|Back in the January/February issue of Sommelier India, the Grapevine talked about the Bordeaux-based wine merchant who in the middle of the 19th century shipped several barrels of claret to an Indian maharaja who did not find the wine to his taste and sent them back to Bordeaux. Well, Sanjay Menon of Sansula saw that tidbit in the magazine and sent us this which goes a little deeper into the story.|
That delightful anecdote ended with the merchant discovering that wines that had travelled the high seas were delicious! Hence the name Vins Retour de l’Inde or Back from India clarets was mentioned on the labels. Here’s what Sanjay Menon discovered.
Louis Gaspard d’Estournel sold his first wines of Cos d’Estournel in India. The office records of the brokers Tastet-Lawton, which are valid executed and authenticated deeds, certify this fact :
“1831 – Cos d’Estournel – Destination Calcutta – Very good !”
“1834 – Cos d’Estournel – Destination Calcutta – Perfect !”
“1837 – Cos d’Estournel – Destination Calcutta – Perfect !”
It seems that the princes and gentry who were sent to Oxford and Cambridge to be educated in the early part of the 19th Century brought back the claret habit with them. The powerful and rich character of the St. Estephe wines appealed to them particularly and naturally then it had to be the COS. So much so that in that period 90% of the COS was being shipped to India.
It so transpires that one consignment of the Cos shipped to India had to be returned for some reason and, “The Maharaja of St. Estephe”, as Louis Gaspard d’Estournel was often referred to as, had observed that the wine which had traveled several seas had improved during the course of the voyage as a result of the gentle swaying of the boat with the swell of the sea ! He had the wine brought back to his cellars, endowed it with a label marked “R” which for the initiated meant “Retour des Inde” and he offered it to the great men of this world.
The logo or mascot of the chateau as can be observed from the top of this page and also on the label, is the Indian Elephant (as in not the African of species).
The famous door of the Chateau that came from the Sultan of Zanzibar’s palace and “the great Hindu pagoda”, referred to by Saint-Rieul Dupuy in his ‘SUMMER IN BORDEAUX; MR. D’ESTOURNEL, HIS CELLARS AND HIS WINES”, 1850, commenting on the unique pagoda style roof of the Chateau, completes the Indian connection of Chateau Cos d’Estournel.
Chateau Cos d’Estournel is classified as a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) according to the famous classification of the wines of Bordeaux that took place in the year 1855. However over the last 30 years, the Chateau has done so well that Robert Parker, the world’s most powerful wine critic, regards the Chateau on par with the First Growths of Bordeaux.
Editor’s Note: Interestingly, the book Catering Management (3rd Edition) also talks of Vins Retour de l’Inde and draws attention to a Madère Retour des Indes 1846 that was served at the Café Anglais in Paris in 1867. The chapter on Historical Banqueting is available as a PDF.