On November 24, 1899, 2 years before she passed, Queen Victoria invited her grandson Kaiser Wilhelm to dinner at Windsor Palace. Not much is known about that dinner, but a menu from that evening has survived. On November 24, 2019, we were invited to a dinner intent on replicating the original menu as close as possible and had been tasked to pair the wines…without knowing what wines were served at the first!
The original menu was quite a feast, a seven-course affair complete with a sideboard full of meats. This was quite typical for the Queen who, though diminutive at only 4 feet, eleven inches, had a voracious appetite. In attendance were the Queen, the Kaiser and his wife, along with the usual cohort of aristocrats and diplomats.
What is not known is what was served to drink at that meal. However, with a bit of sleuthing we can tell you with reasonable accuracy, what was probably served.
The Victorian Era is generally known as an era of modesty and restraint, formality and somewhat puritanical behaviour. But, rather paradoxically, it was not an era of abstention, at least not from alcohol. In fact, Queen Victoria herself was rather fond of the grape.
The Queen’s affection for both food and drink can be traced back to her early childhood days. Throughout the 19th century, every British royal had more than a few quirks. Queen Victoria’s eating habits were especially noteworthy, though. While many people in the Victorian era made questionable decisions and practiced dangerous diets, the queen’s way of eating was, well, completely out of the norm.
Most women in that time period deprived themselves of food, even going so far as to swallow tapeworms to remain dangerously thin. Queen Victoria, however, had a voracious appetite, and everyone knew it. She loved to eat, and she ate a lot. Queen Victoria may have had such an unhealthy relationship with food in her adult years because she was largely deprived of tasty food in her childhood. The young Queen’s diet was extremely regimented. She could only eat things like plain bread and milk for dinner. As a result, Queen Victoria swore she would eat richer meals when she got older. With the untimely death of her husband Albert, Victoria added to her consumption by consoling herself with comfort eating.
The dining room was fitted with a buffet or side table that, in addition to whatever else came out of the kitchen to the dining table, the side table was filled with an assortment of meats like venison, brawn, marrow bones, and beef. If dinner guests or the Queen herself felt hungry during dinner, they could pick what they wanted from the extra surface. Apparently, this love of buffets often led to criticism, since it was so uncommon. As well as leading to her obesity. Our modern-day hosts decided to forego the buffet as all 22 guests agreed that the multi-course meal would be more than enough!
All of this rather bizarre context is provided only to help you to attempt to understand Queen Victoria’s tastes in booze, which frankly, were even more bizarre. In order to follow Victoria’s example, we would start with a cocktail, followed by Champagne, then on to white wine, then red wine and finally, before bed, another cocktail known as the Queen’s Tipple.
The story of Queen Victoria’s favourite before dinner cocktail starts in 1863, when Parisian chemist Angelo Mariani first started selling a concoction of Bordeaux wine and coca leaves which he called ‘Vin Mariani.’
Mariani claimed that his tonic had numerous medicinal “strengthening” properties and marketed it as a cure for “loss of sleep, indigestion, melancholia” and many other ailments. Mariani made many dubious claims about his tonic, but of one thing seems certain: Vin Mariani got you really high. The ethanol in the wine acted as a solvent and extracted the cocaine from the coca leaves, altering the drink’s effect. It originally contained 6 mg of cocaine per fluid ounce of wine (211.2 mg/L), but Vin Mariani that was to be exported contained 7.2 mg per ounce (253.4 mg/L), in order to compete with the higher cocaine content of similar drinks in the United States. For context, a typical snorted dose of cocaine is 30 to 70 mg.
On top of its obvious neurochemical appeal, Vin Mariani also benefited from a wildly successful European and North American marketing campaign that relied on its biggest fans: celebrities. Advertisements routinely featured lists of famous people who recommended Vin Mariani for its apparent health benefits, and its ability to combat fatigue and increase concentration. Celebrities known to enjoy and support Vin Mariani included: Pope Leo XIII, Queen Victoria, Ulysses S. Grant, Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Edison, Alexander Dumas and Sarah Bernhardt.
What is surprising is that Vin Mariani survived until the beginning of the 20th century, when laws controlling cocaine finally did catch up. Around that time, Mariani’s celebrity-fuelled advertisements had shifted from medicinal claims to trumpeting the drink’s “enjoyable” effects as a “stimulant.” This only made the drink more popular and inspired many imitators.
