The Auld Alliance between Scotland and France might have started as a military alliance but it became synonymous with a long-established friendship founded on the Scots love of French wine.
Many Scots fought as mercenaries for the French, and in return Scottish merchants were offered privileges, including freedom from Normandy taxes and direct access to Vine-growers to select the choice of Bordeaux’s finest wines – a privilege which was eagerly protected for hundreds of years, much to the annoyance of English wine drinkers who received an inferior product.
The trade survived the Reformation, the Union of the Parliaments and during the Jacobite era nationalists took to claret as opposed to port as a sign of independence. More often than not a blind eye was turned as the wine was smuggled through Leith and rolled up the streets to the New Town. The pillars of Edinburgh society cared not a jot where it came from – they kept drinking it as claret had become part of Scots culture.
Leith became firmly established as, and still is, one of the busiest wine importing ports from this linkage with Bordeaux and through the centuries Leith-bottled claret Earned an international reputation.
Wherever we go Scots tend to stick together and the mercenaries evolved into a thriving Bordeaux merchant community. Today a single name survives – Nathaniel Johnston & Fils are located at the heart of the famous Chartrons district, the historic centre of the Bordeaux wine trade and retain strong links with the outlying chateaux of the Gironde. The Johnston’s even have a Boulevard to their name!
While fine wine drinking was previously confined to an elite in Scottish society times have changed we now enjoy a range of choice that once would not have been believed. Scots have made their mark on the New World wine trade too – Inglenook of California; Robertson of South Africa; Anderson of Rutherglen, South Australia to Name but a very few.
The Leith Claret still comes ashore and, given the undoubted quality of Bordeaux wine and our historic attachment to it, will surely always take a place in Scotland’s cellars!