Delicious Facts About Wine
On The Grapevine, July 2012
Bro Mike , Wine Correspondant
As a follow up to the recent article on wine quotes here is a selection of interesting facts (or theories) about wine.
In ancient Greece, a dinner host would take the first sip of wine to assure guests the wine was not bad or poisoned, hence the phrase “drinking to one’s health.” “Toasting” started in ancient Rome when the Romans continued the Greek tradition but started dropping a piece of toasted bread into each wine glass to temper undesirable tastes or excessive acidity. (a new role for the WM in the South)
In the whole of the Biblical Old Testament, only the Book of Jonah has no reference to the vine or wine.
When Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened in 1922, the wine jars buried with him were labelled with the year, the name of the winemaker, and comments such as “very good wine.” The labels were so specific that they could actually meet modern wine label laws of several countries.
Early Roman women were forbidden to drink wine, and a husband who found his wife drinking was at liberty to kill her. Divorce on the same grounds was last recorded in Rome in 194 B.C. (I assume men could drink as much as they liked)
The world’s oldest bottle of wine dates back to A.D. 325 and was found near the town of Speyer, Germany, inside one of two Roman sarcophaguses. It is on display at the town's Museum.
The Code of Hammurabi (1800 B.C.) includes a law that punishes fraudulent wine sellers: They were fittingly drowned in a river.
Romans discovered that mixing lead with wine not only helped preserve wine, but also gave it a sweet taste and succulent texture. Chronic lead poisoning has often been cited as one of the causes of the decline of Rome.
Wine facilitated contacts between ancient cultures, providing the motive and means of trade. For example, the Greeks traded wine for precious metals, and the Romans traded wine for slaves.
In ancient Egypt, the ability to store wine until maturity was considered alchemy and was the privilege of only the pharaohs.
Archaeologists have found grape pips (seeds), usually considered evidence of winemaking, dating from 8000 B.C. in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The oldest pips of cultivated vines were found in Georgia from 7000-5000 B.C.
Winemaking is a significant theme in one of the oldest literary works known, the Epic of Gilgamesh. The divinity in charge of the wine was the goddess Siduri, whose depiction suggests a symbolic association between wine and fertility.
One of the most quoted legends about the discovery of wine is the story of Jamsheed a semi-mythical Persian king (who may have been Noah). A woman of his harem tried to take her life with fermented grapes, which were thought to be poisonous. Wine was discovered when she found herself rejuvenated and lively.
The first known illustration of wine drinking is found on a 5,000-year-old Sumerian panel known as the Standard of Ur.
Thucydides wrote that the people of the Mediterranean began to “emerge from barbarism when they learned to cultivate the oil and the vine.”
The standard wine container of the ancient world was the amphora (something which can be carried by two), a clay vase with two handles. It was invented by the Canaanites, who introduced it into Egypt before the fifteenth century B.C. Their forebears, the Phoenicians, spread its use throughout the Mediterranean.
Plato argued that the minimum drinking age should be 18, and then wine in moderation may be tasted until 30. When a man reaches 40, he may drink as much as he wants to cure the “crabbedness of old age.”
Hippocrates, widely considered the father of medicine, includes wine in almost every one of his recorded remedies. He used it for cooling fevers, as a diuretic, as a general antiseptic, and to help convalescence.
Ancient Romans thought seasoning was more important than the primary flavour of wine and often added fermented fish sauce, garlic, asafetida (onion root), lead, and absinthe.
Wineskins were a common way to transport wine in the ancient world. Animal skins (usually pig) were cleaned and tanned and turned inside out so that the hairy side was in contact with the wine.
The Vikings called America Vinland (“wine-land” or “pasture-land”) for the profusion of native grape vines they found there around A.D. 1000.
In the Middle Ages, the greatest and most innovative winemakers of the day were monastic orders. The Cistercians and Benedictines were particularly apt winemakers, and they are said to have actually tasted the earth to discover how the soil changed from place to place. Their findings are still important today. (this takes Terrior to a whole new level)
Besides churches and monasteries, two other great medieval institutions derived much of their income from wine: hospitals and universities. The most famous medieval wine-endowed hospital (now a museum) is the beautiful Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune, France.
The Bergerac wine region in southwest France has continuously produced wine since Roman times.
The prohibitionists, or the “drys,” in the early twentieth century fought to remove any mention of wine from school and college texts, including Greek and Roman literature. They also sought to remove medicinal wines from the United States Pharmacopoeia and to prove that Biblical praises of wine were for unfermented grape juice.
At the centre of ancient Greek social and intellectual life was the symposium, which literally means, “drinking together.” Indeed, the symposium reflects Greek fondness for mixing wine and intellectual discussion (perhaps Freemasonary evolved from this time?????)
Other facts (theories) from the world of wine
Not all wines improve with time. In fact, a vast majority of wines produced are ready to drink and do not have much potential for aging. Only a few will age well longer than a decade.
