- During my research for writing these emails I frequently come across interesting, or odd, facts about wine and winemaking. As they are often irrelevant to my current topic, (I know, when has being irrelevant ever stopped me?) I usually squirrel them away in the hope that I may be able to use them in the future.
As this fact file is getting rather fat, I thought I share some of them with you today. Hopefully there's a few in here that will enlighten, or amuse, you.
- The, officially, oldest known winery in the world is in the mountains of Armenia and has been dated back to 4100BC. An international team of researchers discovered a drinking bowl, a grape press, a cup, and fermentation jars, dating to about 6,100 years ago, in the cave at the area called Areni-1. Older evidence of wine drinking has been found, but this is the earliest example of complete wine production.
- Ancient Romans believed that seasoning was more important than the main flavor of wine. They often added fermented fish sauce, garlic, lead and absinthe.
- The "legal drinking age" was determined by the Greek Philosopher Plato. He wrote that the minimum age to consume wine should be 18. "After 18 years of age a person should drink moderately up to the age of 31. Later drink as much as you can to fight the crabbedness of old age".
- “Drinking to one’s health” came from ancient Greece. The host of a dinner would take the first sip to assure his guests that the wine was not poisoned.
- Roman Historian Pliny the Elder rated 121 B.C. as a vintage “of the highest excellence.” This was the first known reference to a specific wine vintage.
- The world’s oldest bottle of wine was found near the town of Speyer, Germany. It dates before to A.D. 325 and is on display at the town’s museum.
- The dark green wine bottle was an English invention, the work of Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665). Previously wine had been kept in goat skin bags.
- California grape growers increased their cultivation by 700% during the first five years of Prohibition, in The United States. Winemakers made a concentrated grape juice, which was sold in "bricks" that came with the instruction, "After mixing the concentration in water, please don't store in a cool, dark place and do consume it within 20 days, as it turns into wine after that."
- In 1942, winemaker Fernando Van Zellar Guedes offered the owners of the Palace of Mateus, in Northern Portugal, a one off, lump sum payment, or a ‘royalty’ for each bottle sold, if he could use the name and image of their palace for his new wine. The Palace plumped for the lump sum. Over 1 billion bottles of Mateus Rosé have since been sold. (I have to admit, a fair few to me! I love it.)
By 1978, Mateus Rosé accounted for 40% of Portugal’s total wine exports, and its global sales hit 3.5 million cases, or 42 million bottles.
- Staying with Portugal, it produces around 340,000 tonnes of natural wine corks a year (50% of global consumption). That’s equivalent to 44,000 elephants! As it's such an important commodity, it’s illegal to cut down cork trees without permission irrespective if the tree is dead or alive.
- In 1985, Austria was involved in a scandal where around 4.5 million litres of wine was found to contain anti-freeze. Used to give wine extra body and a sweeter taste, the scam was uncovered by tax inspectors, when a wine broker claimed for large quantities of anti-freeze in his expenses.
- The average age of a French oak tree harvested for use in creating wine barrels, is 170 years.
- The Vatican tops the list of the heaviest wine drinking nations! With a full-time population (in 2020) of just over eight hundred, comprising priests, nuns and the Swiss Guards, Vatican City’s tiny populace consumed an average of 74 litres of wine each, which is roughly equivalent to 105 bottles during the course of a year. That makes over 59,000 litres for the smallest ‘country’ in the world which is even smaller in size than many Italian vineyards.
- Prince Charles runs his vintage Aston Martin DB6 Volante on wine (and cheese!) The car was a gift from the Queen for his 21st birthday and was converted to run on bioethanol made from wine and cheese back in 2008.
Speaking at the time, he explained: “They discovered they could run it on surplus English white wine, but also I hadn’t realised that they had mixed whey into it [the biofuel], too.
“The engineers at Aston said, ‘Oh, it’ll ruin the whole thing.’ I said, ‘Well, I won’t drive it then,’ so they got on with it and now they admit that it runs better and is more powerful on that fuel than it is on petrol.”
- In 1976, there was a wine tasting in Paris that blindly compared Californian wines to French wines. California won and the lone reporter covering the event was blacklisted, throughout France, for reporting it.
- All Royal Navy vessels wishing to enter The Port of London are still required to give a gift of a barrel of rum, or wine, to the Constable of the Tower of London, upon entry.
- The most expensive bottle of wine ever sold was a 1945 Domaine Romanee-Conti Burgundy sold in Sotheby's auction house in 2018. A collector paid $558,000 for the standard 750 ml bottle. Another bottle of the same wine sold shortly thereafter for $496,000. And then (wow!), three bottles of the 1937 were sold for $310,000 each. All the bottles came from the cellar of Burgundy winemaker Robert Drouhin.
I hope at least some of these were new, or interesting to you. I'll leave you with a Medieval German saying which, for some strange reason, resonates with me!
Drink wine, and you will sleep well. Sleep, and you will not sin. Avoid sin, and you will be saved. Ergo, drink wine and be saved.
If you have any interesting facts of your own, please feel free to comment below.
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