Wine-server at a Greek symposium, ca. 490-480
Yesterday I read in one of Britain’s wine trade magazines that most people
are not interested in being educated about wine, but instead prefer little
nuggets of information, or “dinner party one-liners” about the wines they’ve
bought. This is according to Justin Howard-Sneyd who is the global
consultant for one of the biggest wine companies in the UK. So ever eager to
provide a useful service, here’s a selection of nuggets with which you can
entertain and amaze your friends. If you learn enough of them, you might
qualify for the coveted qualification of Wine Bore of the Year.
* Wine is made on
every continent except Antarctica.
* The earliest traces
of wine were discovered in the Middle East and date from the Neolithic
period (8500-4000 BC).
* In ancient Greece,
it was expected that the host should drink the first cup of wine to
demonstrate that it was not poisoned.
* At the centre of
Greek intellectual life was the symposium, which literally means “drinking
together.” The symposium reflected the Greek fondness for mixing wine and
considered the father of medicine, includes wine in almost every one of his
recorded remedies. He used it for cooling fevers, as a diuretic, as a
general antiseptic, and to help convalescence.
* In ancient Rome it
was forbidden for women to drink wine. If a man found his wife drinking wine
he would be allowed, by law, to kill her.
* The colour of wine
can often tell you where it’s from. The darkest reds and the yellowiest
whites invariably come from warm climates.
* A crop of
newly-planted vines takes four to five years before grapes can be harvested.
* Almost all wine
grapes produce colourless juice. Red wines get their colour from the skins,
which are included in the mix when red wines are fermented.
* It’s thought that
red wines have many beneficial antioxidants such as polyphenol and
resveratrol that could have cardio-protective effects and anti-cancer
properties. Grape skins are especially rich in antioxidants so red wines
contain more than white wines.
* The Chinese consumed
a record 155 million cases of red wine in 2013 thereby beating the French,
whose consumption fell to 150 million cases. However, many Chinese people
mix red wines with Coca-Cola and Sprite to make them more palatable.
* There are about 400
species of oak, though only about twenty are used in making oak barrels. The
average age of a French oak tree harvested to make quality wine barrels is
about a hundred and seventy years old.
* Most wines taste of
fruit. Only rarely does a wine taste like grapes or raisins and usually it’s
made from Muscat grapes.
* In Alabama, it’s
illegal to buy any alcoholic beverages by telephone, fax or e-mail.
* It’s illegal to send
wine through the US Postal Service, and about half the states ban the
shipping of wine even by private carriers.
* Contrary to popular
belief, few wines improve with age. Ninety percent of all wines should be
consumed within two years.
* It takes about
two-and-a-half pounds of grapes to make one bottle of wine.
* Wine is made from
about 1,200 different grape varieties.
* The majority of the
wine grapes grown in the world are red, the top three being Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo.
* Irish folklore has
it that fairies are fond of good wine. The proof lies in the fact that when
a jug of wine is left out for them at night, it is always gone by the
* People often think
of Chile as a relative newcomer to wine production but vines were first
planted there in 1554.
And talking of which,
Chilean wines continue to offer excellent value especially those from Viña
Ventisquero which was established in 1998. The company is one of Chile’s
most successful wine producers and during the last five years it has won
many accolades. These wines are available at several different outlets, so
the prices shown here are just a rough guide.
Ventisquero Clásico Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (white),
Chile (Bt. 470 @ various outlets)
This Sauvignon Blanc (SOH-vee-nyon
BLAHN) is a greenish-yellow colour and has a lovely fresh, grassy aroma
with hints of lemon and herbs. There’s even a suggestion of bananas and
pineapples. Sauvignon Blanc generally has a bit more “bite” than Chardonnay,
so if your palette is becoming jaded with the ever-present Chardonnay, give
this one a try. The fresh taste comes as a pleasant surprise, because some
Sauvignon Blancs are so astringent they can make you shudder. But not this
one. At just 12.5% alcohol, it has a light smooth body and good fruit. It’s
pretty dry of course, but the makers have gone easy on the acid, so that it
doesn’t dominate the taste. There’s a good long lemony aftertaste, which
makes me feel that the wine could partner some fish dishes or lightly
prepared chicken. It would work well with some Thai dishes too, provided
that they’re not too fiery. Drink it as cold as you dare.
Ventisquero Clásico Merlot 2012 (red), Chile (Bt. 470
@ various outlets)
Merlot (mehr-LOH) is a deep red, with hints of purple. When you first
sniff the wine, you might pick up the faint and pleasing hint of yeast. The
aroma has rich, ripe berries with overtones of pepper and herbs. Although
the wine is dry, there’s a very fruity taste with the slightest hint of
tannin and a long satisfying dry finish too. This wine would be excellent
with red meat or assertive pasta dishes, but this is quite a full-bodied job
and would almost certainly overpower light meals or chicken, both of which
need a lighter - or whiter - wine.
Oh, and before I
forget, another interesting nugget. Dark green wine bottles were invented by
Sir Kenelm Digby, a seventeenth century English polymath and diplomat, who
also managed his family’s coal-fired gasworks. I bet you didn’t know that.