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

In the red: Ministers serve up 1,000 bottles of Bordeaux from the government wine cellar (plus champagne, brandy and gin)… and guess who foots the 55,000 bill
Whitehall functions enjoy 5,000 bottles of wine and spirits in the last yearBill includes a 1906 bottle of Hine Grande Fine brandy worth 1,472Critics say officials should opt for 'modestly' priced drinks

By
Gerri Peev

PUBLISHED:

18:15 GMT, 7 February 2013

|

UPDATED:

22:48 GMT, 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

Bottles of vintage wine worth more than 1,100 each have been quaffed at government parties at taxpayers' expense.

Guests at official Whitehall functions were treated to 23 bottles of a 1982 vintage Chateau Margaux Bordeaux, which sells for up to 1,100 a bottle.

Ministers, officials and their elite guests have guzzled nearly 5,000 bottles of wine and spirits worth over 55,000 in the last year.

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. However spending watchdogs warned the consumption of bottles worth 1000 each in today's market will seem extravagant in the middle of a recession.

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.

In total, 4,651 bottles of alcohol were taken from the basement of Lancaster House, according to the annual report of the Government Wine Cellar.

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.

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.

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

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.

Mark Simmonds, the Foreign Office Minister, said most of the costs of the government wine cellear had been offset by selling off 180 bottles worth 44,000 as part of a new 'self-funding' policy.

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.