The notion of launching Downton Abbey wine* seems so obvious now that I’m kicking myself for not having thought of it myself. I’m not actually a follower of the series – I’m more of a Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Newsroom and Breaking Bad fan – but I’m well aware that 120m people across the world are hooked on it, and that’s a pretty good number if you’re looking for brand awareness.

I haven’t tasted the wines either, but I know the credited winemaker, Jean-Marc Dulong, whose family négociant business was bought a few years ago by Grands Chais de France, the company behind the best-selling JP Chenet. I’m ready to bet that both red and white are perfectly honest examples of Bordeaux but probably not the best value for money on the shelf. On the other hand, I’ll also bet that the red probably doesn’t taste any worse than Mouton Cadet, or many of the bottles that were being drunk in the grand houses of England a century ago. Any supposition that the English upper classes regularly sipped the early 1900’s equivalent of ’61 Lafite or ’45 Latour is ludicrous. There simply wasn’t enough of that quality of wine to go around.

Basic Bordeaux is a very tough sell in the US (the target market, I’d guess) – and in the UK nowadays – and anything that tastes ok and gets people to pick up a bottle gets my vote, even if I know that a fair chunk of the $17 price tag is going to pay for the use of the name rather than the grapes. It’s also worth saying that Bordeaux could do with some more decent, high volume brands. Wine buffs may love browsing their way along shelves full of indistinguishably labeled bottles of Chateau De Pot d’Or Dure, Chateau d’Or Dure du Pot and Chateau Dure-Pot d’Or or whatever, but common mortals look for a name they recognise and can rely on. Like JP Chenet or Downton Abbey.

Of course I may be wrong. A wine-knowledgeable person I respect reckons that it’s a gimmick that will enjoy a brief moment in the sun. The Wine Curmudgeon takes a similar view in a blog post in which he lives up to his name.

But I don’t think that the producers of Downton Abbey Claret are too worried about the people who read wine blogs when they could be wallowing in fantasies of life in English country houses. If I’m right, Downton Abbey wine could well follow in the globally successful footsteps of another fictional vision of English upper class life: the one popularised by an American called Ralph Lauren.

*Thanks to Stuart George for drawing it to my attention


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