The Wines that Helped Shape History
“Wine is ancient, and yet the beverage we enjoy today is thoroughly modern. For eight thousand years, through the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Greece, and Egypt, to the Roman Empire and on into medieval Europe and the boundless opportunities of the New World, wine has been enjoyed by millions. It is in this history, this journey through time that wine has come into its “golden years”, with breakthroughs in viticulture and vinification has allowed grape growers, and wine makers to know the unknown, to control the uncontrollable, and even to improve the greatest and the least of all wines.”
The history of Champagne has seen the wine evolve from being a pale, pinkish still wine to the sparkling wine now associated with the region. The Romans were the first to plant vineyards in this area of northeast France, with the region being cultivated by at least the 5th century, possibly earlier. When Hugh Capet was crowned King of France in 987 at the cathedral of Reims, located in the heart of the region, he started a tradition that brought successive monarchs to the region—with the local wine being on prominent display at the coronation banquets. The early wine of the Champagne region was a pale, pinkish wine made from Pinot noir.
The Champenois were envious of the reputation of the wines made from their Burgundian neighbors to the south and sought to produces wines of equal acclaim. However the northerly climate of the region gave the Champenois a unique set of challenges in making red wine. At the far extremes of sustainable viticulture, the grapes would struggle to ripen fully and often would have bracing levels of acidity and low sugar levels. The wines were lighter bodied and thinner than the Burgundies.
Furthermore, the cold winter temperatures prematurely halted fermentation in the cellars, leaving dormant yeast cells that would awaken in the warmth of spring and start fermenting again. One of the byproducts of fermentation is the release of carbon dioxide gas, which, if the wine is bottled, is trapped inside the wine, causing intense pressure. The pressure inside the weak, early French wine bottles often caused the bottles to explode, creating havoc in the cellars. If the bottle survived, the wine was found to contain bubbles, something that the early Champenois were horrified to see, considering it a fault. As late as the 17th century, Champenois wine makers, most notably the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon (1638–1715), were still trying to rid their wines of the bubbles.
While the Champenois and their French clients preferred their Champagne to be pale and still, the British were developing a taste for the unique bubbly wine. The sparkling version of Champagne continued to grow in popularity, especially among the wealthy and royal. Following the death of Louis XIV of France in 1715, the court of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans made the sparkling version of Champagne a favorite among the French nobility. More Champenois wine makers attempted to make their wines sparkle deliberately, but didn’t know enough about how to control the process or how to make wine bottles strong enough to withstand the pressure.
In the 19th century these obstacles were overcome, and the modern Champagne wine industry took form. Advances by the house of Veuve Clicquot in the development of the méthode champenoise made production of sparkling wine on a large scale profitable, and this period saw the founding of many of today’s famous Champagne houses, including Krug (1843), Pommery (1858) and Bollinger (1829). The fortunes of the Champenois and the popularity of Champagne grew until a series of setbacks in the early 20th century. Phylloxera appeared, vineyard growers rioted in 1910–11, the Russian and American markets were lost because of the Russian Revolution and Prohibition, and two World Wars made the vineyards of Champagne a battlefield.
The modern era, however, has seen a resurgence of the popularity of Champagne, a wine associated with both luxury and celebration, with sales quadrupling since 1950. Today the region’s 86,500 acres (35,000 ha) produces over 200 million bottles of Champagne with worldwide demand prompting the French authorities to look into expanding the region’s Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) zone to facilitate more production.
EST! EST! EST! di MONTEFIASCONE
Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone (also known as just Est! Est!! Est!!!) is an Italian wine region centered around the commune of Montefiascone in province of Viterbo in Latium. Since 1966, the white Trebbiano– and Malvasia bianca-based wines produced within the 1,000 acres (400 ha) of the region can qualify for Denominazione di origine controllata(DOC) designation under Italian wine laws.
The unusual name of the wine region dates back to a 12th-century tale of a German bishop traveling to the Vatican for a meeting with the Pope. The bishop sent a prelate ahead of him to survey the villages along the route for the best wines. At a Montefiascone inn, the prelate was reportedly so impressed with the local wine that he wrote Est! Est!! Est!!!(Latin for “It is”) on the door so that the bishop would not fail to stop by.
