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Page last updated at 13:38 GMT, Monday, 20 July 2009 14:38 UK

Who still drinks Dubonnet?

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

The Queen's love of Dubonnet had staff at Lord's cricket ground frantically searching for a bottle ahead of her attendance at the Second Ashes Test. Apart from Her Majesty, who still drinks Dubonnet?

A royal embarrassment was looming on Friday when the Queen's bottle of Dubonnet was nearly prevented from entering Lord's cricket ground.

Dubonnet advert in the 1960s
Dubonnet adverts from the 1960s capture the age

Security staff, who restrict the admission of alcohol, eventually relented, so the Queen was able to enjoy one of her favourite drinks while watching England's bowlers gain the upper hand against Australia.

There had been a minor panic the day before when it was discovered that the only bottle in the cellar was out of condition, and a local off-licence apparently said that no-one had asked for the drink in 30 years.

A bottle was found at a supermarket, but the difficulty in obtaining one raises the question, who drinks it?

The Queen Mother famously enjoyed a Dubonnet and gin, a habit inherited by her daughter. A Daily Telegraph reporter who spent time following the Queen earlier this year said she likes one immediately before lunch every day.

Invented in 1846 by chemist Joseph Dubonnet, from Paris, Dubonnet is a blend of fortified wine, herbs, spices and quinine.

It's not something that people under a certain age would order or drink
Nick Wykes

During the French conquest of North Africa in the 1830s, the authorities had offered rewards to anyone who could come up with a way of helping French Foreign Legionnaires drink quinine, which was used to combat malaria.

The brand was bought by Pernod Ricard in 1976 and Pia Zadora became the Dubonnet girl in a series of television adverts.

Nick Wykes, bartender trainer at IPBartenders, says it's now a bit of a "continental relic".

"In terms of its use in the mainstream, it's exceptionally limited. It's not something that people under a certain age would order or drink in any great quantities."

As an aperitif, it's traditionally served before lunch or a meal
If you're the Queen Mother, then 70% Dubonnet, 30% gin, with a slice of lemon under the ice
Commonly drunk with lemonade
Also an ingredient in cocktails

Both in age and class, the Queen fits the dwindling demographic of Dubonnet drinkers, says Mr Wykes, who says his own grandmother is partial to it.

"I find it tannic and woody. When you get a full-bodied, red wine, you get a dehydrated sensation on your tongue. It's like that. It's got a refreshing, fruity flavour."

Holidays in Provence

It's very much a niche market, says Graham Page, of marketing firm Nielsen and an expert on drinking habits, with only about 8,000 nine-litre cases sold a year.

"I would imagine that the vast majority of drinkers would be middle and upper class, simply because of the historical profile of eating out and pre-dinner drinking.

Pia Zadora
Pia Zadora, the face of Dubonnet

"And I would suggest that geographically they are from the area in and around the South East and Home Counties."

They are the kind of people, he says, who holiday in Provence, because historically Dubonnet has benefited from the importing of French cuisine and culture in the pre-package holiday era.

"Before the British started going to Spain on package holidays, France was the closest country to us, to some extent.

"A lot of people went to France, perhaps not the working class but people from the more prosperous South East, and they would bring back flavours of French cuisine and drink consumption."

When Cinzano strongly marketed itself in the late 70s and early 80s, using Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins in its adverts, Dubonnet and Noilly Prat tried to revitalise themselves too.

Dubonnet's particular problem is that it hasn't attracted younger drinkers and by definition that means it may die
Graham Page

Although there is a hard core who still drink them, the market for fortified wines has fallen away dramatically, says Mr Page, out-muscled by table wines.

"Because wine has become so all-powerful over the last 15, 20 and 30 years, it's taken over the mantle, to a certain extent, of aperitifs, whether gin and tonic or Dubonnet or Martini or Cinzano.

"The marketplace for them, which emerged and boomed in the 60s and 70s, has got older with the brand. Dubonnet's particular problem is that it hasn't attracted younger drinkers and by definition that means it may die."

Young people prefer to drink what's easy to consume and easy to mix, he says, hence the march of vodka to dominate the spirits market.

But Rosie Davenport, of Off Licence News, says Dubonnet's fortune could be revived, with a celebrity endorsement.

"A lot of rappers said they liked to drink Cognac and that sparked quite a lot of interest in it. That was in the same category as Dubonnet - unfashionable and neglected."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

My wife has drunk Dubonnet (and lemonade) since we met 37 years ago and our 25 year old daughter has inherited the habit. Our local supermarket usually has some in stock and the cruise liners we have sailed in have come up trumps with Dubonnet, albeit some has been past its sell-by date. When I order it in pubs and bars, in UK and overseas, I usually get humoured, in front of other customers, along the lines 'What is this drink this old geezer is banging on about?' That's why I get sent to the bar.
Terry, Warsash, Hants

I have drunk Dubonnet since the late sixties. It is however getting more difficult to find. Perhaps with royal approval I will no longer receive blank looks when I ask for it....
Ellie, Newark

I am 32 and love Dubonnet, but always bemoan that it's hard to find. Please can someone come up with a slick marketing campaign to bring it back into fashion (as has happened with Pimms), so that we no longer have that to face that bemused look when we ask for it! (Can Frangelico also please be resurrected!)
Terri, Dublin, Ireland

In the late 50s and early 60s the face of Dubonnet on British TV was the famous French comedian Fernandel who grimaced and gurned his way through saying "Do 'ave a Dubonnet"
Jeremy Frobisher, Leeds

I'm 23 and I drink Dubonnet! A habit I picked up when doing bar work. After sampling most of the drinks on offer, I tried it, and loved it. My boss was quite annoyed though, as I finished off the only bottle they had, and he had to order more, even though I was apparently the only one drinking it. Definitely not a trendy beverage.
Cate, Goring-on-Thames

Lou Reed is a fan as well, judging by the lyrics for his song Berlin:

In Berlin, by the wall/

you were five foot ten inches tall/

It was very nice/

candlelight and Dubonnet on ice
Mike, Edinburgh

Ah, memories! This was one of the first drinks my parents let me have in a pub - Dubonnet and lemonade! It's a nice drink to have one or two of, though definitely not one for the lads out on a Friday night *lol*
Sharon, London

Forget gin, mix it with a decent blended scotch, and you have a Manhattan. Fantastic drink!
Tim Williams, Wilmslow

It was Hetty Wainthropp's favourite drink too.
Mike Brailsford, Blackpool, England

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