Samuel Pepys and wine: Teetotalism during a pandemic

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On Friday 10 April 1663, Samuel Pepys – a senior administrator of the navy of England – wrote in his diary that he had that day been “Off the Exchange with Sir J. Cutler and Mr. Grant to the Royall Oak Tavern, in Lumbard Street, where Alexander Broome the poet was, a merry and witty man, I believe, if he be not a little conceited, and here drank a sort of French wine, called Ho Bryan, that hath a good and most particular taste that I never met with.”

Samule Pepys portrait by John Hayls, 1666
Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, 1666

This is not the first recorded mention of Château Haut-Brion. It is mentioned as “Hobrionno” in the 1660 cellar book of King Charles II – which shows how reputed the wine was in England in the 17th century –  and has been traced as far back as January 1521 in a document discovered in the Gironde Departmental Archives that mentions “four pipes of wine… from the place known as Aubrion”.

Pepys, however, drank many other types of wine. He was a gourmand. On 10 October 1662, he described in his diary “a good dinner, a barrel of good oysters, a couple of lobsters, and wine.” (Yum.)

Then most frequently mentioned wine by Pepys is “Rhenish” (from one of the wine areas on the German Rhine river), often enjoyed at the Rhenish Wine House in King Street in the St James’s district of central London. On 19 June 1663 he “went thence to the Rhenish wine-house, where we called for a red Rhenish wine called Bleahard, a pretty wine, and not mixed, as they say.”

“Bleahard” is perhaps Bleichert, a rosé wine of the Ahr Valley to the southeast of Bonn. Pepys implies that the wine was not a mix of red and white to make it the “pretty” colour.

Malaga wine is also frequently referenced, often as “Malaga Sack”. “Sack” was a white fortified wine from Spain or the Canary islands.

On 20th January 1662, Pepys visited “Mr. Morrice, the wine cooper, who this day did divide the two butts, which we four did send for, of sherry from Cales (shipped from Calais), and mine was put into a hogshead, and the vessel filled up with four gallons of Malaga wine, but what it will stand us in I know not: but it is the first great quantity of wine that I ever bought.”
He sold one hogshead to a colleague in August that year and, during a period of sobriety, was “glad of my money instead of wine.”

In July 1663, Pepys sampled a colleague’s “Malago Sack, which, he says, is certainly 30 years old, and I tasted a drop of it, and it was excellent wine, like a spirit rather than wine.”

Spanish wine from Navarre (Navarra) was also enjoyed by Pepys on the recommendation of the Duke of York  Lord High Admiral of the English Navy, on 10th February 1669: “he did now mightily commend some new sort of wine lately found out, called Navarre wine, which I tasted, and is, I think, good wine”.

There are two references in Pepys’s diary to “Florence wine”, which might refer to what is now Chianti.

The amount of wine consumed by Pepys is considerable, with many diary entries stating that “a great deal of wine” had been drunk. For example, on 3 February 1662, Pepys enjoyed a pie for lunch “and to end all, Mrs. Shippman did fill the pye full of white wine, it holding at least a pint and a half, and did drink it off for a health to Sir William and my Lady, it being the greatest draft that ever I did see a woman drink in my life.”

On 21 March 1660, Pepys “went to a tavern over against Mr. Pierce’s with judge Advocate Fowler and Mr. Burr, and sat and drank with them two or three pints of wine.” It’s not clear if Pepys and his two companions drank two or three pints each but it’s at least one-third of a litre, or nearly half a 75cl bottle, each.

Pepys’s wine consumption declines from when he began his diary in 1660 to when he stopped writing it in 1669. His driest period was in 1664-65, which covers a busy period in his professional life and the Great Plague of 1665.

On 1 July 1664, Pepys visited his doctor, who advised him, “Old Canary or Malaga wine you may drinke to three or 4 glasses, but noe new wine, and what wine you drinke, lett it bee at meales.”

More than 350 years later, the advice on drinking in moderation, old better than new, and with food, remains sound.

Stuart George | Founder & MD | Arden Fine Wines

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