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A Wine Miscellany: A Jaunt Through the Whimsical World of Wine (Anglais) Relié – 7 novembre 2006

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Description du produit


Chapter 1

Vintage Vintages

The earliest fermented beverage of which there is archaeological evidence dates back around 9,000 years. Chinese pottery shards from 7,000 bc show evidence of a mixed fermented drink made from either hawthorn or grapes. The next oldest wine—almost certainly grape-based—was traced from pottery found in the Neolithic complex at Hajji Firuz Tepe in Iran. 

There is little need to seek the origins of wine. Any grapes crushed in a rock hollow or left in a skin bag or a pottery bowl in the heat of the summer will ferment. The Neolithic peoples would undoubtedly have noticed how the sweetness of the grapes was transformed into a liquid with different and intriguing properties. 

A romantic Iranian legend speaks of a young lady intent on suicide after having been rejected by the king. Her chosen method was to drink the liquid residue of spoiled table grapes. She passed out but awoke to find that life was worth living after all—and was restored to the harem after passing on her discovery. 

The Origins of Wine

Wine of a different type—and very different vintage—was reportedly discovered by Chinese archaeologists in one of the tombs of the Western Han dynasty (206 bc to ad 25), in the city of Xian. Rice wine had been stored in a bronze vessel with a raw lacquer seal that had kept it entirely airtight. The wine was described as having a light flavor and a low alcohol content. It was, however, green. This may have been the result of oxidation from the bronze container, but Chinese wine experts say that some rice wine was fermented green. 

Patrick McGovern is an American archaeologist who discovered the oldest traces of wine on pottery vessels dating back to 7,000 bc. He has also analyzed a 3,000-year-old wine found hermetically sealed into bronze vessels. This wine had a floral odor on opening, though this dispersed almost immediately, and had been flavored with herbs and flowers, and in one instance, with wormwood (the essence of absinthe). 

Wine—But Not As We Know It

As the notes above on ancient Chinese rice wine record, the European Commission’s definition of wine as the “fermented juice of grapes” excludes many types of wine. A recent addition to the pantheon of world “wine” is Chinese
sh wine. The wine, for which the official Chinese news agency Xinhua claims orders have already been received from a number of neighboring countries, is said to be “nutritious and contain low alcohol.” 

In 2001, the Orkney Wine Company was established in Scotland after getting grants from the local council and the Highland Fund. The plan was to make wine with fruit and vegetables; a whisky and carrot blend was the first planned for commercial consumption. Turnip experiments were successful, but it was felt the ingredients were unlikely to attract customers.

Marijuana Wine 

Attractive (to some) but illegal in many jurisdictions is the following “wine.”

This “weedwine” recipe is from a United States website (www.totse.com). 

4 to 8 ounces fresh marijuana
3 oranges, sliced
2 gallons boiling water
3 lemons, sliced 
5 pounds sugar or 8 pounds honey
2 cakes yeast 

Place the fresh cannabis in boiling water, and add sugar, orange, and lemon slices. Remove from the heat and let stand for several days. Add yeast after straining the wine into a clean container. Ferment for four weeks before racking and corking.

The ancients might (or might not) have approved of such a recipe. We do not know for certain how important grapes (as distinct from other fruits and vegetables) were, other than as the most easily fermented source of an intoxicating liquid. What is certain is that techniques of fermenting grapes were well advanced thousands of years ago and that wine had already become a business.

Pemberton’s French Wine Coca

Coca wine, with cocaine, was already flourishing in late nineteenth-century America when Dr. John S. Pemberton created his “French Wine Coca” in 1886. He was a latecomer to the market, which was dominated by Angelo Mariani’s Coca Wine. This product, conceived and marketed by a French priest, added cocaine to wine. Pemberton added both kola nuts and damiana (a natural aphrodisiac) to his drink and marketed it as an aid to overcoming morphine addiction. It was advertised as an “intellectual beverage” with the capacity to “invigorate the brain.” Cocaine was removed from the drink in 1904, though the Coca-Cola Company continued to use “decocainised” coca leaves as flavoring for some decades. It is possible that they may still do so. In 2002, the Bolivian authorities authorized the export of 159 tons of coca leaf to the United States “for the manufacturing of the soft drink, Coca-Cola.” The company was equivocal in its response to inquiries. “The formula for Coca-Cola is a very closely guarded trade secret. Therefore we do not discuss the formula.” Make of that what you will. 

The Commercial History

Five thousand years ago the Egyptians were confidently in control of the technology of winemaking, and wine had become a well-regulated commercial industry with distribution of casks by river and a code of conduct for wine sellers.

