I will admit right off the bat that my wife and I are late to the Downton Abby party. As much as I love history, the idea of a period piece focusing on a crumbling British class system that airs on PBS made me skeptical. Luckily, based on the suggestions of many, many people, my wife and I started watching it. We're now hooked.
Yet this is a wine blog, not a TV blog. If you want reviews, spoilers, or gossip about the show, I can't help you. Wine does, however, play a significant role in Downton, hence I have an excuse to write about it. Though we are only about five episodes in, there have been numerous scenes where the butler, Mr. Carson, is seen taking inventory of the estate's wines, decanting bottles and generally preparing wine for meals.
Curious about how often the butler is seen working with wine, I wanted to know if this was simply a plot device of if there is a reason behind it. Over to Wikipedia I went to find the following information about butlers:
"The word "butler" comes from the Old French bouteleur (cup bearer), from bouteille (bottle), and ultimately from Latin. The role of the butler, for centuries, has been that of the chief steward of a household, the attendant entrusted with the care and serving of wine and other bottled beverages which in ancient times might have represented a considerable portion of the household's assets."
So there you have it. Butlers do, indeed have a wine responsibilities. Radical speculation on my part - not tied to the Wikipedia entry - is that this is why many stereotypes surrounding both wine connoisseurs and butlers are similar. With the snobbery, rituals surrounding wine, and condescending attitude towards those who don't share their appreciation or outlook, both butlers and wine enthusiasts seem to be cut from the same cloth.
And what kind of wine was Mr. Carson inventorying, decanting and serving? Most likely, it was Bordeaux. England was, for centuries, the primary export market for Bordeaux wine, and specifically the dark rose wine, Claret, was popular. Claret became a catch-all term for Bordeaux wine and even today is used to describe some Bordeaux blends. Most people are probably familiar with Coppola's Claret, which comes in the gold wiring, and is that winery's Bordeaux-style blend.
Unlike the Clarets that Mr. Carson likely served, which had an appearance that was darker than modern roses but lighter than most Bordeaux, Claret now means "Bordeaux," so any blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc can be used - similar to the the term Meritage.
Next time you want to watch Downton Abby with a glass of wine, try something from Bordeaux, or if you want to support Virginia wineries, Cobbler Mountain Cellars produces a nice Meritage blend that would work quite nicely.