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Wine Wise - What is This Wine?

( Originally Published 1933 )

ONE evening, not so long ago, a friend who was a dinner guest in my home held up his glass of wine, gave the contents a slight twirl, inhaled the bouquet of the wine, sipped and tasted slowly, then asked, "What is this wine?"

That question I have answered many times by merely giving the name of the wine and its age, but this fellow was an inquisitive soul. He was only partially satisfied with the name of a wine. He wanted to know all about the wine in question, how it differed from other wines and why.

"All wine is a riddle to me," he said. "I know that I like it. The color intrigues me. Its aroma pleases me. Its taste leaves a fine, clean effect in my mouth. It warms me inside and makes me feel friendly and kindly. But why?"

Now, I have spent the busy hours and the spare moments, too, of a long and full life delving into the lore of wine. I have read almost every work that has been written about wine and I have talked with many of the leading wine authorities, yet I cannot answer that question completely. Wine is still a riddle to me, as it is to most wine makers. It is a gift from heaven, you might say, granted by Nature in a generous mood for the welfare and happiness of mankind.

Wine is-as my friend and I agreed-certainly far more than a drink to quench the thirst or a pleasant way to imbibe alcohol for the stimulation of the body. It appeals to all the senses save hearing. Wine touches the intellect, the spirit, and the soul as well. It is an aid both in sickness and in health. Good wine has the magic to make us forget the grosser things of life-it tints the horizon with a more rosy hue, it makes us happier, it inspires us to finer things, it makes us all feel kin-but why?

An interesting side light on Prohibition is that its hardships on the wine makers of the United States led them to do much scientific experimenting to find a way to make a "wine" without the forbidden alcoholic content. They never did solve that problem, because wine without the necessary alcohol is not wine. But they did learn much about the control of fermentation, and they discovered how to concentrate and preserve grape juice so that fermentation could be arrested until it was wanted. It is as yet too soon to judge the importance of these discoveries, but I have heard wine makers say that more was learned about scientific wine making during the thirteen years of Prohibition than in hundreds of years preceding it. That may be an exaggeration, but this I do know-American wine makers, as the result of recent developments, have the most dependable, most sanitary methods in the world today, and American wines in the next few years should be, on the average, as fine as, if not finer than, those from any other land.

So much for the cold scientific side of wine. It doesn't explain the riddle of wine. It doesn't explain whether it is accident or not, that the use of wine has been associated, since ancient times, with the finer things of life. Wine-drinking nations have been notably in the advance guard of civilization since pre-Biblical times. Homer, Athenaeus and Virgil extolled the wines of the ancient Greeks. Horace, Pliny, Plutarch and a host of Latin writers glorified wines in the lives of the Romans, whose legions spread the culture of the vine to Spain, Portugal, France and Germany, and even established wine making in England. For two thousand years, great writers, poets, artists and statesmen have credited wine with the magic to stimulate the creative mind to greater achievements.

The Scriptures abound with wine lore, from Genesis, in which it is recorded that Noah first planted a vineyard, to the New Testament, which tells how Christ turned water into wine as his first miracle and served wine to his disciples for The Last Supper. King Solomon's glories included, among others, his vineyards. And was it not St. Paul who counselled Timothy to "drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities"? These references are interesting not as justifications of wine-for wine no longer needs moral justification, even in this land-but because they reveal the use of wine through the ages.

The wine lore which is our heritage today is a gift from all of the great wine-drinking nations. Each has contributed in its way to the art of better living. Each has helped develop appropriate customs that accompany the use and serving of wines. To each we are indebted in some way for the pleasures that are ours if we use wine properly and temperately.

The novice in wine making may be inclined to smile or scoff at some of these pretty formalities. This is particularly true in the United States, where Prohibition and the cocktail craze have broken down the fine conventions that have associated wine drinking with artistic and temperate living. However, it is not ours to laugh off customs that have through the centuries added to the enrichment of the lives of millions of people. Far better is the scheme of the open-minded person who takes for his own the best from the customs of many lands. I am going to review the growth of some of these customs because, all together, they make up the background of intelligent and enjoyable use of wine.

Consider for a moment the role that wine has played for sacramental purposes since before the days of Christ. The early Hebrew leaders, who were well in advance of the civilization of their time, recognized wine as a living thing and therefore accepted it as symbolical of life itself, a custom that was continued by the Christian church, no doubt because Christ Himself used wine in His miracles and at His Last Supper.

Quite aside from the religious significance of its use of wine we are indebted indeed to the church for development of some of our finest wines. During the Dark Ages, when many of the arts were under an eclipse, the monks in their monasteries patiently cultivated their vineyards and by the trial-and-error method succeeded in developing wines of the finest quality. In fact, many of the famous wines today can be traced directly back to vineyards and cellars which belong to the monasteries. And was it not a monk, Dom Perignon, who discovered the choicest item on the list, sparkling Champagne?

During the drought through which we have just passed, sacramental and medicinal wines continued to flow, of course, and while the total volume of wine manufactured for this purpose was modest, it was nevertheless sufficient to enable many of the makers of our finest wines to keep their wineries and cellars in operation. Thus they are able to start off with precious stocks of wine and without having lost the secret of making good wines. Once the manufacture of wines for beverage purposes gets under way again, it will not be long before all the nation's wineries will be turning out their full quota of wines.

