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  • Writer's pictureThe Butler

Napoleon and wine, a tormented passion

"I can't live without champagne, if I win, I deserve it, if I lose, I need it"

On the occasion of the release of the peplum dedicated to France's most famous Emperor, we take a look back at the passionate relationship between the statesman consumed by ambition and the Burgundy wines he knew how to love.

Like a Stendhal novel, Ridley Scott's latest feature juxtaposes history and life, the reality of the battlefield and the illusions of love. If Julien Sorel never achieved the destiny he promised himself, this great admirer of Napoleon's campaigns would have been delighted to discover that he shared at least one thing with his idol, caught as he was between the fires of ambition and intimacy. The director of House Of Gucci and Gladiator, who loves to bring to the screen these stories where the evil one ingeniously transforms the vile into heroism, leaves out here, in his personal account, one of the Emperor's other intoxications, who, if he passionately loved Josephine and war, He also loved Chambertin, Moët champagne and Courvoisier cognacs, a few cases of which, legend has it, softened his final exile on St. Helena, after the defeat at Waterloo signaled the end of the Hundred Days and Bonaparte's final twilight.

Napoleon at the table

One is never better served than by one's valets, and Proust's intimate confidante Céleste Albaret would hardly disagree. Like the indisputable novelist who, throughout La Recherche, dissects the rivalries between the aristocracy of the Ancien Régime and the nobility of the Empire, Napoleon was quite close to his first valet, Louis Constant-Wairy, to whom we owe today's knowledge of Bonaparte's habits and wine preferences. In Mémoires Intimes de Napoléon Ier, the first observer of Napoleon's life confesses to the hours and days of the former First Consul, who deflected the promises of 1789, while claiming to want to break with the authoritarianism of the Ancien Régime. While the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire and the self-proclamation of the Empire in 1804 are well known, it is generally less well known that the commander of the Egyptian campaign had crates of Chambertin followed to Cairo, where the import of the revolutionary wars was intended to deport the anti-reactionary front on its way to India.

Like any man of power with a pronounced taste for authority, the warlord was not kidding about the regularity of his habits. When he was at the Tuileries, Fontainebleau or Saint-Cloud, lunch and dinner were systematically accompanied by a 50cl. bottle of Chambertin, supplied by Soupé et Pierrugues, located at 338, rue Saint-Honoré in Paris. However, don't think that the Emperor denied his origins. On the contrary, he never forgot his native Isle of Beauty, and never strayed from the Mediterranean custom of cutting his wine with a dash of ice water. And while he drank daily, it has to be said that he couldn't bear to lose control, and was far from a happy drunken companion. It remains to be seen, however, how this military man, overcome by the smell of gunpowder, discovered the elegance of Côte-d'Or nectars. The historiographical debate is still raging among specialists in the field, but it seems likely that the young Corsican lieutenant on a mission in Auxonne discovered the wines of Chambertin while on holiday in Burgundy. At the time, Burgundy wine merchants were authorized, under the principle of equivalence, to swap one appellation for another. Thus, one Chambertin may conceal another Côte-de-Nuits terroir, and it would be more accurate to evoke Bonaparte's taste for the whole of northern Burgundy than for the Chambertins alone, which, by the way, are the only wines in the region to have been produced under the name of Chambertin.

Le champagne Moët et le cognac Courvoisier

C'est un fait que les fins connaisseurs de la cuvée Imperial ont presque tous appris lors de la découverte de ce flacon mythique de la maison, qu'on accompagne traditionnellement d'un éclairage onomastique. Si d'aucuns attribuent à l'Empereur, sans source sûre, la fameuse citation – «Je ne peux vivre sans champagne, en cas de victoire, je le mérite, en cas de défaite, j'en ai besoin» –les visites de l’Empereur aux domaines d’Épernay sont toutes aussi attestées que les commandes passées à la maison Moët, dont les registres comptables ont été soigneusement conservés. Or, à l'issue de la défaite de Waterloo, les commandes cessent : Napoléon est contraint à l'exil et il ne boira plus que très rarement les vins de champagne et de bourgogne. Il s'était échappé d'Elbe, de Sainte-Hèlene, il ne reviendra pas. Toutefois, les six ans que dura sa captivité sur l'île britannique au large des côtes africaines, l'empereur déchu qui ne goûtait pas beaucoup le clairet des Anglais, put se consoler au goulot des cognacs de la maison Courvoisier. Après le coup d'État du 2 décembre 1852, ils entrèrent à la cour impériale sous Napoléon III, neveu du Iᵉʳ Empereur des Français qui, lui, préférait les vins de Bourgogne à tout autre breuvage.

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