The Citadel - Wine in the 1920s

I've been on a quest recently to read the books mentioned in my great-grandmother's diary from 1941. One of the books she read then was The Citadel by AJ Cronin, written in the late 30s. This is the tale of a Scottish doctor that begins his practice in Wales in 1921, and grows his career to be a well respected London doctor. Part of what I found fascinating was its many references to the wine consumed during that period in history.

Doctor Manson's first post in Wales is in a small, dirty mining town. One of the town's ladies throws a party. After some singing, the arrival of the claret-cup created a diversion after 11pm. As this Recipe from 1877 shows, claret cup was a punch made with claret (Bordeaux wine), soda water, brandy, sherry, and a few other ingredients.

Next, he meets up with a friend at a nearby fancy hotel. The friend is rich, and orders sherry all around. Then, over the sherry, he told them all about his golf match. Sherry is a fortified (brandy-added) wine from Jerez, Spain that is popular as a wine drunk with cheese before a meal.

The local miners enjoyed making elderberry wine. After the doctor saves a wife and child from a complex childbirth, the grandmother says, Maybe you'll have time, though, on your way down for a drop of elderberry wine and a morsel of cake. Later, the doctor comments, Leaving the house, duly fortified with seedcake and homemade elderberry wine ... There are still many wineries in the American northeast that create delicious elderberry wines today.

Sherry is mentioned again when the doctor visits his best friend, Freddie. Freddie's wife enters the room. "Come along, my dear." Freddie greeted her with affetion, even with deference, and darted to pour and offer her a glass of sherry.

As the doctor moves up in social circles, he begins to encounter the finer drinks. Dr. Manson is sitting with Freddie one evening. "Cigar, Manson?" Freddie asked him with a knowledgeable air when the ladies had gone. "You'll find these pretty sound. And I advise you not to miss this brandy. 1984. Absolutely no nonsense about it." Later it was commented that They all drank a deal of brandy.

Brandy was first developed in the 1800s, when shippers of Portuguese wine removed the water to make it easier to ship to England. They'd add the water back to it in England and sell it. They realized that the wine without water tasted even better, and began to sell that as Brandy. Soon other brandies - notably Cognac and Armagnac in France - became popular. With the water removed, it is higher in alcohol, thicker and more potent than regular wine.

His sherry selection also improved. He got a wealthy new client, Miss Everett, in London. She must have everything of the best ... When on his 6th visit she unbent enough to offer him a glass of sherry, he observed that it was Amontillado of the year 1819. So this was an over 100 year old bottle! Amontillado is a fine style of sherry made famous in Edgar Allen Poe's "A Cask of Amontillado", which the doctor (and AJ Cronin) would have been very aware of.

The doctor soon treats his wife to a fancy lunch at the Plaza Grill in London. He ordered a rich, expensive lunch: caviar, soupe prince de Galles, poulet riche, asparagus, fraises de bois in syrup. Also a bottle of Liebfraumilch, 1929. Interestingly, Liebfraumilch, a sweet wine from Germany, is not normally thought of as a dinner wine nor a fancy wine. It's a casual wine drunk with fruit and cheese before a meal.

The last mention of wine in the book is, fittingly, port. Port is the traditional drink of the English, had by a roaring fire and sipped over the course of the evening. Two very well to do doctors are getting together to discuss business. Though the two were not exactly friends, they were good enough acquaintences for the physician to produce his second best port and a reputable cigar. Port is a famous fortified wine made only in Oporto, Portugal, and while it is not inexpensive, it is a delicious way to end a day. Or a fine book!

Wine in Movies and Books

All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.