A “dumb” wine refers to the lack of odour in a wine, though it may develop a pleasing odour in the future. Many Cabernet Sauvignons, for example, are considered “dumb.” A “numb” wine, on the other hand, has no odour and no potential of developing a pleasing odour in the future.
European wines are named after their geographic locations (e.g. Burgundy and Bordeaux) while non-European wines (e.g., Pinot Noir and Shiraz) are named after different grape varieties.
A feminine wine is a wine that is more delicate than most. A masculine wine refers to a “big” or “full” wine.
Contrary to traditional belief, smelling the cork reveals little about the wine. Instead, if a server or sommelier hands you a cork, you should look for the date and other identifying information (inexpensive wine won’t have these features). Additionally, look for mould, drying, cracking, or breaks in the cork.
A wine that has a musty smell, similar to wet cardboard or mould, may mean that the bottle is “corked” (the bottle has a contaminated cork).
One tonne of grapes makes about 60 cases of wine, or 720 bottles. One bottle of wine contains about 1.3 kilograms of grapes.
Greece is the only country in the world that has perpetuated up to the present the ancient tradition of adding a tree resin to wine to give it a unique sappy taste. Most non-Greeks assert this type of Greek wine or retsina wine is an acquired taste and should be served very cold.
Wine for Orthodox Jews must be kosher, meaning it must not be touched at any point in its process (from picking of the grapes to bottling it) by either a “Gentile” or non-observant Jew and it must contain only kosher ingredients.
The combination of soil type, climate, degree of slope, and exposure to the sun constitutes the "terroir" of a vineyard and what makes each vineyard and each wine unique.
Traditionally, bottled wine was never stored standing up. Keeping the wine on its side kept the wine in contact with the cork, thereby preventing the cork from drying, shrinking, and letting in air. However, wine can be stored vertically if the bottle has an artificial seal.
A few vine cuttings from the New World (the America's) brought to Europe spread a tiny insect called Phylloxera vastatrix, which feeds on the roots of vines. The only way to save European grape vines was to graft native American vines to European rootstocks. Consequently, Pre-Phylloxera wine, strictly speaking, is one made in the years before Phylloxera reached the vineyards in the 1860s, though the phrase is also used to mean wine from ungrafted vines (many Australian wines are made from ungrafted vines).
A standard glass of dry red or white wine contains around 120 calories. Sweeter wine has more calories.
The substance in wine that tingles the gums is tannin (related to the word “tan”), which is derived from the skins, pips, and stalks of grapes. It is usually found only in red wine and is an excellent antioxidant. Visually, it is the sediment found at the bottom of the bottle.
Darker shades of wine (the deepest, blackest reds and the most golden whites) usually come from warm climates and are rich and ripe. Lighter colours, especially in white wines, come from cooler climates and are lighter and less lush.
With age, red wines tend to lose colour and will eventually end up a sort of brick red. On the other hand, white wines gain colour, becoming golden and eventually brown-yellow.
All wines taste like different fruits. Only rarely does a wine taste like grapes—for example very sweet wines such as Muscat or Concord.
Red Burgundy is made from the Pinot Noir grape and is so difficult to make that winemakers all over the world see it as some kind of Holy Grail.
The Germans invented Eiswein, or ice wine that is made from frozen grapes.
Enologists are wine chemists who analyse samples of wine and advise winemakers.
The word “champagne” is named after a province in France, meaning “open country". Due to the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) law in Europe, sparkling wine made outside the Champagne region of France can no longer be called “champagne.”
The English word “wine” may be rooted in the Semitic yayin (lamentation and wailing). In Arabic, the word is wain, in Greek it is oinos, and in the Romance languages it is vin, vino, vina, vinho.
Grapes are the only fruit that are capable of producing the proper nutrition for the yeast on its skin and sugar in its juice to ferment naturally.
Bubbles in wine have been observed since ancient Greece and were attributed to the phases of the moon or to evil spirits.
Oenophobia is an intense fear or hatred of wine. (hope I never develop that)
A “cork-tease” is someone who constantly talks about the wine he or she will open but never does. (I think I know a couple)
Since wine tasting is essentially wine smelling, women tend to be better wine testers because women, particularly of reproductive ages, have a better sense of smell than men.
Women are generally more susceptible to the effects of wine than men partly because they have less of an enzyme in the lining of the stomach that is needed to metabolize alcohol efficiently.
An Italian study argues that women who drink two glasses of wine a day have better sex than those who don’t drink at all. (obviously a male study)
Red wines are red because fermentation extracts colour from the grape skins. White wines are not fermented with the skins present.
Wine testers swirl their glass to encourage the wine to release all of its powerful aromas. Most don’t fill the glass more than a third full in order to allow aromas to collect and to not spill it during a swirl.
Most wine is served in a glass that has a gently curved rim at the top to help contain the aromas in the glass. The thinner the glass and the finer the rim, the better. A flaring, trumpet-shaped class dissipates the aromas.
When tasting wine, hold the wine in the mouth for a moment or two and then either swallow it or, preferably, spit it out, usually into a spittoon. A really good wine will have a long aftertaste, while an inferior wine will have a short aftertaste.