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Posts Tagged ‘history of wine’

Winos, Healers, and Wine Weirdos: Four Historical Personalities

March 13th, 2012 No comments
Frederick the Great

Frederick the Great, who brewed his coffee with Champagne instead of water

Here are four interesting people who really enjoyed their wine!  (Whoever said history had to be dry?)

  1. Frederick the Great (1712-1786), King of Prussia, brewed his own coffee with Champagne instead of water, adding a little bit of powdered mustard to make the flavor stronger.  (Note: for anyone adventurous enough to try this at home, do not put Champagne into your Mr. Coffee® machine; use an easy-to-clean French press, instead.)
  2. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), in his day, earned $25,000 a year.  From that amount, he annually spent around $3,000 on wine, alone.  (That’s quite a bit, considering the time period!)  He admired good Madeira and Bordeaux, and helped to stock the wine cellars of the first five presidents of the United States.
  3. Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), composer, writer, philosopher, mystic, and Benedictine abbess, prescribed herb-infused wine for pain relief.  “One who is in pain from a stone should take parsley and add a third part saxifrage. He should cook this in wine, strain it through a cloth, and drink it in a sauna.”
  4. Dr. John Carmichael (1761-1837), a surgeon at Fort Adams, enjoyed his wine collection so much that he spent the majority of his later days in a rocking chair, staring at his wine cellar.  His will included specific instructions about how he was to be buried, following his death: before the burial, his friends were to move the casket containing his body to the wine cellar, then drink his entire collection of wine in its presence.  Following two full days of dutifully emptying his cellar, Dr. Carmichael’s friends forgot what they had done with his body!  After sober reflection, the casket was eventually found, and Dr. Carmichael was given a proper burial.

Romanian Wine

January 17th, 2012 No comments

A Map of Romania

We often don’t hear much about Romanian wines, but Romania is in fact the 5th largest wine producer in Europe; only France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal produce more wine than Romaina.  With a history of winemaking that goes back over 2,500 years, coupled with unique geography (mountain ranges, valleys, coastal winds, and several microclimates), Romaina’s land is perfect for growing grapes and producing wine.  Like other European countries, Romania boasts several varieties of indigenous varietals, as well as some western ones.  Some more well-known native varietals include Grasa de Cotnari, Feteasca Alba, Feteasca Regala, and Tamaiosa Romaneasca.  For reds, varietals include Feteasca Neagra, Babeasca Neagra, Cadarca, and Negru Vartos.  Romaina’s largest wine-producing region is known for its production of Cotnari wines, which are sweet dessert wines similar to Tokaj.  The southern regions of Muntenia and Oltenia make excellent red and white wines (as do Crisana and Maramures in the west), while wines from the picturesque Transylvanian plateau are mostly white.  If you’re looking to try a decent Romanian wine, here are a few picks that range from about $10 to $25:

  • Prince Mircea Merlot, 2008
  • Prahova Valley Reserve Pinot Noir, 2009
  • Terra Romana Pinot Noir, 2009
  • Castel Starmina Riesling, 2001

Perhaps you’ll find one of these to your liking?    Noroc!  (That’s “cheers” in Romanian.)

Champagne: a Holy Toast

December 27th, 2011 No comments
A Stained Glass Window of a Monk Examining Champagne

The important history of monks and Champagne is captured in a stained-glass window.

Named after the Champagne region of France, Champagne was first bottled by French monks.  But where do the bubbles come from?  The process of making the bubbles needed for this sparkling wine was invented by two Benedictine monks and cellarmasters: Frère Jean Oudart (1654–1742) from the abbey of Saint-Pierre aux Monts de Châlons, and Dom Pierre Pérignon (1639–1715) from the abbey of Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers.  Since the Champagne region has a very cold and short growing season, Champagne grapes must be harvested very late in the year.  Because of this they have less time to ferment, and cold winter temperatures often halted the fermenting process.  To counter this, the monks introduced a second fermentation procedure that takes place in the bottle during the spring.  It’s this second fermentation that creates the much-loved bubbles that are Champagne’s calling card.  Thank you, Brothers Oudart and Pérignon!  For more information about the process and actual chemistry of aging wine, check out the Vintage Cellars Science of Aging Wine page.  Cheers!

