UK

In the red: Ministers serve up £1,000 bottles of Bordeaux from the government wine cellar (plus champagne, brandy and gin)

  • Whitehall functions enjoy 5,000 bottles of wine and spirits in the last year
  • Bill includes a 1906 bottle of Hine Grande Fine brandy worth £1,472
  • Critics say officials should opt for 'modestly' priced drinks

By Gerri Peev

PUBLISHED: 13:15 EST, 7 February 2013 | UPDATED: 20:30 EST, 7 February 2013


GUests at Whitehall functions enjoyed £1,000 bottles of Chateau Margaux 1982, an older vintage than the bottle pictured

GUests at Whitehall functions enjoyed £1,000 bottles of Chateau Margaux 1982, an older vintage than the bottle pictured

MPs and peers have been drinking bottles of fine wine costing more than £1,000 each at the taxpayer’s expense.

Ministers, officials and their guests got through nearly 5,000 bottles of alcohol worth more than £55,000 in the last year, the annual report into the Government’s wine cellar revealed yesterday.

The official figures show that guests at Whitehall events were treated to 23 bottles of a 1982 vintage Chateau Margaux Bordeaux, which sells for up to £1,100 a bottle.

Mark Simmonds, the Foreign Office Minister, said most of the costs of the government wine cellar had been offset by selling 180 bottles worth £44,000, in a new ‘self-funding’ policy.

But spending watchdogs warned that consumption of expensive wine and spirits will anger hard-pressed taxpayers during a recession.

In total, 4,651 bottles were taken and £48,955 was spent replenishing supplies.

The government continued its splurge on hospitality in the face of austerity cutbacks, popping the corks of 138 bottles of champagne at up to 230 parties.

A 1906 bottle of Hine Grande Fine brandy worth on average £1,472 was also consumed.

The alcohol would have been bought at much lower prices and cellared for decades.

Guests also opened three bottles of Quinta Do Noval port 1931 which is such a rare vintage that no estimates for its worth is readily available. The nearest available vintage, 1934, sells for just over £1,900 a bottle.

French wines were the most popular although in a nod to patriotism, 36 per cent of the wines were from English vineyards.

Officials were quick to replenish the stocks, spending £48,955 on topping up supplies.

The popped the corks of 138 bottles of champagne at up to 230 parties

The popped the corks of 138 bottles of champagne at up to 230 parties

Taxpayers paid for 2,400 bottles of the English wine, Chapel Down Bacchus 2010 as well as 575 bottles of red Burgundy and 600 bottles of the Chilean red, Concha y Toro Merlot.

Civil servants in charge of the shopping list also splurged on 53 bottles of champagne and 360 bottles of English sparkling wine.

In the year 2011-12, some 78 bottles of gin were consumed compared to just eight bottles of vodka.

While it has never gone out of fashion in English tennis clubs, gin has recently made a comeback as a 'retro' drink across Europe.

An additional 82 bottles of gin and 11 of vodka were bought to ensure that no government function would run dry of white spirits.

French wine was the most heavily used, followed by English. Party-goers at official functions also drank four times the amount of New Zealand wine to Australian.

The government wine cellar is controlled by the Foreign Office, which defended the serving of expensive drinks at official receptions

The government wine cellar is controlled by the Foreign Office, which defended the serving of expensive drinks at official receptions

But the Taxpayers' Alliance (TPA) said the government should consider selling more of the valuable bottles during a time of austerity.

Robert Oxley, the campaigns manager for the TPA said: 'It smacks of hypocrisy for the political elite to be quaffing fine wines at a time when ordinary families struggle to make ends meet.

He added: 'Of course there will be a cost associated with hospitality but a time when savings have to be made, it would not be out of place to open more modestly priced bottles of wine. Government departments sitting on such valuable assets should look at selling them rather than drinking the potential profits.'

A Foreign Office spokesman said: 'Whether it is national celebrations, state visits, or receiving guests of government, the UK prides itself on giving a warm welcome through its business hospitality. The Government Wine Cellar supports this work in a cost effective way.

'The Government Wine Cellar has been in operation for over 90 years enabling the Government to buy in bulk and also purchase and store young wines for use when are fully mature. These help fund the cellar through sales of wine which has matured over time to a greater value.

'A review ordered by the Foreign Secretary in 2010 found that the Government Wine Cellar was the most cost effective way of catering for Government events, and the cellar is used exclusively for that purpose.'

The costs of the Government Wine Cellar have been a closely guarded secret in previous years. The last Labour government spent £80,662 topping up stocks in its final year of office, 2009-2010.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, considered abolishing the cellar but decided to keep it because it was cheaper to buy wine in bulk for the future rather than acquiring it at short notice.

By Staff 02/07/2013 12:30:00