Jonathan Ray

Imperial pint of champagne

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Jonathan Ray gives a heartening update on the campaign to bring back the imperial pint of champagne

When the Spectator urges so things start to happen. You might recall a despatch of mine a week or so ago concerning a Spectator Winemaker’s Lunch we held for readers in our boardroom, hosted by James Simpson MW, managing director of Pol Roger (UK).

Whilst we consoled/congratulated ourselves (delete where applicable) in the immediate aftermath of Brexit by drinking plenty of fine vintage Pol, James pointed out that one benefit of our departure from Europe could be the return of the much-missed imperial pint of champagne, a deeply civilised measure roughly equivalent to 50cl (oh, ok, 56.8cl to be exact) and once the UK’s most popular size of champagne bottle, favoured by all the finest restaurants, hotels, clubs and bars but long since outlawed by the EU.

As I mentioned in my despatch, Pol Roger was, famously, Sir Winston Churchill’s favourite champagne and the imperial pint his favourite measure of it. Indeed, he declared it held just the right amount of fizz (“…enough for two at lunch and one at dinner…”) and he was known to keep one in his greatcoat pocket during visits to Blitz-hit London. In fact, anyone who has been to the completely absorbing Churchill War Rooms by St. James’s Park will have seen an imperial pint of 1914 Pol Roger proudly displayed amongst Sir Winston’s effects.

James Simpson told us that current EU regulations stipulate that sparkling wine might be sold in 37.5cl for half bottles and 75cl for full bottles with nothing in between (larger sizes such as magnums and beyond are still, of course, permitted), something which has long irritated fizz fans, himself and myself included. We discussed this at length at our aforementioned readers’ lunch and at our unanimous urging James promised that he would see what could be done.

I’m delighted to report that he has already begun discussions with Pol Roger’s glass supplier and only yesterday had a meeting with my old boss Simon Berry, chairman of Berry Bros & Rudd, and – like James – a long-time advocate of the imperial pint.

“I’ve been campaigning to bring back the imperial pint for over thirty years and until recently I was no closer to winning this battle,” Simon explained. “But perhaps recent events will change that. The imperial pint makes for a perfect-sized bottle.”

James Simpson agreed that there might now be an opportunity for the pint’s return. He did caution though that should the campaign succeed, thanks to the nature of bottle ageing champagne it will still be some time before we see the imperial pint on Berrys’ – or anyone else’s – shelves.

“The first production would not come on to the market for approximately four years for non-vintage champagne and it would be eight years for vintage champagne,” he told me.

I gather that James and Simon split one of the last remaining imperial pints of the fabled 1914 Pol Roger during their discussions and power to their respective elbows say I. The only thing is, though, if they’d split a bottle rather than an imperial pint, there would have been enough for them to invite me along too…