The laws of Hammurabi, the sixth King of Babylon, make it clear that wine sellers were women. This does not appear to have been a menial occupation. The Fourth Dynasty of Kish was founded in Sumer around 3,000 bc by a woman who had been a wine seller in her youth. The eternally seditious nature of bars and cafés is suggested by the king’s ruling that if outlaws should hatch a conspiracy in the house of a wine seller and she did not inform on them to the authorities then she herself should be put to death.

The Spread of Wine

Region & Time of arrival
China 7,000 bc 
Mesopotamia 6,000 bc 
Egypt 5,000 bc
Phoenicia (North Africa) 3,000 bc 
Cyprus 3,000 bc 
Greece and Crete 2,000 bc (earliest evidence is a stone foot-press at a Minoan villa dated to 1,600 bc) Southern/Central Europe 1,000 bc to 500 bc 
Northern Europe  (via the Roman Empire) 500 bc to ad 300

The Wine of Omar Khayyám

Writing around nine hundred years ago in his collection of poems, the Rubáiyát, Persian poet Omar Khayyám sings the praises (at least in Edward Fitzgerald’s translation) of “a Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness.”

Which wine was he drinking? It was more likely to have been white than red, and more likely sweet than dry. It may well have come from the villages around Shiraz, an eighth-century town that legend says gave its name to the red wine grape we know as Syrah (Old World), or Shiraz (New World).

Champagne Omar

Omar’s name has been borrowed by the Mumbai (previously Bombay) concern Château Indage for India’s best-known (and best) “champagne,” a Chardonnay-based wine. Omar Khayyám is a dry and fragrant sparkling wine, and has a more alcoholic sister labeled Marquise de Pompadour. Though the “Champagne India” name annoys the Champenois, it does have Piper-Heidsieck expertise behind it. 

The Indians are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about wine and their consumption is growing by 20 percent a year—albeit from a tiny base. There are around 200  million middle-class Indians who could potentially be turned on to wine. India is the world’s second-largest producer of table grapes (after Chile), and Indian wines from the Sula vineyard in Maharashtra, west India, are now sold in Italy, France and the United States.

By Omar’s time (c. 1120 ad) certainly one and possibly two wine businesses still extant were in operation.

Oldest Wine Families

Although the wine business was undoubtedly commercialized thousands of years ago, the oldest wine business still in existence goes back only a thousand years or so.

The oldest known wine business (almost certainly the oldest French business in any sector) is probably the Château de Goulaine, run by the family of that name continuously since the year 1,000. Its interests include wine production from the castle vineyards; however, it is not clear when wine was first produced for sale, rather than for family consumption. The company is reputed to be the third-oldest commercial concern in the world—after two Japanese businesses (one of which, a temple maker, dates back to ad 578). 

The Ricasoli family interests in wine and olive oil in Italy go back to at least 1141, when the Republic of Florence gifted them land near Siena. (Bettino Ricasoli is credited with having created the original recipe for Chianti by combining two red grapes, Sangiovese and Canaiolo, with two white grapes, Malvasia and Trebbiano.) It is the fourth-oldest family business in the world.

The Antinori family concern of Florence, the ninth-oldest wine business, traces its involvement in wine back to Giovanni di Piero Antinori’s acceptance into the Florentine Guild of Vintners in 1385. The current Piero Antinori and his three daughters still run a wine empire that stretches from Italy to the Americas and takes in Malta, Hungary and Chile. 

Back in France, the Coussergues family has produced wine since 1495 and is now into the sixteenth generation of the family. It is the eleventh-oldest wine family.

The Codorníu estate in Spain, like the Fonjallaz business in Switzerland, dates back to the mid-sixteenth century. The third-oldest French business, that of the Hugel family in Alsace, dates back to 1639, when the family started to make wine in Riqu...

Présentation de l'éditeur

Whether seeking a Château Pétrus, a Château d’Yquem, or just a decent bottle of the local vin de pays, anyone intrigued or enchanted by wine and its varied delights will find A Wine Miscellany the perfect accompaniment. Refreshingly light on the palate, it’s neither pompous nor patronizing but something else altogether–a fascinating and joyful jaunt through the world of vineyards, vinification, and glorious vintages.

Arranged and compiled as a true miscellany should be, with a deft sprinkling of facts and comments, observations and insights, A Wine Miscellany is that rarest of books–a perfect gift for the wine connoisseur and, for the newcomer to wine, an entertaining and informative introduction to the charm and marvel of all things vino.

Almost every aspect of the history, culture, business, and lore of wine makes a showing within these pages, as do some great stories never before encountered in the usual wine books. So, whether your passion is Claret, Burgundy, or Champagne, Old World or New, and whether you’re intrigued by the famous Mouton-Rothschild labels designed by leading artists or curious about the wines favored by (among others) Lord Byron, Shakespeare’s Falstaff, or the influential wine writer Robert Parker, A Wine Miscellany is this season’s finest vintage, and a pleasure to be savored for years to come.

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