Wine is a pleasure, a passion and has a definite place in history. Long before we learnt the importance of knowing what we like, conducting taste tests and storing our favourite bottles in sturdy and stylish wine racks wine was making its mark on the world and its history. To give you a little taste of all things to do with our favourite tipple – past and present – here are ten random but remarkable facts about the world of wine:
1. Californian wine is a favourite all over the world but in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake 30 million gallons of wine were lost; one of the biggest blows to the wine industry after the Great French Wine Blight in the mid-19th century which destroyed 40% of French vines over a fifteen year period.
2. The world of wine is a complex one with all sorts of technical details and scientific elements to get your head around; on top of that, it has its own language. For example, any connoisseur will know that a young wine’s smell is known as an aroma whereas more mature wines have a more subtle fragrance known as a bouquet.
3. Wine was so important in ancient Babylon that it had a mention in the Code of Hammurabi, the oldest set of laws known to exist. The Babylonian code dates back to around 1772 BC and states that any wine merchants found to be deceiving their customers would be drowned in the river as punishment.
4. Many celebrities have sponsorship deals and all sorts of entrepreneurial pursuits but recently the world’s A-Listers have taken a shining to vines. There are more and more celebrity-owned vineyards appearing, just like the Napa Valley (California) vineyard David Beckham bought for his wife Victoria’s 34th birthday.
5. When our wines and champagnes aren’t topping up our glasses or filling up our wine racks they are symbols of pride and national identity or used as good luck charms. Champagne for example is well known for christening new boats, giving the vessels a celebratory toast and some good fortune for their maiden voyages. The champagne-christening ritual was started by the Vikings who originally christened their boats with human blood, hoping to appease their gods and bless their vessels with luck. Red wine eventually replaced the blood before champagne became the more glamorous libation of choice.
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6. It is widely accepted that the more mature a wine is the better its quality in terms of taste and aroma. That said it is thought that approximately 90% of the world’s wine is consumed less than two years after its vintage date. Identifying a wine’s exact vintage however is a bit of a grey area. In the Northern Hemisphere grape growing season is May to September which means once the grapes are harvested it is too late to bottle them in the same year, so the bottling happens the next year instead.
7. Whilst Californian and Australian wines are among the most popular on the market, France and Italy still reign supreme for the most part. Italy is a wine-making machine with more than 2000 planted grape varieties and nearly three millennia of being in the wine-making business. France’s popular Bordeaux region is renowned for its red wines but before socio-political factors affected the region in the 1970s, more than 80% of land in Bordeaux was dedicated to the production of white wine.
8. Where wine is concerned, across the pond they go big or go home. This is perfectly demonstrated by the collaboration between an American glass designer and a Czech glass production company which resulted in the world’s biggest wine bottle. The project took a team working for over a month to complete and it ended up weighing 264 pounds. Of course whatever its size, a wine bottle is no good empty so the “Maximus” bottle is filled with Napa Valley’s Caymus 2007 Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon.
9. Champagne is a favourite luxury tipple for people to enjoy far and wide. The crisp taste, the fun fizz and the anticipation of the cork going pop all add to the charm of this drink. However, the battle to break through the wire cage protecting the cork is another matter. What may (or may not) have crossed your mind as you twist and wiggle the wire cage away is what on earth that cage is called. Well the answer is: muselet, originating from the French word meaning “to muzzle”. An apt name for such a contraption.
10. These days we all happily save up our pennies to purchase a bottle or two of our favourite wine. Back in the ancient world though wine was a universal currency. Long before reds and rosés became evening treats they were used by Romans and Greeks who would trade wine for slaves and metals.