Champagne – James Bond’s royal flush

James Bond's champagnes by Jonathan Reeve

7 October 2021 To celebrate the US release of No Time to Die, we're republishing this survey of 007 and champagne. See also last week's survey of James Bond's taste in still wine.

31 March 2021 Avid fan Jonathan Reeve analyses the champagne choices in the Bond-related work of Ian Fleming and Cubby Broccoli and his successors. The creative images are all Jonathan's own work and we are grateful to Purple Pager Joe Pickering of Jonathan Cape who helped us with permission to reproduce the book jackets. Original Bond book jacket designs @Estate of Richard Chopping.

2021 is a big year for 007. After a COVID-extended six-year absence, James Bond will return in Eon Productions’ 25th Bond film, No Time to Die. This article was originally timed to coincide with the film's release, postponed by an entire year to this Friday 2 April 2021, but even this date has been cancelled. The film is currently scheduled to be released in October (just before Bond’s own 101st birthday) and will be the last featuring Daniel Craig, the longest-serving Bond actor. Watch out for the dramatic opening scenes filmed around the southern Italian wine towns Matera and Gravina.

In honour of this grande année, I recently read all 14 original Bond books, during which I discovered fascinating depths not evident in the films. Most intriguing were the little-known layers to 007’s relationship with intoxicants, which has evolved significantly over time, apparently to keep up with the times. Between the first book and the current film, the change is jaw-dropping. In the 1950s, Fleming wrote Bond as a hard-edged user who smoked heavily, stirred pepper into vodka and amphetamine sulphate into Dom Pérignon (read on).

By the 1980s amphetamines were illegal and smoking was no longer macho, so Timothy Dalton’s Bond drank relatively little and in Licence to Kill (1989) smoked 007’s last-ever cigarette. By 2002, Pierce Brosnan had followed suit with the final cigar (Die Another Day). In 2006, as cocktails and gin were enjoying renewed popularity, Daniel Craig reinstated Bond’s hardened spirits-drinking edge, notably with the legendary Vesper martini. But in 2020 even Craig’s edgy Bond toed the modern health-conscious line, appearing in ads for alcohol-free beer.

Times may have changed, but 007 has kept his two trademark drinks: vodka martinis and champagne. Martinis steel his nerves and sharpen his brutal side. Champagne is his restorative – his consoling comfort.

In the life of a secret agent … there are occasions when he takes refuge in good living to efface the memory of danger and the shadow of death. (Live and Let Die, 1954)

Bond has enjoyed many fine wines over the years – antique sherry, top bordeaux, even Piesporter Goldtröpfchen (featured in an article to follow). But champagne is his constant – the persistent bead threading through his whole story from 1953 to today. However often Bond is tortured, beaten, poisoned or shot, champagne proves just enough to comfort and console him; champagne is 007’s own quantum of solace.

Pommery, Krug, Veuve Clicquot, Dom Pérignon, Taittinger and Bollinger have all featured in Bond’s champagne history. Only the last three appear regularly however. Their three stories, below, tell the tale of 007’s relationship with champagne – both literary and commercial.

Bollinger – ace of diamonds

Bollinger is the obvious place to begin, holding an unchallenged position as the official James Bond champagne for 14 films and four decades. Although not Bond’s first champagne, it has popped up in every film since Moonraker (1979), and will again in No Time to Die. Bollinger pays licensing fees for its limited-edition Bond-branded products, but the long relationship rests on a gentleman’s handshake. In the late 1970s, Bond movie producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli visited Bollinger, hosted by the great Madame Lily Bollinger and company president Christian Bizot. Bizot family lore has it that Broccoli was particularly won over by the cup of tea he was offered by Madame Bollinger. Over dinner, Broccoli and Bizot agreed that Bollinger would be the official Bond champagne for the upcoming Moonraker film. They shook hands, and the rest is history. Once shaken, never stirred.

James Bond and Bollinger by Jonathan Reeve
Clockwise from top left: Bollinger playing card (©Jonathan Reeve), Diamonds are Forever original book cover (©Jonathan Cape); Bollinger 007 Special Cuvée; No Time to Die film poster (©Danjaq); Celebrations with Arnould d’Hautefeuille of Bollinger, Albert Broccoli and Moonraker actress Corinne Cléry; Christian Bizot

Unfortunately for Bollinger, Moonraker represents the chasm that emerged between the books and the films in the 1970s. The movie fell far short of the book, in which Fleming built context and atmosphere from shots of fine vodka, barrels of Rothschild cognac, half-bottles of claret, cases of Taittinger and bottles of Dom Pérignon. By comparison, the movie felt almost like a pantomime. It gained a touch of class from the understated Bollinger bottle in Holly Goodhead’s bedroom, and a rich dose of glamour from the glittering magnum of Bollinger RD at the end, but those were possibly the classiest things about it. Bond definitely got the better end of the deal in the partnership’s first outing.

