Wines fit for a king
Author: Alexandra Gray de Walden
Examining the wine list from Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation banquet in 1953, there are many similarities with the wines we still enjoy today. Ahead of the Coronation of King Charles III, Alexandra Gray de Walden examines which wines have stood the test of time since 1953 and those which may be seen at this year’s festivities.
It has been exactly 70 years since the last Coronation of a British monarch when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in June 1953. On 6th May 2023, we will once again witness this “once-in-a-lifetime” event as Elizabeth’s son Charles is crowned at Westminster Abbey – heralding the dawn of a new Carolean age.
Many people alive today were not even born in 1953, let alone conscious of the ways of a world reeling from the effects of the Second World War. Austerity was still very much the word of the day, with rationing in effect until the following year. Indeed, to honour Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation, households were allocated an extra pound of sugar and four ounces of margarine in their ration. This was quite the celebratory statement and no doubt many a jam sponge cake was baked as a result.
With a “cost of living” crisis, a European conflict and society in recovery from two years “on pause” because of Covid-19, it could be argued that there are some social similarities between 1953 and 2023 – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Is it the same case for the wines we choose to drink now?
A royal lineup
Thanks to The Royal Collection Trust, the menu and wine list from Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation State Banquet in 1953 has been published online. At first glance, it’s easy to spot wines and regions which are still popular with us now. Whilst a starter of Tortue Claire Sandringham may not mean much to us in 2023, the wine list wouldn’t look at all out of place now – except perhaps for the vintages, of course.
Proceedings opened at Queen Elizabeth II’s banquet with an 1890 Solera Sherry from Tarifa, right on Spain’s southernmost tip. Although Tarifa is not in the Sherry Triangle of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María in the west of Spain, its Sherry was clearly still fit for a queen. The popularity of Sherry hit its zenith around the 1970s but it has been making a comeback for the past 10 years. It is a fantastically versatile food wine with its varying styles able to match a vast array of dishes. Berry Bros. & Rudd wine educator Rebecca Lamont (and proud Sherry advocate) even declared our Own Selection Fino Sherry to be her one desert island wine.
Riesling’s royal seal of approval
Given that the Second World War had come to an end a mere eight years before this state dinner, it is perhaps surprising to see a German Riesling paired with the second course of Délices de Soles Prince Charles. This is likely to be a nod of substance over style as Germany was once the premium wine producing nation prior to the First World War – even ahead of France. Although no mention is made of the quality or sweetness level of this 1949 Riesling from Johannisberger Erntebringer, it is likely to have been an off-dry or medium-dry style. With its light body and flavours of lime, kiwi and pear, it would have been a perfect match for poached sole. Our Own Selection Mosel Riesling made for us by Selbach-Oster would be an eminent match for a bouillabaisse-soaked sole for any celebrations this year.
Lafite and lamb
A name synonymous with Bordeaux’s fine wines is First Growth, Château Lafite Rothschild and it’s an unsurprising feature of the 1953 Royal wine list. Considered by many at the time to be the first good vintage in Bordeaux for several years, it was the 1934 Lafite which made the cut. Paired at the Queen’s banquet with a rack of lamb, green beans and new potatoes, the then 19-year-old Lafite (we suspect) would have exhibited flavours of hedgerow fruits, leather and hints of tobacco. Producing an average of 59 million cases of wine every year, Bordeaux is still one of the world’s most popular fine wine regions and Lafite still one of its top-priced châteaux.
The fourth course of Aspêrges et Sauce Mousseline was paired with another selection from the lauded 1934 vintage – this time in sparkling form from Champagne Pol Roger. A point worth noting is that Pol Roger was, famously, the favourite Champagne of Queen Elizabeth’s first Prime Minister and great advisor, Sir Winston Churchill. It wouldn’t be foolish to imagine this is why it was included in the evening’s wine list. A bottle of 1934 Pol Roger now sits in the archive collection of The Imperial War Museum due to its link with the grand statesman.
It seems unimaginable that King Charles III will not have some sort of sparkling wine peppered throughout the events to celebrate his Coronation. While Champagne is sure to play its part, I have a hunch that English sparkling wine will have a starring role. It certainly did during Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022: Buckingham Palace even released their own commemorative cuvée of English sparkling wine. This is also a nice nod to the increasingly popular and sustainable movement of “buying locally” – not something, traditionally, made easy when buying wine.
The king of Sauternes
No five-course State Banquet would be complete without an unctuous pudding wine to pair with your Bôite de Fraises Reine Elizabeth (that’s strawberry and Pimm’s jelly with fresh strawberries to the rest of us). Synonymous with the sweet wines of Bordeaux’s Sauternes region is Château d’Yquem, founded in 1593. It was the 1938 vintage, full of Yquem’s honey and saffron notes, which the Queen and her bow-tied and ballgown-decked guests were lucky enough to be served.
Strawberries are still a staple of many a British pudding. One thinks of Eton Mess, Scotland’s Cranachan and of course, strawberries and cream at the Wimbledon Championships. They are bound to feature prominently at street parties and celebratory barbecues on 6th May and across the long weekend. As the staple partner for cheeseboards everywhere, Sauternes and other pudding wines haven’t fallen out of favour in the last 70 years either. Perhaps try yours with a strawberry mousse this summer.
The traditional conclusion to a great, celebratory meal certainly was (and in many households and here at Berry Bros. & Rudd, still is) Port. Its historical link with the British stretches back to the aptly named Treaty of Windsor in 1386 – a close political and commercial alliance between Portugal and England. The diplomatic reasons for closing Her Majesty’s Coronation dinner with a Royal Tawny and a 1927 Sandeman Vintage Port, therefore, need no explanation. Such a traditional dinner detail as Port seems highly likely to feature in some way at her son’s festivities. However, as heady and full-bodied red Ports have fallen a little out of favour since 1953, perhaps the lighter and somewhat more refreshing white Port will take its place at the palace this year? White Port and tonic is increasing in popularity as an alternative to gin, and Port House Taylor’s has even launched a pre-mixed Port and tonic in a can. I imagine that will be a step too far for even a royal garden party.
Click here to buy our Coronation mixed case, inspired by the wines from Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation banquet.