Brandy Banter: The Evening Standard described ArArAt Armenian brandy, once reserved for Communist party elite. It was “the brandy that Stalin served Churchill” according to consumer business editor Jonathan Prynn:
The prime minister enjoyed ArArAt brandy when it was served by Stalin at the Yalta conference in February 1945. After the Second World War, the Soviet leader arranged for Churchill to be sent 400 bottles every year.
This seems highly doubtful. There is no record in the Churchill Archives Centre of even a bottle of brandy being sent to Churchill—although he did compliment Stalin on an Armenian brandy served at Yalta. Also, by 1946, Churchill was saying things about the Russians that they probably didn’t think merited gifts. I am indebted to archivist Lynsey Darby at the Churchill Archives Centre Cambridge, who writes:
I’ve looked at a number of files in the Churchill Papers, and at Cita Stelzer’s book, Dinner with Churchill. The evidence points towards Churchill enjoying a range of different (but always high-quality) brandies, not just Armenian cognac. Mrs. Stelzer does mention Churchill picking up a bottle of Armenian cognac during a dinner given by Stalin in 1942. Other brandies mentioned in the book are l’Hertier de Jean Fremicourt (which Anthony Montague Browne said was Churchill’s favorite in his later years) and Prunier (which Churchill served at Potsdam). In the Churchill Papers, frustratingly the name of the brandy is often not given. In accounts from his wine merchants, the brandy is usually described simply as “fine old liqueur.”
ArArAt is produced by the Yerevan Company, whose Armine Ghazaryan queried me about their brand “Dvin.” She asked for the origins of the Churchill story. I have found no record of cases of either brandy being shipped to Churchill, either at his request or Stalin’s. But Ms. Ghazaryan kindly explains how “Dvin” relates to “ArArAt”:
Dvin is a part of the Ararat range (including Ararat 3, Ararat 5, Ani 6-year-old, Otborny 7-year-old, Akhtamar 10-year-old, Tonakan 15-year-old, and Nairi 20-year-old. There are also some exclusive brandies: Erebuni 25, Kilikia 30, Sparapet 40, Armenia 20 and Dvin. The latter is 10 years old but 50% alcohol.
My own contribution to all this is that the standard brandy Churchill served at Chartwell was Hine (which is quite agreeable). A London wine merchant, hired to appraise the cellar at Chartwell in the 1950s, pronounced it “a shambles.” The only contents worth mentioning were a collection of vintage Hine, and of course Pol Roger Champagne.
Churchill drank a still white wine on occasion. The only such type mentioned by the appraiser was a case of’ “perfectly dreadful” Chardonnay. Churchill had personally bottled this with his longtime friend Hilaire Belloc. He forbade throwing it out.
It was reported years ago that Churchill agreeably paid all the liquor accounts except for his wife Clementine’s gin, which he insisted she pay for herself. I referred this story to Sir Winston’s grandson, the late Winston Churchill. He replied: “I never saw my grandmother drink gin; her tipple, at least in later life, was Dubonnet.” Equally short shrift was given by Churchill’s daughter, Lady Soames, who thundered. “Absolute b—-; and you may quote me! Of course they would have had the odd Martini, especially when staying with the Roosevelts. FDR mixed a mean one. But they were certainly not gin-drinkers by habit.”