Today, the wine region is known primarily for wine tourism, catering to the visitors of Lake Bolsena north of Rome, with comparatively little Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone being exported. Among wine critics, the wine often receives mixed opinions with wine experts such as Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson describing in The World Atlas of Wine Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone as “usually the dullest white wine with the strangest name in the world.” Wine writers Joe Bastianich and David Lynch compares Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone to the Tuscan wines from Vernaccia di San Gimignano saying that the region’s “…history is more compelling than what’s currently in the glass.”
History of Retsina. The earliest wine jars yet discovered, at Hajji Firuz in Iran‘s Zagros Mountains, already show evidence of treatment with turpentine pine resin as a preservative. They have been dated to c. 5000 BC.
The earliest recorded mention of using resin with wine amphorae is by the first-century Roman writer Columella, who detailed in his work De Re Rustica, the different type of resin that could be used to seal a container or be mixed into the wine. He recommended, however that the very best wines should not be mixed with resin because of the unpleasant flavor introduced thereby. His contemporary, Pliny the Elder, does recommend the use of adding resin to the fermenting wine must in his work Naturalis Historia with the resin from mountainous areas having a better aroma than those that come from lower lands.
The Roman settlements in Illyria, Cisalpine Gaul and Gallia Narbonensis did not use resin-coated amphorae due to the lack of suitable local pine trees and began to develop solid, less leak-prone wooden barrels in the 1st century AD. By the 3rd century, barrel making was prevalent throughout the Roman Empire. The exception was the eastern empire regions of Byzantium which had developed a taste for the strong, pungent wine and continued to produce resinated wine long after the western Roman empire stopped. The difference in taste between the two empires took center stage in the work of the historian Liutprand of Cremona and his Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana. In 968, Liutprand was sent to Constantinople to arrange a marriage between the daughter of the late Emperor Romanos II and the future Holy Roman Emperor Otto II. According to Liutprand, he was treated very rudely and in an undignified manner by the court of Nikephoros II, being served goat stuffed with onion and served in fish sauce and “undrinkable” wine mixed with resin, pitch and gypsum—very offensive to his Germanic tastes.
Pilgrims and Crusaders to the Holy Land during the Middle Ages recorded their experiences with the strong, resin wines of the Greek islands. Pietro Casola, an Italian noble who traveled to Jerusalem in 1494, wrote about the wines and cuisines of the places he stopped at along the way. In one of his entries, about his visit to Modone on Peloponnese, he wrote about the bounty of good quality wines made from Malmsey, Muscatel and Rumney varieties. Everything he tried was pleasing, except the strong, resinated wine with an unpleasant odor.
Popular anecdote about the evolution of retsina stem from the Roman conquest of Greece. Stories claim that the Romans plundered the wines of Greece, angering the citizens who turned to pine resin as a way of extending their store of wine and as a deterrent to their thirsty conquerors. The harsh flavor was said to put off the Romans, who refused to drink the bitter ferment.
Some 1,200 years of viticultural history are associated with Johannisberg. An eventful history, which, among other things, led to the creation of the world’s first Riesling wine estate and with it, a unique wine culture that has existed at Johannisberg ever since. Founded as a Benedictine monastery, the Johannisberg abbey quickly became a viticultural focal point and initiator in the Rheingau. Today, in the heart of the cellar, is the underground library “Bibliotheca subterranea” – the famed treasure chamber of the palace, with its centuries-old wine rarities.
As of 1716, Schloss Johannisberg belonged to the prince abbot of Fulda, who had a grand, three-winged palace built in line with the taste of the times. It is thanks to this owner that the benefits of a “Spätlese” (late harvest) were recognized. In 1775, the courier annually sent to Fulda to receive official permission for the start of the grape harvest was delayed by several weeks. By the time he returned to Johannisberg, the grapes were infested with noble rot. Nevertheless, the courageous cellarmaster had the rotten grapes harvested and vinified, thereby producing a new style of wine – “Spätlese” – which thereafter became standard at Johannisberg. Although documents from 1730 report that a few growers “gladly waited for a bit of noble rot in order to increase the sugar level of the grapes,” the year 1775 marked the beginning of a deliberately scheduled late harvest of botrytized grapes. A monument adjacent to the Vinothek (wine shop), where the estate’s current vintages can be sampled, commemorates the famous courier whose delay led to the worldwide triumphal course of “Spätlese”.
