For last Thursday’s all Tchaikovsky concert at the Hollywood Bowl, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Hadley and Tatiana of Grub Street Los Angeles. They’re wonderful people — I say this for a great variety of reasons, only one of which is their willingness to share with me some of their wine: a bottle of 2009 House Claret from Christ Church, Oxford.
If you try to search for this wine on Google, you won’t find much helpful information, so I am glad to pass on some of the basics of its story as Hadley told it to me (mind you, a few glasses of wine had been consumed prior to the telling and hearing of this story, so if I mess any of this up, I trust someone will correct me).
The wine is literally the “house wine” of Christ Church College of Oxford University. Since it is a Bordeaux, they rightly refer to it as the “House Claret.” It is served at dinner to students — the first glass is complimentary with the price of the meal, with subsequent glasses (or bottles, as it were) needing to be paid by the student and/or his guests. Yes, you read that right — if you are a student, the first glass of wine is FREE.
Now, I don’t know about you, but none of the institutions of higher learning I attended had their own house wine, let alone handed it out for free. The closest I can come to that are the Thursday afternoon mixers in graduate school that included a keg of Bud Light. I certainly welcomed the free beer at the time, but you just can’t compare it to having your own house Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir when it comes to taste or sophistication, can you? Perhaps the wine program at UC Davis has their own house wine, but if they do, I’ve never heard of it.
According to the latest menu of Graduate Common Room of Christ Church, a bottle of the House Claret will run you £6.40. Given the wine’s very drinkable nature, I’d say that it is more than a fair price. For comparison, the most expensive wine on the list is a Chateau Pontet-Canet Pauillac 1997 for £26.55 (an excellent price, with ’97 being a damn fine vintage, in case you were wondering).
Remind me to get my next graduate degree somewhere they have their own house alcohol. It makes me wonder, do universities in Scotland have their own house scotch?
BTW: If you’re wondering why there is a Roman Catholic cardinal’s coat of arms on the label, that is because the coat of arms of Christ Church happens to be that of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who founded the first college on that site. His wide-brimmed red hat — or “galero” if you please — is apparently still kept and preserved in the college.