The Bollinger–Bond relationship developed well after Moonraker, reaching a memorable climax in Goldeneye (1995) – a bottle of Grande Année 1988 appearing from the centre console of Bond’s Aston Martin, lightly chilled. The bottle in Casino Royale (2007) was decidedly colder – ordered from room service rather hurriedly and ‘for one’, solace for Bond’s latest conquest as he dashed off to murder her husband.

Bond’s very first Bollinger was written in Diamonds are Forever (1956), sent to him by villain-turned-lover Tiffany Case as comfort after his brutal beating from the Las Vegas casino mob.

Bond slipped off the bed and examined the contents of the tray. He smiled to himself. There was a quarter bottle of Bollinger, a chafing dish containing four small slivers of steak on toast canapés, and a small bowl of [Béarnaise] sauce.

Bollinger and Béarnaise is quintessential old-school Bond. A traditional foodie, Ian Fleming would have appreciated Jancis’ description of Grande Année 1989: ‘Savoury … dense … mushrooms … like veal aux morilles’. Fleming’s tastes, and Bond’s, are typically described as being overtly masculine, so it makes sense that Bond would like Bollinger – often described using exactly that adjective. Could any tasting note capture Ian Fleming and his original Bond better than this one for RD Extra Brut?

After Diamonds are Forever, Fleming mentioned Bollinger just once more, in 1963 (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). He died the following year, leaving 007 and his champagne habits in the warm hands of Hollywood.

Taittinger – queen of hearts

James Bond’s original champagne love was Taittinger. It was the first brand Fleming mentioned by name (in Casino Royale) and also the last – in a little-known short story named 007 in New York. This was published posthumously in 1966, the final entry in the short-story collection Octopussy and the Living Daylights. Poignantly, for the 2013 audiobook edition it was Ian’s niece Lucy Fleming who read 007 in New York. The story is obviously highly personal and quirky, closing with James Bond’s own recipe for scrambled eggs:

… continue whisking for half a minute, adding finely chopped chives or fines herbes. Serve on hot buttered toast, in individual copper dishes, with pink champagne – Taittinger – and low music.

But in the films Taittinger appeared only in From Russia With Love – one of only two Bond films released during Fleming’s lifetime. Its second appearance in that film is particularly clever. Ordered on the Orient Express, the Taittinger marks Bond’s return to Europe and luxury after a tough time in Turkey. It also marks him as a genuine gentleman spy, while the imposter spy dining opposite him attracts fatal suspicion by ordering an unnamed Chianti … with fish.

James Bond and Taittinger by Jonathan Reeve
Clockwise from top left: Taittinger playing card (©Jonathan Reeve), Casino Royale original book cover (©Jonathan Cape); Taittinger Prestige Rosé; From Russia With Love film poster (©Danjaq); Ian Fleming; Claude Taittinger

Bond’s first Taittinger was in celebration of his card victory at the Casino Royale:

Bond turned to the sommelier: ‘The Taittinger ‘45?’

‘A fine wine, but if Monsieur will permit … the Blanc de Blancs Brut 1943 of the same marque is without equal.’

Bond smiled. ‘That is not a well-known brand, but it is probably the finest champagne in the world.’

That latter sentiment was echoed ten years later by Fleming himself, in a letter to Claude Taittinger in April 1963. Taittinger clearly had a place in Fleming’s heart. Had its top cuvée – the elegant Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne – been stylistically more ‘masculine’, might it have been Taittinger and not Bollinger that was chosen by Broccoli?

The personal Taittinger–Bond connection continued through actor Desmond Llewelyn who played Q between 1963 and 1999. Desmond’s son Justin was Consul General for the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne, and spent decades as Taittinger’s British brand ambassador. He was fondly known in the British wine trade as ‘Mr Taittinger UK’.

After Casino Royale, Taittinger was prominent again in Fleming’s third book Moonraker. Notably, it was the final item on Bond’s brief luxury wish-list, composed after another high-stakes cards victory. Said list included a Bentley convertible, expensive golf clubs and ‘a few dozen of the Taittinger champagne’.

Although clearly on Bond’s wish-list, Taittinger was not on the wine list at M’s club when Bond and M dined there. But, as if by magic, a wine waiter appeared …

‘If I may suggest it, sir, the Dom Pérignon ’46. I have some on ice at the moment.’

How convenient.

