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A little wine history

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Hollenbeck logoIn the canyons of Wall Street there is a landmark restaurant, Fraunces Tavern, a favorite of George Washington. Over the bar at the Tavern there is printed a phrase, “De gustibus non disputandum est.” For those of you who are not Latin scholars, this phrase is commonly used to mean, “There is no accounting for taste.”

De Gustibus is the title we have chosen for some notes about wine. We admit to being quite fond of wine and when Emily, the Enterprise Editor, started printing her wonderful food articles we thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to add short articles about wine.” The article we had just read was about cornbread and we laughed out loud when we tried to figure out what wine would be good to drink with cornbread! The fact is, “it doesn’t matter. Drink what you like.” That’s what de gustibus means and that is our basic philosophy about these wine notes. De Gustibus.Nobody can tell you what to like.

We don’t pretend to be a wine expert, but over some years we have experienced the great, the good, the bad and the ugly of wines. These notes are our attempt to share some of the lessons learned along the way. We think of them as The Joy of Wine. For those readers more sophisticated and more experienced than we, we say “Great. Tell us what you would like to share.” So here goes, our first note ... a little wine history.

Start with the fact that wine has been around for a very long time … since the Stone Age, 4000-6000 BCE in Armenia. By the times of the Roman Empire wine drinking was widespread. Pompeii, eventually covered by 9 feet of volcanic ash, had 20,000 citizens and 100 wine bars and 20 wine stores. The first real wine writer was Pliny the Elder, 200 years before Julius Caesar. Caesar was a great wine lover, his favorite wines were Greek. His favorite Roman wine was called Mamertine and you can still buy Mamertine today—a dry, strong undistinguished (by today’s standards) white wine.

Wine figures prominently in the Holy Bible. Jesus’s first miracle was to make wine out of water at a wedding when the wine supply ran out (John 2). And of course, wine was an essential ingredient of the Last Supper.

Scroll forward to more modern times … what did the Pilgrims drink? On the ships coming over they drank beer. Upon landing in the New World they wanted to unload some beer but the sailors, afraid of running out on the way back to England, refused to let them take any ashore. Without the resources to make beer, those early settlers drank mostly hard cider at that first Thanksgiving.

In colonial times, people had learned that drinking water made you sick, so all day they drank fermented beverages like beer, ale, cider and wine. Children drank “small beer,” brewed from the leftover hops and had little alcohol. On average, colonials drank a gallon of ale a day. They believed alcohol was good for your health and doctors even prescribed it for patients. Alcohol was served at social events, funerals, court hearings and business meetings. Thomas Jefferson was quite a wine lover, importing French wines and even building an underground wine cellar at Monticello to store his wine under lock and key.

Such good times could not last forever. By the early 1800s many people were drinking rum and whiskey and society was plagued with an epidemic of alcoholism and the accompanying problems and social ills. And so was formed the temperance movement which became a major political force. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution (Prohibition) took effect in 1920 until repealed by the 21st amendment in 1933.

So much for history. Our purpose here has been to show how much drinking wine has been a part of society from the earliest times until today. Like it or not, wine is now widely available throughout the U.S. and Texas and even in Polk County (since 2006). Given that for so long so many people have enjoyed wine and that so much has been written about it, (even movies made about it), there must be something there worth learning about.

Sharing information about wine is what these wine notes will be about. We are not ones to encourage you to drink wine; our goal is to help you become a better informed wine drinker, or non-drinker … de gustibus.

As for these notes, here is a “teaser” for the next one: Did you know that all grapes are white on the inside, and that red wine comes from the red grape skin, not from the grape? What else would you like to know about grapes? Send your questions and comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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