Thursday 14 April 2016

Worth the weight? Berry Bros claret competition

A chance to win your weight in wine! And to join the ranks of claret-downing Regency gentlemen! Of course I’m excited!

Berry Bros & Rudd, the grand old St James's wine merchant, have announced this competition. The winner, they say, will be weighed upon their historic scales, as was once the fashion, and win their weight in wine. 

This is presumably the kind of scene they envisage:

Could it be better suited to me? It looks as if I had just wandered in and sat down, mildly confused as to whether this is my seat at Stamford Bridge.

You will also get the opportunity to have your name and weight inscribed in their leather-bound records, alongside such figures as Lord Byron, Beau Brummell, Charles Fox and William Pitt. Which frankly is where I feel my name ought to be inscribed as a wine drinker, rather than on the mailing list at Laithwaites.

To enter, you simply have to buy during April a case of their Good Ordinary Claret. (Or White equivalent, if you are a wet.) This is not a hardship; if anything, it is a jolly good excuse. “What is that box which was delivered today, dear, which looked suspiciously like a case of wine?” 

“Just a competition entry, darling!”

This is not the first ‘win your weight’ competition I have seen. I remember once the opportunity to ‘Win your Weight in Pick n’Mix’, a fabulously appealing competition which probably contributed to the downfall in the UK of both Woolworth’s, and NHS dentistry.

But Berry Bros have shrewdly waited until now to offer their own prize. Once, your weight was an indication of your wealth; the Aga Khan weighed in on their scales at over 17 stone, and their record stands at 26 stone 7 lbs.

But the days of portly rich gentlemen, Falstaffian peers and rotund mill owners has clearly passed. A Prince Regent is unlikely to waddle in.The heavyweights in society today are less likely to be drinkers of claret than of Vimto and Irn Bru.

Which means that a svelte and lissom modern gentleman, like me (hem, hem), could be at something of a disadvantage. So I have started doing the maths on this. (No, not ‘math’ singular, American readers, for I have not been doing the ‘mathematic’ but the ‘mathematics’, so you are all fool.)

First, a little disappointment. The small print says that “The scales will be balanced with cases and bottles of either Good Ordinary Claret or Good Ordinary White.” So you’ll actually win your weight in bottles of wine. That’s a significant difference to your weight in actual wine, because a bottle itself weighs over half a kilo. But it wouldn’t make such a good headline to say “Win Your Weight in Bottles of Wine”. Or, even worse, “Win 60% of your weight in wine, and 40% of your weight in glass”.

Quibbling aside, I calculate I would win some 66 bottles of claret. Which clearly, if I am to drink like a Regency buck, requires some improvement.

At this time of year, the gentlemen of St James’s should be leaving their winter coats at home – by “the week commencing 23rd May”, when the weigh-in takes place, they should be in their linen suits and Panama hats. However, I have always felt the cold and believe me, whatever the weather in the week commencing 23rd May, I think I’ll be wearing my full-length wool overcoat, a magnificent long, swirling item which has attracted many comments over the years, not all of them abusive. And which weighs almost two bottles in itself. Over a wool three-piece suit. With Royal brogues (which, incidentally, weigh 1lb 6oz apiece, another bottle in the bag.) I may be hot, but by God I’ll be heavy.

(Berry Bros can hardly object, According to their history, Beau Brummell was weighed by them some 40 times, always in “Boots”, sometimes in “Great Coat” as well. So that’s as close to common practice as you can get, given a two-hundred year hiatus.)

I will also fill my pockets with loose change, something Berry Bros will not anticipate, as coins are traditionally scorned by gentlemen. (The St James’s club Boodle’s once had a rule that because of its contact with the common classes, any silver coins had to be boiled, and dried by swinging in a leather bag, before being given to a member.)

And how much weight can my body itself gain between learning that I’ve won, and getting weighed? Robert de Niro put on 60 lbs for Raging Bull, and that’s 21 bottles. But it took him four months, and I’ll have little over three weeks. So just point me towards that all-you-can-eat buffet.

Will it work? In the year 1733, at the peak of his career, Walpole purchased seven hogsheads of Margaux, three of Lafite, and one of Haut Brion. Yes, he entertained a good deal, but he got through the equivalent of 234 bottles of luxury claret. Every month.

He also weighed 20 stone. Bring those donuts to the sofa, would you?



  1. What? No, this lead helmet is purely to protect my delicate head parts from, er... things.

  2. Brilliant post! Good luck on the big day.


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