Natalie MacLean’s New book: UNQUENCHABLE

December 13th, 2011 No comments

Natalie MacLean poses for the cover of her new book UNQUENCHABLEA fascinating, fun and exciting romp through the world of wine, Natalie MacLean’s latest award-winning book UNQUENCHABLE: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines, has hit the shelves!  Named the World’s Best Drink Writer by the World Food Media Awards, and winner of four James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards, Natalie’s prose is passionate, witty, honest, and informative.  In UNQUENCHABLE, you’ll meet several intriguing real-life wine personalities, all personally interviewed by Natalie in a variety of exotic locales.  Natalie’s journey takes you to wineries across the world in search of the best value wines, and her findings are summarized conveniently at the end of each chapter.  And just as you’d expect from the inventor of “Natalie MacLean Wine Picks & Pairings”, the fabulous food and wine pairing app for smartphones and “touch” devices, the book abounds with mouth-watering recipes for you to savor as well.  Filled with history, wine history, culture, current events, tips about cooking with wine, plus food and wine pairing suggestions (and additional wine trivia), this entertaining read is a must for wine lovers.  UNQUENCHABLE: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines is published by Perigee Trade.  Available from your favorite book distributors, and even offered as an eBook, its 13-digit ISBN is 978-0399537073 (for easy searching!).  Maybe a great gift for a wine lover in your life?

The Allure of Tokaji Wine

December 8th, 2011 No comments
A portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

A portrait of Beethoven holding the "Missa Solemnis" by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Children are often amused to learn that, years before Kraft Foods, Ludwig van Beethoven’s favorite dish was macaroni and cheese!  For adults–even those of us who still enjoy mac and cheese–it may be more interesting to note that one of Beethoven’s favorite wines was a white dessert wine from Hungary’s Tokaj region.  Situated northeast of Budapest, the Tokaj region is nestled in the Zemplen Mountains.  The region’s soil consists mostly of clay, with an underlying volcanic layer.  Sun filled summers and dry autumns help to nurture the precious Aszú grapes used in this wine.  (These grapes possess an unusually high concentration of sugar, and are picked and painstakingly sorted by hand at harvest time, which is rather late.)  In fact, the Tokaj region was Europe’s first ever classified wine region.  Today, some distilleries exist where select Single Malt Scotches are put into former Tokaji wine casks for a few years, imbuing the whisky with a hint of the delightful aromas (and a hint of the characteristic sweetness) of Tokaji wine, itself.

Considered a prized wine of nobility, Tokaji wine was also adored by Franz Joseph Haydn, Beethoven’s one-time instructor with whom he had a falling out.  Franz Schubert, an early Romantic composer who idolized Beethoven, also had a preference for Tokaji wine.  Schubert set numerous poems by Goethe, Heine, and Schiller to music, and each of these famous authors, incidentally, had a passion for Tokaji.  After his early death at age 31, Schubert’s music was championed by several prominent pianists, including Franz Liszt, and Liszt–a descendent of the pedagogical lineage of Beethoven–also happened to like Tokaji wine.  (We do not know if he also liked mac and cheese!)  Liszt’s personal philosophy regarding the contemporary music of his time also contains a reference to wine: “new wine requires new bottles.”  In short, this motto can translate as follows: new music will require new forms.  Liszt’s quotation is also a nod to Luke 5:37: “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.”

Painting of Louis XV

Louis XV, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1748

Exploring the history of this much-loved wine outside the musical community, we learn that Louis XV of France once presented a glass of Tokaji as follows: Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum.  (Wine of Kings, and King of Wines.)  Louis XV’s father, Louis XIV, probably introduced Tokaji wine to his son after receiving several bottles as a gift from Francis Rákóczi II, Prince of Transylvania.  Since then, this beverage became a staple in the Court of Versailles.  American connoisseur Thomas Jefferson had several bottles imported for his presidential feasts in the early 1800’s, while yearly on her birthday, Queen Victoria received numerous bottles of this very wine from Austrian Emperor (and Apostolic King of Hungary) Franz Josef.  Even Napoleon Bonaparte purchased barrels of Tokaji for his Court on a yearly basis, and King Gustav III of Sweden would not drink any other wine!

Given its rich history, why is this wine so little-known, today?  In short, several prominent Hungarian vineyards were ravished by phylloxera in the late 1800’s and did not recover quickly.  Couple this with the onslaught of WWI, the deterioration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the advent of WWII, followed by the ascent of Communism, and you have a recipe for run-down vineyards!  Only recently has the wine enjoyed by Beethoven, Goethe, Louis XV, and Thomas Jefferson been reproduced after a long period of hibernation.  Will it regain its former glory and win over the artisans and world leaders of our day?  Only time will tell.  For more information about wine and history, check out Vintage Cellar’s Wine Storage Education Center r check out our “Wine History” category here on the blog.  Cheers!

