Nothing to Fear From Change, Claims Wine History Author (by wine-searcher.com)

Posted: December 19, 2012 by wynmaker in Oenology, Origin, Research, Vinification, Wine, Winemaking, World wine news
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The Roman god of wine.

The Roman god of wine.

A new book provides a refreshing perspective on contentious wine issues of today.

Paul Lukacs is a professor of English at Loyola University in Baltimore, but what he really loves is writing about wine. Now, he’s combined that passion with his knowledge of history in a new book: “Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures.” In it, Lukacs manages to cover several millenia of wine without romanticizing the subject or sounding overly academic.

As the book explains, while wine has been around as long as 10,000 years, wine as we would recognize it has really only existed – even at the highest level – for about 300 years.

In an interview, Lukacs told me more:

What would the wine that the Romans drank have tasted like?

There would have been two kinds of wine in the Roman Empire. There would have been cheap wine, that everybody drank all the time. It would have been thin, acidic, getting more sour by the minute. Within a few months of harvest it would have been pretty bad.

Then there was wine that patricians drank. It would have been filled with additives: Honey, spices, gypsum, all kinds of stuff – the most notable being pine sap or resin. It would have been more like maple syrup than what we think of as wine. To our palates it would have been pretty foul, but they liked it.

Why was this the case?

It’s because wine spoiled. Unless it was very fancy wine, which would have been stored in amphorae, they had no way to keep wine from spoiling. If wine was kept in a cask and gradually emptied, in the beginning it might have been okay, but the cask would have oxidized. So wine tasted pretty good at harvest and pretty terrible afterward, but people drank it anyway. That’s why the harvest festivals were so important.

Why did wine play such a big role in ancient civilizations?

Throughout history, wine played a spiritual role. When people drank wine, they were drinking god or gods. When you drank wine, God was there, actually there in the wine, and you brought Bacchus and Dionysos into your body.

We don’t think that today. The one place that endured was in Christian sacramental rituals. But after the fall of Rome, the church increasingly made a sharp distinction between wine on an altar and wine outside the church. Only priests got to drink sacramental wine, and only on certain special occasions. That didn’t change until the 1960’s, with Vatican II.

You write that wine actually got worse in the Middle Ages.

It certainly didn’t improve. The amphora died out in Europe, but it was the one vessel that people had in late antiquity to transport wine at least semi-safely. People stored wine in big vessels where it oxidized right away. The best wines in the Middle Ages were made on an old Roman model from dried fruits. They were called Romneys, referring to Rome.

Read on …

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