In 1816, in the wake of Napoleon’s secularization of church properties and the ensuing joint administration by Prussia, Russia and Austria, the palace was ceded to the state chancellor of the Austrian emperor, Clemens Wenzel Lothar Fürst von Metternich, for his service at the Congress of Vienna the year before. However, to this day, one tenth of the annual harvest must be delivered to the House of Habsburg or its legal successors. The influential Metternich admitted: “I enjoy a peacefulness here that I regard as a blessing, and this pleasure is due to the character of the region.”
In 1942, the palace was hit by bombs and burned down. It was thanks to Fürstin Tatiana and her husband, Paul Alfons Fürst von Metternich, that the impressive palace and grounds were restored to their former glory by 1965. The grande dame, who, above all, was actively engaged in the promotion of culture in the Rheingau and many other causes, lived at Schloss Johannis-berg until her death in July 2006.
Wine culture at Schloss Johannisberg has outlived the many storms of the past. Riesling is truly at home here. The estate is well aware that the historical past brings with it a responsibility in the future – with every new vintage, Johannisberg strives to carry on this unique Riesling culture.
CLOS de VOUGEOT
The Clos de Vougeot vineyard was created by Cistercian monks of Cîteaux Abbey, the order’s mother abbey. The land making up the vineyard was purchased by the Cistercians, or donated to them, from the 12th century to the early 14th century. The initial vineyard consisted of donations in 1109 to 1115. The vineyard was complete, and a wall had been built around it, by the year 1336. It served as the flagship vineyard of the Cistercians, and has been a highly recognized name for centuries.
Château de Clos de Vougeot, situated inside the wall, was added in 1551 by rebuilding and enlarging a small chapel and some other buildings previously existing at the site. From 1945, this building has served as headquarters of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.
In the French Revolution, all vineyard possessions were taken from the church by the French state, and sold off to private buyers. In 1818, the château and vineyards of Clos de Vougeot was bought by Julien-Jules Ouvrard, who also bought the Romanée-Conti vineyard in 1819. Ouvrard later moved to Château de Gilly, another former Cistercian property, but continued to take in an interest in the vineyards of Clos de Vougeot, which was then a monopoly. After Ouvrard’s death, Clos de Vougeot passed to his three heirs, but continued to be operated as a single property until 1889, when the heirs put it up for sale. It was bought by six Burgundy wine merchants, leading to a subdivided vineyard for the first time since its creation more than 700 years earlier. After that, the holdings have been progressively subdivided by inheritance and land sales. In the early 2000s, Clos de Vougeot was split among more than 80 owners.
One of the 1889 vineyard buyers, Léonce Bocquet, also bought the château, and initiated renovations of a part of it. In 1920, the château came into the hands of Etienne Camuzet, who was vineyard owner in Vosne-Romanée and politician. He put it to the disposal of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, and on November 29, 1944 sold it to the organization Société civile des Amis du Château du Clos de Vougeot (“Friends of the Château du Clos de Vougeot”), which gave the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin a 99 year lease on the property.
Dear Wine Consultor,
What is the origin of the Brits’ traditional nickname for Bordeaux wines as “claret”? There is a French white grape named Clairette, a Rhône varietal. Is that a coincidence, or is there a connection there?
Before “claret” was the nickname for Bordeaux wines, it meant “clear,” “pale” or “light-colored” wine (“claret” being derived from the Latin word for “clear”). This is back in the 14th and 15th centuries, when wines from Bordeaux were actually paler, almost like rosés. In the late Middle Ages, “claret” also referred to a heated wine poured over a bag of spices.
The first known references to “claret” as dark red Bordeaux wines were in the 1700s by the British trade. History buffs will recall that France and England were at war during this period, and it was right around then that the English started seeking out Portuguese wines to satisfy their thirst.
These days “claret” is used as a generic way to refer to Bordeaux wines (or wines styled after Bordeaux) and the associated dark red color that’s also used to describe anything from nail polish to yarn.
I couldn’t find a direct connection between “claret” and the Clairette grape, but perhaps Clairette—a white wine grape—is also related to the Middle French and Latin variations of “clear” or “light-colored” wine.
VINO NOBILE di MONTEPULCIANO
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a red wine with Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita status produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montepulciano, Italy. The wine is made primarily from the Sangiovese grape varietal (known locally as Prugnolo gentile) (minimum 70%), blended with Canaiolo Nero (10%–20%) and small amounts of other local varieties such as Mammolo. The wine is aged in oak barrels for 2 years; three years if it is a riserva. The wine should not be confused with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a red wine made from the Montepulciano grape in the Abruzzo region of east-central Italy.
