My philosophy about wine
Wine is a gift – an immeasurable pleasure to be enjoyed from the multitude of offerings available in today’s market. When I teach wine courses, my goal is always very simple: to give people some tools with which to enhance their enjoyment of wine. With a little knowledge, the world of wine opens up quickly, becoming more accessible. And with a little more time spent to understand the wine in your glass, you can more easily find wines that you will love.
I thought I would add some posts by reviewing some background about wine.
Right now, I am in the middle of reading Hugh Johnson’s Vintage: The Story of Wine. It’s a great, super detailed backgrounder for me, whose grasp of world history is, well, scattered at best. (Hedonist that I am, I remain more inclined to focus on the here and now!) But add wine to the details, and all of a sudden I am very interested, indeed. This book is highly recommended if you have a few weeks of your life to spare.
Anyway, the production of wine has been traced as far back as 6000 BC, in Mesopotamia (present day Iran – ironic! – and Georgia). But there are several myths surrounding the beginnings of wine that are far more interesting, including various versions of the Noah legend and how he had to be the original winemaker after the flood. Naturally, I suppose…
Harem girl gets drunk in Iran
My favorite story, though, is about Jamshid, a legendary Persian monarch. The story says that at his court, grapes were kept in jars to preserve them for eating during the winter. Sometimes, the grapes would start to foam, and a strange odor would arise from the jars: these would be set aside as having gone bad and turned to poison. One day, one of Jamshid’s concubines sought to end her life, to find peace from terrible headaches that were plaguing her. She went ahead and drank the “poison”. But instead of falling down dead, she instead “found exhilaration”, followed by refreshing sleep. Headache be gone! She told the king of her cure, and thereafter all the foaming grape jars were valued and the liquid inside shared among all members of the court.
Bless those Italian boys!
Regardless of the origins of wine, it’s clear that the new product “took off” quickly. The Phoenicians (in modern day Lebanon, Syria and Israel) and Greeks were first to really experiment with the stuff and started spreading the practice of wine making throughout their lands. When the Romans started gaining influence, they also embraced wine – good Italians that they were – and took wine making practices with them to many new destinations across Europe as they expanded their Empire.
Finally, another major historical influence on the development of wine came as a result of the Christian church. Under the Roman emperor Constantine (about 300 AD), Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Rather than continuing to feed Christians to the lions for sport,
the Empire instead adopted Christian beliefs and practices, and over time the Church gained power and influence. Naturally enough, wine became tied to Christian church rituals – why not have the chance to imbibe regularly as part of being a good Christian? Vineyards had been established in many different locales by this time, and wines from certain regions gained prestige for their higher quality. The Church took possession of many such sites.
In France, where wines were found to be particularly pleasing, Benedictine monks tended the vineyards and ensured that the Church was kept well supplied with quality plonk. In trying to improve their product, the monks experimented with grapes and wine making methods, and kept detailed records and notes about what worked well and what didn’t. They were the first to improve their wine making techniques over time, and many of the lessons learned by them have been passed down to present day wine makers.