One such imitator, Dr. John Stith Pemberton of Atlanta, Georgia, substituted the wine (alcohol sales were banned in Georgia at the time) with sugar syrup and called his drink “Coca-Cola,” a drink that would survive Vin Mariani, and a time when seemingly every famous person on the planet was drinking wine mixed with cocaine.
It was actually possible to source Vin Mariani for this dinner. Babco Europe released their first small batch production of Vin Mariani, a vin tonique made from a Bordeaux wine fortified with Peruvian Coca leaf, and it is available in London. Though the original recipe died with Angelo Mariani over 100 years ago, the people at Babco claim to have resurrected it through reviewing old documents and reverse engineering. We attempted to procure some while on a trip to London, but it wasn’t meant to be which is probably a good thing given it’s 22% alcohol!
The story of Queen Victoria and Champagne is much more straight forward. At the end of the 19th Century, Leonard Mentzendorf, Jacques Bollinger’s friend and agent, introduced Queen Victoria and her family to Bollinger Champagne. The Queen was immediately taken with it and in 1884 she bestowed a Royal warrant on the wine. A select number of products preferred by the royal family have earned an official seal, dubbed a royal warrant. Royal warrants have been doled out by the British royal family since the 15th century. A Royal Warrant of Appointment is a mark of recognition of those who have supplied goods or services to the Households of The Queen or King (as the case may be) and their immediate family, and who have an ongoing trading arrangement.
Today there are around 800 Royal Warrant holders representing a huge cross-section of trade and industry, from individual craftspeople to global multi-nationals. As of today, 17 champagne houses have been awarded a royal warrant, including Bollinger, Krug, Mumm, Lanson, Laurent-Perrier, Roederer, Moet et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Charbonnel et Walker, and Corney and Barrow.
Champagne Bollinger NV Brut is widely available in BC for around $80, and while lacking any cocaine or other illegal substances, it could be procured for the dinner.
For white wine, Queen Victoria definitely had a favourite, and it was likely served at the dinner with the Kaiser on November 24, 1899: the Weingut Joachim Flick Hochheimer Konigin Victoriaberg Riesling.
This south-sloping vineyard on the River Main near where it joins the Rhine acquired its name due to a brilliant idea from its first owner G.M. Papstmann. He took the opportunity of inviting Queen Victoria to his impressive vineyard during her tour of Germany in 1845 which was to include an excursion to Hochheim. The city elders at that time praised this vineyard in a document as “one of the most beautiful and best vineyards of the Hochheim area.” Such a prime estate was the ideal showplace for exhibiting the high quality of the Hochheim wines. Since these wines were already well-known in England, and under the abbreviation HOCK, the young Queen and her German husband, Prince Albert, were pushed to attend a wine-tasting at the wine’s place of origin. This one-time honour from her Royal Majesty, however, did not fully satisfy this clever winegrower. Having kept the Court’s interest in his estate alive, he was granted a document as a mark of favour in December 1850, allowing him to call his vineyard “Königin Victoriaberg” in commemoration of that special visit.
The English neo-gothic monument in the middle of the vineyard was unveiled on the occasion of the 35th birthday of Queen Victoria on 24th May 1854 and the labels for this wine still commemorate that historical event. While we were unable to source the Victoriaberg Riesling in Vancouver, we found a suitable alternate in the Selbach Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Kabinett.
The only association that we could find with Queen Victoria and red wine is that she liked Bordeaux. If she wasn’t fussy about which Bordeaux she drank, why should we be? We served the 2010 Haut Faugeres Saint-Emilion Grand Cru.
Much to everyone’s wonderful surprise we also enjoyed a 1951 Chateau Mouton Rothschild generously provided by one of our “royal” guests. While much of the fruit was gone, there were still notes of leather and earth and it was enjoyed immensely as we literally sipped history from a bottle.
Before bed, Queen Victoria would enjoy what is now referred to as the Queen’s Tipple. This is a simple mix of equal parts Bordeaux red wine and Scotch Whiskey. To us that sounded absolutely terrible so we took the liberty of providing the 2013 Chateau Dereszla Tokaji in honour of our Hungarian host for the evening.
Our evening featured an eclectic group of guests including artists, actors, a flight attendant, a teacher, and a pilot. Some dressed in period costume and each was assigned a course to bring (a rather high-end ‘potluck’ as it turned out!). Everyone was committed to making this evening special and it easily ranks as our most memorable dinner experience ever. We were truly honoured to be among such incredible friends who all count as royalty in our books.