In a document dated 789, quoted by Emanuele Repetti in “Dizionario Geografico Fisico Storico della Toscana”, the cleric Arnipert offers to the Church of San Silvestro in Lanciniano (Amiata area), a farmland and a vineyard located in the Castello di Policiano; in another document of 17 October 1350, also mentioned by Repetti, you lay down the terms for trade and export of a wine produced in Montepulciano’s area.
In 1685 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is also mentioned by the poet Francesco Redi, who, in addition to praising the work Bacchus in Tuscany (Montepulciano is the king of every wines!), wrote an ode to Count Federico Veterani dedicated exclusively to praise of the qualities of this wine.
The name Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was invented by Adamo Fanetti. Until 1930 and beyond, the wine was officially called “Vino rosso scelto di Montepulciano ” but Adamo called his wine “nobile” (noble). In 1925, Adamo Fanetti produced about 30 tons of Nobile, all bottled and sold to two IT Lire a bottle and had great appreciation. The increased success was at the first trade show of the wines held in Siena in 1931, organized by Ente Mostra-Mercato Nazionale dei Vini Tipici e Pregiati, when Mr. Tancredi Biondi-Santi, a friend and admirer of Adamo Fanetti, said this prophetic phrase: “this wine will have a future”. Fanetti must be considered the first producer of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. ‘Cantine Fanetti’ has promoted Vino Nobile di Montepulciano all over the world in the years following World War I, and in the years of “economic miracle” after World War II. Other companies, which until that date had produced mostly Chianti, followed the Adamo’s example and in 1937 founded a ‘Cantina Sociale’ (Vecchia Cantina di Montepulciano) with the intention of creating a structure for the marketing of wine produced even by small farmers.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a French wine Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) located around the village of Châteauneuf-du-Papein the Rhône wine region in southeastern France. It is one of the most renowned appellations of the southern part of the Rhône Valley. Vineyards are located around Châteauneuf-du-Pape and in the neighboring villages Bédarrides, Courthézon and Sorgues between Avignon and Orange and cover slightly more than 3,200 hectares or 7,900 acres (32 km2). Over 110,000 hectolitres of wine a year are produced here. More wine is made in this one area of southern Rhône than in the entirety of the northern Rhône region.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape roughly translates to “The Pope’s new castle” and, indeed, the history of this appellation is firmly entwined with papal history. In 1308, Pope Clement V, former Archbishop of Bordeaux, relocated the papacy to the town of Avignon. Clement V and subsequent “Avignon Popes” were said to be great lovers of Burgundy wines and did much to promote it during the seventy-year duration of the Avignon Papacy. At the time, wine-growing around the town of Avignon was anything but illustrious. While the Avignon Papacy did much to advance the reputation of Burgundy wines, they were also promoting viticulture of the surrounding area, more specifically the area 5-10 km north of Avignon close to the banks of the Rhône River. Prior to the Avignon Papacy, viticulture of that area had been initiated and maintained by the Bishops of Avignon, largely for local consumption.
Clement V was succeeded by John XXII who, as well as Burgundy wine, regularly drank the wines from the vineyards to the north and did much to improve viticultural practices there. Under John XXII, the wines of this area came to be known as “Vin du Pape”, this term later to become Châteauneuf-du-Pape. John XXII is also responsible for erecting the famous castle which stands as a symbol for the appellation.
In the 18th century, the wines were shipped under the name vin d’Avignon. Records from the early 19th century mention wines of the name Châteauneuf-du-Pape-Calcernier which seems to have been a lighter-style wine than the Châteauneuf-du-Pape of today. They seem to have increased in reputation within France until phylloxera hit in the early 1870s, which was earlier than most other French wine regions were affected. Prior to World War I the bulk of Châteauneuf-du-Pape was sold to Burgundy as vin de médecine to be added to Burgundy wine to boost the strength and alcohol levels.
“What has not changed through history is the romance associated with wine. It may well be that the historic accounts and anecdotes of great and memorable wines have more to do with the event at which the wine was served than with the wine itself. Nevertheless, it remains true that a fine bottle of wine makes a grand meal even grander, and many a simply picnic has become an unforgettable meal in the company of even the simplest of wine. It seems that nothing will change the fact that good wine can magnify the pleasure we find in good food and good company. This seemingly common-place piece of knowledge appears to have been at least readily accepted if not understood by our forebears.” Joe
“All The Best With Wine & Life”
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