The late Winston Churchill said of Pol Roger: “In victory I deserve it; in defeat, I need it.” For a man who experienced more defeats and victories than possibly any other figure in history, this certainly serves to explain his unprecedented consumption. Indeed, from overseeing one of the greatest military debacles of the First World War (which is saying something) at Gallipoli, to the unprecedented RAF victory in the Battle of Britain, Pol Roger was Churchill’s commiseration and celebration. In the Cabinet War Rooms, he kept a ready supply of his favourite vintage, 1928, to open on either occasion, while in the final ten years of his life, through electoral defeat and victory, an estimated 6000 bottles passed through his personal cellar.
Such phenomenal consumption reflects Churchill’s dear love of Pol Roger, but also his incredible capacity for alcohol. No Prime Minister before or after – with the possible exception of William Pitt – has been able to match Churchill’s success as a simultaneous imbiber and leader. From the whisky and soda at 11am, through to the wines, brandies and of course, Pol Roger, at dinner, Churchill spent large portions of his day drinking. Indeed, for the harassed drinkers of modernity, comfort can be found in the fact that our greatest Prime Minister –and, indeed, greatest Briton – certainly consumed more than 3-4 units a day.
Of course, some viewed this style of leadership as less than appropriate. President Roosevelt was said to have complained that Churchill was drunk most of the day, while Field Marshall Alanbrook, commander of British forces in the war, lamented Churchill’s habit of hosting cabinet meetings after dinner, when drunken decisions frequently had to be reversed or rewritten in the morning. Yet, on the whole, such negative commentaries are rare (or at the very least Churchill’s other qualities superseded his drunkenness.)
Certainly, there is no doubt that Churchill – despite his propensity to drink at meals – charmed Odette Pol-Roger when the respective admirer and producer met at a lunch in 1944 at the British Embassy in Paris. Indeed, the friendship blossomed, with Churchill describing Odette’s residence as ‘the most drinkable address in the world’, and her sending the British Prime-minister a case of his favourite vintage mark every birthday. This friendship represented the apogee of Churchill’s love affair with Pol Roger, and would last until his death in 1965.
Of course, the 1928 vintage that Churchill so adored has long since disappeared (due in no small part to Churchill’s own efforts), but Pol Roger as a Champagne house flourishes as ever. In fact, the House so admires Churchill that in 1986 it named a champagne in his honour. Despite the rather unsubtle-bordering-on-obnoxious title of Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill, the wine itself reflects the style preferred by the great leader. A pinot-noir dominated blend gives it a greater body than the traditional cuvee, but with the 1998 vintage retailing at around £150 a bottle, it somewhat stretches the student budget.
More realistically, Pol Roger produces a non-vintage blend that is fruitier and less heavy than the Churchill style. Available at £34.99, this makes it ideally suited for special occasions. Finally, there is the Pol Roger ‘Pure’, produced by a method known as zero dosage. Retailing at £44.99 this wine retains the typical Pol Roger blend but, as the name suggests, no sugar is added, leaving the champagne ‘pure’. However, if you – like Churchill – don’t fear Type-2 Diabetes, I would stick to the non-vintage cuvee.
All Wines and Prices are taken from Luvians Bottle Shop