How Red Wine is Made, Today

December 6th, 2011 No comments

Today, most red wines are produced using a process similar to this one…

First, a vintner decides when the grapes are ripe.  This is done by taste, concurrent with today’s technology of taking accurate sugar readings.  The grapes are then harvested and placed into a machine that removes their stems.  The machine also crushes them (without pressing them) so that A) the grapes become exposed to yeast and B) the skins will color the wine.  The yeast then transforms the grape’s sugar into CO2, heat, and alcohol; this is fermentation.  The crushed grapes and liquid then sit (macerate) until it is decided that the taste is ideal.  During this process, the grape skins often float above the liquid.  Since these skins must remain submerged, for best results, they are repeatedly pushed back into the liquid, or the liquid is mechanically pumped over them to continually submerge them.  If the grapes sit for too long in this state, the wine will taste bitter.  If they do not sit long enough, the wine will taste too weak.  The vintner determines when enough time has elapsed.  Once the decision has been made, the liquid is removed and the solids are sent to the press.

Mechanical Wine Press

A Mechanical Wine Press (image from Wikipedia)

A mechanical press squeezes out the remaining juices in the solids.  This, too, is a delicate process; pressing too firmly or too frequently produces a poor quality wine.  After this, the wine needs to settle; transferring the wine from barrel to barrel after settling helps to separate/filter out solid matter and other particles that may cloud the wine.  Following this, a malolactic fermentation stage is often the next step in red winemaking.  Here, a wine’s malic acid is converted into CO2 and lactic acid.  Basically, the process reduces a wine’s acidity by organic rather than chemical means.  (Certain wines like Gewurztraminers, Reislings, Ehrenfelsers, and others that depend upon malic acid to enhance their flavors do not go through this step.)

After an aging process, the length of which is determined by the type of wine, fining and filtering processes remove sediments from the wine.  The wine is then bottled carefully to avoid contact with the air. (And, as we know, many of the best bottled wines are stored for several years before they are released to us!)  For more fascinating information about winemaking and wine technology, check out Vintage Cellar’s Wine Storage Education Center.  There, you’ll find more tantalizing trivia and wine storage tips to think about.  Cheers!

Wine Bottle History

November 24th, 2011 No comments

When we talk about aging wine, rarely do we realize just how recent a phenomenon wine aging actually is.  As mentioned in a previous post (Fun Wine Trivia), wine was not originally stored in bottles.  And when wine was not transported in animal wineskins, it was stored in large clay containers and secured with sealants called terracotta amphorae.

ancient clay jugs

Ancient Clay Jugs (Photo by Thomas Reichart)

While these 7000+ year-old clay jugs were kept in cool places, evidence suggests the wine inside was not aged nearly as long as most bottled wine is today.  In fact, when wine was later stored in wooden barrels for the first time, it was “aged” for a possibly shorter period of time.  Depending on the barrel’s construction, sometimes a wine’s barrel life was just long enough to transport it to its final trade destination before spoiling.  It was only when glass blowing technology was re-perfected (c.a. the 18th century) that glass bottles with smaller bottlenecks allowed for airtight wine storage.  This is when it finally became possible to age wine in the tradition we follow, today. Interestingly, while the English were the first to seal wine bottles with cork, wine bottles were not the first bottles to be corked.  Medicines, beer, and bottled beauty products benefited from corks long before wine!  Since aging wine is a recent development (relatively speaking), it’s amazing that the art of wine aging has been perfected to such a fine degree so rapidly.

Climadiff Diva 265 Bottle Multi-Temperature Wine Cabinet

Climadiff Diva 265 Bottle Multi-Temperature Wine Cabinet

We now know so much about optimal temperature control, humidity levels, and harmful UV rays, that custom wine cellars can be designed to optimally age any collection of wine.  And many wine storage units, like the Climadiff Diva 265 Bottle Multi-Temperature wine cabinet, even have UV-resistant doors.  Perhaps the most exciting thing about aging wine is that, just when we think we know all there is to know about it, some new discovery or innovation makes us think again: a new way to preserve wine, a new way to seal bottles, or new scientific information that allows for even greater precision when aging wine for optimal taste.  For more fascinating information about the history of wine aging, check out Vintage Cellars’ The Science of Wine Aging.  Enjoy!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! If you’re busy cooking today, check out our post from earlier this week on red & white wine sauces to go with your turkey and choosing wine for your Thanksgiving meal, or run through the wine & turkey or holiday tags for even more ideas!

Fun Wine Trivia

November 8th, 2011 No comments
  • Did you know that California is the 4th largest producer of wine in the world?  The three top manufacturers are France, Italy, and Spain.
  • When aged, red wines often fade, eventually turning a rusty, brick red color.  White wines, however, become more golden with age before darkening to brownish yellow.

    Hammurabi's Code: a Tablet

    The Prologue of the Code of Hammurabi. The Code outlines punishment for fraudulent wine sellers.

