Napoleon’s Wine

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Posted on: 10th June, 2016

Category: The Wine Buff

Contributor: Tony Eklof

“Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin” (Napoleon Bonaparte)

Napoleon liked to travel to Italy. I like to travel to Italy, but I don’t bring an army with me. Napoleon appreciated Italian art. I love Italian art, but I don’t carry it home with me. Napoleon loved his wine, and so do I, but whereas he was stuck on one type, I enjoy trying different varieties.

The young and newly appointed head of the French army in Italy Napoleon first emulated Hannibal by crossing the Alps in 1796 to ‘liberate’ northern Italy mostly from the Austrians, and to lend support to local Jacobins. The treaty ending this particular conflict handed Venice over to the Austrians, ending the long history of the independent Venetian city­state.

In 1800 Napoleon crossed the Alps a second time and pulled off a famous victory when faced with defeat against the Austrian army at Marengo in the Piedmont. (Did you know that Tosca is set against the background of the Battle of Marengo?) This time Napoleon’s excursion to Italy was much
more lasting, and he insured his continuing influence by installing his relatives as rulers of various parts of Italy. His brother Joseph became King of Naples. Sister Elisa became Princess of Lucca and Grand Duchess of Tuscany and enjoyed a long and popular reign as reflected by the fact that one of Lucca’s beautiful squares is still officially named Piazza Napoleone. Napoleon’s own wife Marie Louise became by all accounts a much­loved ruler of Parma.

While initially welcomed as liberator in Italy Napoleon blotted his copybook by carting off much of Italy’s treasures and donating them to the newly established Louvre in Paris. From one city alone, Bologna, 86 wagons were needed to transport the looted art back to Paris. Outstanding examples include the famous Horses of Saint Mark, which Napoleon had mounted on the Arc de Triomphe and Veronese’s great Wedding at Cana, which hangs in the Louvre to this day.

So which wines did Napoleon favour? When it came to Champagne, which he was quite fond of, it had to be Moet and Chandon and he made many visits to their cellars in Epernay. He was quoted as saying ‘In victory you deserve Champagne, in defeat you need it!’ As for red wine, he only had time for one, Burgundy’s highly­rated Chambertin.

Supposedly he had barrels of Chambertin carted around after him during his campaigns including Italy, which would mean some poor soldiers had to carry them over the Alps! Incidentally when Josephine Bonaparte died an inventory of her wine cellar listed 13,000 bottles about half of which were very fine Bordeaux. Her taste obviously differed from the Emperor’s.

Recommendations ­

2010 Louis Latour Gevrey­Chambertin, on special in SuperValu at €37 down from €47.99. I know, good Burgundy is expensive! Chambertin Grand Cru is one of Burgundy’s stronger, more intense, perfumed wines with great cellaring potential.

Just in at Lidl, a more affordable Burgundy, Bourgogne Hautes Cote de Nuits, 2014, €12.99.

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