light wine animating them without intoxication. The Prince was delighted, and, as usual upon such occasions, told some of his best stories, quoted Shakspeare, and was particularly happy upon the bouquet of the wine as suited “to the holy Palmer’s kiss.”
Lord Yarmouth alone sat in moody silence, and, on being questioned as to the cause, replied that whenever he dined at his Royal Highness’s table, he drank a claret which he much preferred–that which was furnished by Carbonell. The Prince immediately ordered a bottle of this wine; and to give them an opportunity of testing the difference, he desired that some anchovy sandwiches should be served up. Carbonell’s wine was placed upon the table: it was a claret made expressly for the London market, well-dashed with Hermitage, and infinitely more to the taste of the Englishman than the delicately-flavoured wine they had been drinking. The banquet terminated in the Prince declaring his own wine superior to that of Palmer’s, and suggesting that he should try some experiments on his estate to obtain a better wine. Palmer come from Carlton House much mortified. On Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt attempting to console him, and saying that it was the anchovies that had spoiled the taste of the connoisseurs, the general said loudly enough to be heard by Lord Yarmouth, “No; it was the confounded red herrings.” A duel was very nearly the consequence.
General Palmer, feeling it his duty to follow the advice of the Prince, rooted out his old vines, planted new ones, tried all sorts of experiments at an immense cost, but with little or no result.”
Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt was quite correct about the anchovy sandwich ruining the taste of the wine and the fact that Carbonell’s claret stood up to the taste left in their mouths better than that of Chateau Palmer’s is because Carbonell’s was robust and fuller bodied. The ‘holy Palmer’s kiss’ was too fine a wine to withstand the assault on the taste buds that an anchovy sandwich creates – which is probably why Lord Yarmouth insisted on the group eating them. Jockeying for favour amongst the Prince Regent’s companions was a perilous business and Yarmouth would have considered General Palmer as a rival.
Carbonells, by the way, was a well-established Carbonels Wine Merchants in Regent Street, London that had been set up by John Carbonel, son of Thomas Carbonel, a Huguenot merchant of Caen who had fled to England due to religious persecution in France. Carbonels did quite well as wine merchants and are mentioned by the writers Thackeray and Dickens.
Carbonels no longer exist but Chateau Palmer has thankfully gone on to become one of the most sought after Grand Cru Classés of today so the story has a happy ending.