  • When a wine is paired with food, the food and wine have what is called “synergy.”  This is an additional flavor that the food or wine, if consumed alone, does not have.
  • Approximately 55% of wine consumed in restaurants is red wine.
  • European wines are given names based on their geographical locations, while non-European wines are named after grape varieties.
  • One of the oldest known literary works, the Epic of Gilgamesh, features wine prominently; the goddess, Siduri, is symbolic of fertility, as well as fermentation (wine).
  • Women are often better wine tasters than men; their sense of smell is often keener.
  • 1,000 lbs. of grapes will make about 60 cases of wine, or 720 bottles.  A single bottle of wine contains close to 3 pounds of grapes!
  • Hippocrates, the “father” of medicine, used wine in almost all of his remedies.  He used it to alleviate fevers, prescribed it as a diuretic, and utilized it for its antiseptic properties.
  • Hammurabi’s Code (1,800 B.C.) features a law to punish fraudulent wine merchants: drowning in a river!
  • When wineskins were used to hold wine in ancient times, the skins were cleaned, tanned, and turned so that the hairy side was on the inside, making contact with the wine.
  • Today, wine grapes take up the most acres of all fruit crops planted in the world.
  • The Vikings called America “Vinland” after finding numerous massive, native grape vines growing there around A.D. 1,000.
  • A typical glass of dry red or white wine contains 110 calories.  Sweeter wines have more.

For additional wine trivia and insights, check out the Vintage Cellars Wine Storage Education Center.  Cheers!

Wine Collections: Fantastic Investments in Uncertain Times

October 13th, 2011 No comments
A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States (image from Wikipedia)

To date, the most expensive bottle of wine sold at auction was a 1787 label-less bottle with “Lafite” and “Th. J.” etched on its front; it was a bottle of wine which some believe to have belonged to Thomas Jefferson.  (The controversy surrounding this claim continues.)  Though the value of the wine was listed as “inestimable,” it sold for 105,000 pound sterling on December 5th, 1985.

With today’s economic uncertainties, instead of investing in stocks, several people are deciding to invest in tangible items like rare works of art, original manuscripts by famous authors and composers, clocks, watches, gemstones, old cars, and… wines!  Much of today’s “wine investment” focuses on old and rare wines, similar to the “Jefferson” bottle (mentioned above, and purchased by Christopher Forbes).  Earlier in 2011, a collection of 300 bottles of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild sold in Hong Kong for $540,000, making the record books for the highest-valued lot at any wine auction this year (so far).

Wine collections, unlike many equities, have value that appreciates quickly because of continued (and growing) interest of collectors worldwide.  And since investing in various financial services has become less-than-promising for many people (low interest rates, stock markets too temperamental, etc.), purchasing wine allows collectors to invest in something that is not completely dependent on the state of the global marketplace.

So if, like many others, you’ve been burned by the stock market, perhaps investing a small portion of your net worth in a wine collection may be worth considering.  You’ll have a tangible product in your cellar that, if stored properly, will most likely appreciate.  Plus, if wine is your hobby, you’ll have a great deal of fun searching for those elusive bottles!  If you do decide to invest in a serious wine collection, and do not yet have a wine cellar, visit Vintage Cellar’s custom wine cellar page to learn how easy it is to have a professional cellar designed to house the treasures you acquire.  Who knows?  Perhaps your collection will make the record books for being a high-valued lot, too?

Oysters and Chablis

August 8th, 2011 No comments

Oysters have, since ancient times, been regarded as potent aphrodisiacs.  While this belief may be partially attributed to myth and sympathetic magic, a group of Italian and American researchers found that oysters, along with certain other shellfish, are “rich in rare amino acids that trigger increased levels of [arousing] hormones.”  History’s most famous lover, Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798), were he alive today, would probably cheer at this finding; Casanova championed the idea that sharing succulent oysters was the best way to lead to an evening of sensuous delight.  But oysters don’t do it for all couples.  Some people love them, some don’t, and still others are allergic to shellfish.  But even if your companion can’t (or won’t) slurp down the smooth, slippery, succulent little sea critters, he or she can certainly share a good bottle of white wine with you while you enjoy them!
Because there are many kinds of oysters, you will find that certain whites pair better with different varieties.  However, there is one wine that goes with them all, swimmingly: Chablis.  Because its grapes are grown in France’s Burgundy region where the soil is rich with fossilized oyster shells, the aroma of Chablis contains limestone, peach, and (you guessed it) oyster shells!  Its flavor, too, often contains traces of sea salt.  If your lover is into literature, perhaps a passage from Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast may help encourage him or her to partake with you: “As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”  The next time you order oysters, consider asking for a bottle of Chablis, too.  Enjoy!

Oysters paired with wine

Image courtesy of mailintalks.com