The wedding of the century

“Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum” King of Wine, Wine for Kings. This epithet has been given to several different wines over the centuries. The most famous of them is perhaps the Hungarian Tokaji, which according to legend was dubbed the King of Wines by Louis XIV of France. Similarly, the Italian Barolon sometimes goes by this epithet. But the very first to receive this honorary title is Commandaria.

Richard the Lionheart

On 12 May 1191, a grand wedding took place in St George’s Chapel in Limassol, Cyprus. It is Richard I of England, better known as Richard the Lionheart, who, after many vicissitudes, marries Berengaria of Navarre, a Spanish princess, daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile.

The bride

Only a few weeks earlier, it looked like the wedding would never happen. Rickard finds himself travelling. He is on his way to Jerusalem and the Third Crusade. But at the same time he has to fulfil his royal duties, i.e. to marry, thereby forging important alliances and creating the possibility of a valid heir to the throne. The choice falls on the Spanish princess Berengaria of Navarre (the fact that Rickard is already engaged to the French king’s sister Alys is discreetly forgotten after Rickard and King Philip have fallen out).

The devastating storm

You have to strike while the iron is hot, so Berengaria and her future mother-in-law Eleanor of Aquitaine follow Richard down to Jerusalem. They reach him in Sicily in early 1191. But it is during the Lent period before Easter, which means that weddings are out of the question. The journey continues, but just off the southern coast of Cyprus, the ship carrying the two women and Richard’s sister Joan, who joined him in Sicily, is caught in a storm and runs into trouble. Isaac Comnenus, the current ruler of Cyprus, decides to take the highborn women hostage. This is not exactly appreciated by Richard the Lionheart. He comes to the women’s rescue, occupies Limassol and, while he is at it, conquers the whole of Cyprus in a matter of weeks. The king has promised not to cast Isaac Comnenus in iron when he is captured. Instead, he is chained with silver chains.

The wedding

The grand finale of these intense weeks is the wedding of the King and his young bride in St George’s Chapel in Limassol, and on the same day Berengaria is crowned Queen by the Archbishop of Bordeaux and the Bishops of Évreux and Bayonne.

The proclamation

Naturally, this is celebrated with pomp and circumstance and a sumptuous feast. And the drink that flows is the one we now know as Commandaria. The name is still a few years in the future, so Rickard and his guests referred to it as Nama. And it is under this name that Rickard the Lionheart, presumably filled with wedded bliss, names this wine “Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum” the King of Wine, the Wine for Kings.

Maria Scharffenberg
Sommelier and Teacher