Posts Tagged ‘History’

 

Two bottles of Champagne seized by the Nazis during World War II then ‘liberated’ by an RAF serviceman are to go under the hammer this month.

According to Hansons Auctioneers, both bottles – Château de Mareuilsay Montebello 1937 and Monopole Red Top by Heidsieck from an unknown date – are unopened and in good condition.

Each bear a red stamp in German and French that reads: “Sales in the free market are prohibited”, and “Reserved for German army not for resale or purchase.”

They were discovered by a British member of the RAF who was serving in France following D-Day in 1944.
Detail from the Heidsieck Monopole label
He left the bottles to his daughter, who sold them to the unnamed vendor a decade ago.

While Hitler was teetotal, chief of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering, filled vast cellars with stolen bottles of Champagne following the invasion of France.
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The origin of French wine.

The origin of French wine.

A new study finds evidence that ancient Gauls began wine production in 425 B.C. in the Languedoc

Dom Pérignon, Pétrus, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti—the roots of these iconic wines and all of French wine culture may lie in a simple stone press, according to new scientific research. Uncovered in the Mediterranean town of Lattes, just south of Montpelier, the roughly 2,400-year-old artifact was originally identified by archaeologists as an olive-oil press. But a new round of chemical and archaeological analysis now identifies the press as the earliest evidence of wine production in France.

The analysis, headed by Patrick McGovern, the scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and reported in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses an array of evidence to not only hypothesize when the French started making wine, but who originally taught them how to do it.

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The freedom to choose and drink wine.

 

Wine is old, ancient, neolithic. It has been consumed throughout recorded history. Yet wine as we know it today is relatively new. Where it originated, what it tasted like and represented, and how it was transformed over time are explored in Paul Lukacs’s fascinating new book, “Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures,” published in December by W. W. Norton & Company.

One thing is clear from Mr. Lukacs’s work: most wine for much of history was vile, nasty stuff. If an ancient critic had etched a tasting note to describe the wine that most people drank, it might have read, “Wretched, horrible, vinegary, foul.” Yet people drank it anyway, because they had no choice. Other beverages like water and milk were disease ridden. Wine might have tasted awful, but alcohol was a built-in disinfectant.

It was not until the Renaissance, writes Mr. Lukacs (who, when not researching wine, is an English professor at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore), that familiar notions of discrimination came to be. Only then did wine connoisseurs, a minute group to be sure, begin to associate particular styles and qualities in wine with specific places, an early idea of terroir. And only then did astute wine drinkers begin to perceive that some wines could be appreciated intellectually and emotionally rather than just physically, and that the best wines conveyed a sense of balance, length and depth.

But it was really with the Enlightenment in the 18th century, when a series of revolutions began that would transform our understanding of grape-growing, wine production and wine storage, that wine began to resemble what we now take for granted.

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Nelson Mandela. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Nelson Mandela. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

 

In his old age, South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela is apparently doing battle with wine writers rather than oppressive regimes. The Wall Street Journal was forced to run a correction to an article that ran last week about South African wines, which included a mistake about Mr. Mandela’s drink choices.

The story, which was about reporter Lettie Teague learning to appreciate Pinotage, a varietal with roots in South Africa, included mentions of wines made by the House of Mandela, a winery “conceived of and led by the women of the Mandela family.”

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The true origins of viticulture and brewing, whether it was in Sumeria, the Lebanon, Georgia and so on, may never be known for sure.

What is sure is that ever since he first created alcoholic drinks, man has usually ascribed to them divine properties.

As was pointed out in the Top 10 Wine Saints, Christianity merely replaced the old gods of wine, beer, grapes and grain, with new figureheads.

This often makes the identification of “wine gods” rather tricky and, aside from some of the more obvious standouts, ancient cultures and societies often venerated many figures connected to drink.

The Greeks in particular personified many things relating to wine, its effects and preparation, with minor deities.

There was Methe, the personification of drunkenness, Acratopotes, one of Dionysus’ companions and a drinker of unmixed wine, there was Ceraon who watched over the mixing of wine with water and Amphictyonis a goddess of wine and friendship between nations.

 

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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.

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The History of Wine.

The History of Wine.

CLICK TO LISTEN TO INTERVIEW

Wine is our original alcoholic beverage. It dates back 8,000 years and, as Paul Lukacs writes in his new book, Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures, was originally valued more because it was believed to be of divine origin than for its taste. And that’s a good thing, Lukacs tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, because early wine was not particularly good.

People would add a variety of unexpected ingredients to obscure and enhance the flavor. Everything, Lukacs says, “from lead to ash to myrrh to various kinds of incense, spices. And the most common thing added, especially to wines that people valued, were fresh resin from pine trees or boiled resin — namely pitch — from pine trees. Lead, in fact, will sweeten wine, so lead was used for thousands and thousands of years.”

The book is filled with surprising facts about the drink. Pharaohs have been buried beside jugs of it. The Quran promises baths of wine in the afterlife because

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The History of Chinese Wine.

The History of Chinese Wine.

 

I’ve been reading quite a bit about China recently and not only because they’re the second largest economy in the world (and growing very fast) or because some of the unscrupulous amongst them make really large volumes of really bad quality stuff with which they flood the markets of, especially but not only, developing countries. Thing is, not everybody is unscrupulous and not all Chinese are cruel triad-like taskmasters! I would be devastated if my Chinese deli disappeared and it makes my blood boil when I meet people who seem to think that Chinese
food consists only of sweet-n-sour pork, sticky rice or stir-fried noodles. Good Lord, the Chinese were hosting banquets before we even thought of sharing meals and to belittle an entire culture just because a fanatic and his friends stole just over 50 years of their lives is insanity. The reason most of us haven’t tasted or seen upmarket Chinese products is precisely because the Chinese nation is so huge! They simply don’t make enough to export. Yet. They also produce wine (and are currently the fourth largest producer in the world) and even though, at this stage, it doesn’t really compare to the wines of the west (in fact, the tasting I had was pretty darn awful), I’m sure that they will, given time, get there.  In fact, experts seem to think that China can become the next Chile within the next decade! Before I go on (and to prove my point about Chinese food), here’s a recipe for some really good kebabs from the province of Xinjiang where the Uighur people have lived for centuries; the food, like their language has a Turkic touch.
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I’ve just watched Stephen Oliver’s excellent documentary on Australian wine, and how it changed British drinking habits. The title, ‘Chateau Chunder,’ comes from a 1972 Monty Python sketch knocking Aussie wine.

“This is not a wine for drinking. This is a wine for laying down and avoiding.”

This reflects the attitudes towards Aussie wine in 1970s Britain. These attitudes were to change, though, and by the end of the 1980s, Australian wine had spearheaded an egalitarian revolution that changed the way that Brits approached wine, and brought what was previously an elite drink to the masses.

The documentary begins by showing how Australian table wine as we know it is a relatively recent thing. Although wine has been made in Australia since the 19th century, until the late 1970s the focus was on fortifieds. And the Australian drinking culture didn’t involve wine.

In the 1950s and early 60s if you drank table wine you were queer, or eccentric, or both. I had a girlfriend from university, from a country town, and her parents weren’t sure I was a suitable person because I was a plonkie.
Bruce Tyrrell

In 1965 exports of Australian wine were 8 million litres a year, one fiftieth of that of France. During the 1970s, exports of Aussie wine actually declined. But then came the revolution. By the early 1980s, Australia was 18th in the table of wine exportings; by the early 1990s it was 6th.
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