Dom Pérignon – king of clubs

Dom Pérignon’s relationship with James Bond is particularly obvious. It is also one of dramatic contrasts: rare in the books, frequent in the films. First prevalent, then absent. Glamorous icon one minute, majestic weapon the next.

Dom Pérignon featured in almost all of the first ten Bond films – it was the James Bond champagne of the 1960s and 1970s. And then in 1979 it suddenly vanished, never to appear again, reportedly due to Moët-Hennessey’s rational refusal to supply large quantities of free Dom Pérignon for film premieres. Despite its on-screen prominence, Dom Pérignon made just one appearance in the books. But what an appearance. In preparation for his high-stakes card game in Moonraker, Bond irreverently super-charged his glass of Dom Pérignon ’46 with Benzedrine – amphetamine sulphate.

There was no hint of apology in Bond's face … He stirred the champagne with a scrap of toast so that the white powder whirled among the bubbles. Then he drank the mixture down with one long swallow. ‘It doesn't taste,’ said Bond, ‘and the champagne is quite excellent’.

James Bond and Dom Pérignon by Jonathan Reeve
Clockwise from top left: Dom Pérignon playing card (©Jonathan Reeve), Moonraker original book cover (©Jonathan Cape); 1953 Dom Pérignon label; On Her Majesty's Secret Service film poster (©Danjaq); 1964 Dom Pérignon in The Man with the Golden Gun; Dom Pérignon & Diana Rigg

That glamorous, dark edge followed Dom Pérignon into the films, where its treatment was equal parts religious and sacrilegious. The distinctive bottle was both instantly recognisable and highly grabbable as an impromptu club.

Dr No: ‘That’s a Dom Pérignon ’55. It would be a pity to break it.’

Bond: ‘I prefer the ’53 myself.’

Bond’s atonement for that attempted Dom Pérignon abuse came two years later, in Goldfinger: ‘My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Pérignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit’.

The glamorous sacrilege peaked in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), in the skilful hands of Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo. So much more than the best Bond girl (she became Bond’s wife), the contessa was played brilliantly by Diana Rigg, whose ninja-like self-defence with a bottle of Dom Pérignon was quite magical. (All the more magical if that bottle was the same 1957 vintage served earlier in the film, as Dom Pérignon wasn’t produced in 1957.)

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) was Dom Pérignon’s final film as a Bond champagne. True to form, the first bottle was smashed ungraciously (and ineffectually) over Jaws’ shoulders during the train fight scene. Happily, the second and last-ever bottle received better treatment, amid silk sheets beneath Roger Moore’s raised eyebrow: ‘Maybe I mis-judged Stromberg – any man who drinks Dom Pérignon ’52 can’t be all bad’.

Ultimate Bond champagne and ultimate Bond weapon, Dom Pérignon spent almost 25 years as a symbol of 007’s dramatic decadence. This King of Clubs now has company, too – its parent company Moët-Hennessey recently strengthened its hand with a 50% stake in luxury champagne brand Ace of Spades. Blackjack, anyone?

Signs of the times

Those three stories form a brief timeline of James Bond’s favourite champagnes: Taittinger and variety in the books (1953–1966); Dom Pérignon in the early films (1962–1978); Bollinger in the films 1979–2021.

Although Bollinger’s Bond monopoly is quite tastefully handled, it’s hard to ignore the additional depth Fleming brought to his books by using a variety of wines and spirits. Variety helped him develop characters and atmosphere. For us looking nostalgically back, it also captures more clearly the times in which (and for which) he wrote. A classic example is Pommery’s rose-tinted cameo in Goldfinger, explained in an article to follow. Veuve Clicquot, ‘Clicquot Rosé’ and Krug also appear in the books, each bringing their own particular level of panache as required to support the plot.

But back to 2021, our farewell to Daniel Craig, and a burning question. Not ‘who is the next James Bond?’, nor even ‘what will the next James Bond drink?’ (Bollinger’s licence to fill is unlikely to be revoked any time soon). The real question is ‘will future Bond drink alcohol at all?’. Might his booze follow his amphetamines and cigarettes? Perhaps the expensive drinking habits will switch over to the villains. In which case, what will the next Bond villain drink? Perhaps Moët-Hennessy will play its newest card, the Ace of Spades, and return to 007’s table after a 40-year absence.

If Bond does stop drinking champagne, his enemies will have finally dealt a lasting blow; they’ll have stolen his champagne, his comfort, his quantum of solace. It could happen, and it would be a clear sign of the times. But they wouldn’t be very good times, would they? And it wouldn’t really be Bond.

See also BBC Radio 4's recent Food Programme about what James Bond ate.

James Bond casino chips by Jonathan Reeve