Thursday, June 9, 2022

Little Wine Tales

Wine has been associated with human evolution for centuries. So, it figures that there are numerous tales, big and small, true and not, connected with the wines enjoyed by the people who made them. 

Historical records show that nobles and clergy, tradesmen and travelers all have a story to tell about their individual adventures with wine. What follows are a few of these tales that stretch reality a tad while retaining a small element of truth. 

Why most of the tales are about Italian wines is beyond my knowing.  Perhaps it's because the rich history of Italy -- Greeks, Etruscans, Romans -- left an indelible mark on this wine saturated country.   

Est! Est!! Est!!! --  This fanciful tale tells how a certain Italian white wine supposedly got its name.  In the 12th century, a German bishop and his entourage were traveling to Rome and his eminence required his servant to go ahead to find the village with the best wine. Mark "Est!" (Latin for "it is") on the door of every tavern where you find the wine to be especially good, directed the bishop. When the servant got to Montefiascone, he wrote "Est! Est!! Est!!!" on all the tavern doors.  The bishop agreed that the wine was excellent and decided to stay in Montefiascone. Est! Est!! Est!!! is still made today from Trebbiano and Malvasia.

"Those Bette Davis eyes are saying, no white wine for me!"

Bette Disagrees -- Bette Davis, opinionated American film actress, probably never sipped Est! Est!! Est!!!, but she regrettably shared a white wine with someone and then breathlessly offered this advice: "Never, never trust anyone who ask for white wine.  It means they're phonies."

Vines of Antiquity -- Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon may be popular today but in the 1st Century AD, the wines fashionable Romans enjoyed, were likely a trio of whites: Falernian, Caecuban and Massic.  A curious wine note from the past claims that Falernian was so "strong" that it could be set alight! The contempory version of Falernian is made from Falanghina.  Caecuban was described by Pliny the Elder as "sinewy" and "packing a punch."  And while Massic was well known in the Roman era, little is known today about the wine. 

Castelli Romani -- Like so many things revolving around Italian wine, the vino of Lazio (Latium in English) requires some explanation, so bear with me.  Lazio is a large central Italy region, home to the capital city of Rome.  Lazio is also the site of a group of wines, known as Castelli Romani, of which Frascati is the best known.  

Frascati  takes its name from a town east of Rome and gets its subtle Muscat note from a traditional blend of Muscat of Alexandria and Schiava, known in Lazio as Malvasia del Lazio.  Since the 1960s, up to 30% Trebbiano has been allowed in the blend.  

The female cochineal

Waiter, there's an insect in my wine! -- Female cochineal insects feed on cactus and are valued for their deep red color, used as dye.  The bodies are liquefied to yield a food grade dye, used in food production and, it is rumored, to have been used at one time to make a rose wine by tinting a white wine with cochineal dye. 

Flog that wine! -- Long ago, when wine was imported from Europe to England in bulk, bottling in local cellars was a common practice.  A device was used to ram the cork home in a bottle, called a "Boot and Flogger."  Supposedly, the operator used his boot to slam a lever striking the cork, but later improvements used leverage to force the cork into the bottle. 

The man who (didn't) invent Champagne -- A vigorous telling of the discovery of Champagne supposedly has the Benedictine monk Dom Perignon, exclaiming "Come quickly, I'm drinking stars!" Fact is, refermentation occurs naturally in thje spring, without the help of man or monk. Ironically, Father Pierre Perignon's experimenting with blending was thwarted by this natural process.  Eventually, the style became popular, taking the name of the region.

Fun anecdotes about wine and the people that make it are only one possible scenario.  The real truth about wine is in the drinking.

Next blog: A Collection of Italian Whites

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