For many of the customs of using wines for festive occasions we are indebted to the Romans. It was they who first demonstrated how the flowing bowl could lift the spirits of the people and make them happy and convivial. It is true that the Romans learned the art of wine making and wine using from the ancient Greeks, who were the first early peoples to associate the use of wines with better living. But wherever the conquering legions of Rome penetrated, they carried with them not only the laws and the customs of Rome, but introduced likewise the vine. They carried the art of wine making to France, Spain, Portugal, Northern Africa, Germany, Austria and even England. The Romans made the wine a world wide staple of commerce, and their soldiers taught the people of many lands to enjoy its uses. The hillside slopes of Italy which they converted into fine vineyards have been continued to this day by the laughter loving sons and daughters of Italy, to whom wine is ever a symbol of festive occasions.

In the great American melting pot, the children of Italy have contributed their gay part. It is interesting to note that prior to Prohibition the majority of Americans who drank wine did so largely for celebrations such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's or anniversaries of one kind or another. This happy custom may be our heritage from the customs of Italy, Spain, Portugal or the other Latin lands.

It has always seemed to me that the great contribution of France to the art of wine drinking, and southern Germany, too, for that matter, was the development of wine as an article of diet. To a Frenchman wine is an item of food quite as much as his bread. The French and Germans have concentrated on the development of wines which are light, wholesome, delightful to the eye, nose and the palate, and they have been without a doubt the leaders in the use of wines in the most temperate manner, Somehow I cannot picture either a Frenchman or a German caring for wine without food nor can I imagine a Frenchman partaking of his food without wine.

Nor has the Frenchman limited his interest in wine merely to drinking it with his meals. With ever an eye to those adroit culinary tricks which change an ordinary staple food product into a work of gastronomic art, the French have long recognized the value of wine in cooking. This is more or less a lost art in our land except for the works of great chefs in the large hotels and restaurants. It is an art which should be developed in every home. Good cooking wines are readily available. They help to make a meal out of commonplace foods.

The use of highly fortified sweet wines for medicinal and sociable purposes is a custom which we learned probably from the British. No doubt the cold foggy days of his isles have made the Britisher long for something to warm the marrow of his bones. This accounts for his love of whisky and soda, and for gene-rations British people have been great consumers of Port and other strong heady wines of high alcoholic content.

In this country we have just passed through what we often term "the gin and whisky age." The use of wines for cocktails and for hospitality when friends drop in for an evening or at card parties would be a great improvement over the hard liquor diet. Even fortified wines temperately used will leave no bad "morning after" feeling. It is to be hoped, now that wines are once more available, that the American people will discover and use them unadulterated for sociable purposes.

Only in the temperate zones, and even then in only a comparatively few countries, are good wine producing nations. Throughout the ages men have been searching for substitutes for the grape in making fermented beverages. They have used wheat, barley, corn, rice and many kinds of fruit. Even the stocks of plants, such as palms, have been used. But no one has ever found a satisfactory substitute for grapes because, while the yeast would work out potent ferments from other sugar-bearing sub-stances, the resulting "wallop" was often too full of headaches. Only the juices of the grape produced a blend of exquisite liquids, aromas and tastes designed to make man healthier and happier.

Wine is particularly interesting because of what it will do for a normal human being to help make his life more enjoyable without in any way exacting a price for that enjoyment. We are assuming, of course, that the wine is used. as it should be, with the proper foods and in moderation. The person of immoderate taste could consume too much of anything, even water, for his own good and welfare. Wine has been associated through the ages with temperance. Only the few who have abused wine as did Noah, according to the Bible story have failed to realize its benefits. In this land we are emerging from a Dark Age so far as the proper and intelligent use of wine is concerned. We have been denied its uses so long that not one of ten persons really understands how to get the most enjoyment out of wine.

A primary function of wine, of course, is as the complement to good meals. Wine is a food in itself, containing vitamins, acids and ingredients which physicians have long extolled for their health giving qualities. But meritorious as is wine as a food, its value as a complement to food is even greater. Good wine adds a finishing touch to a meal just as does a fine table service or the proper environment for food, or as does music. Good wine will make a fine meal even better. It will make a mediocre meal a good one enjoyable to all by aiding digestion, by relaxing the host and guests, by stirring within their breasts the urge to be sociable and congenial. Good wine brings life to the part without resulting in the bad effects that the modern cocktail has on some people.

Yet to get the most out of the various types of wines, the host who offers them must serve them properly.

That involves certain principles which have been learned through the years by the millions of people who have benefited from the use of wines. Unfortunately, the younger generation in this land knows little about wines. Therefore, they must learn what the Frenchman, the Italian, the German knows from childhood. What are the right wines to serve with foods? The temperature at which to serve wines? The wines which have the best effect upon certain temperaments.

The author would not go so far as to say that wine is lost entirely upon the user if it is improperly served. But the proper service of wines gives you greater enjoyment. It is this intangible plus quality about wines that has made them through the years appeal so strongly to those who have given real thought to the art of good living. In this little volume the author expects to be very practical and to talk about the uses of wines in a most simple manner. He is going to talk about what wines are good for various purposes. In so doing he is going to think of wines in somewhat the following order:

First, table wines. This covers the use of dry white and red wines as an item of the daily diet of the average American family. The wine service under these circutnstances may not necessarily be an elaborate or expensive luxury. The proper use of wine with meals calls primarily for a selection of good wine to complement or set off the main dish of the meal.

Second, festive wines for special events such as birthday celebrations, wedding dinners, or occasions when host or hostess undertakes to make the meal not only a meal but something of an entertainment as well. Such occasions call for the service of several kinds of wine in the proper order with just enough ceremony to make the meal a gracious and successful affair.

Third, cocktail wines for after dinner and purely sociable purposes. The serving of cocktails for refreshments at card parties and when friends drop in for the evening is a custom which has grown out of the prohibition era, when it was impossible to secure good wines for beverage purposes. The proper wine makes a much more satisfactory sociability drink than gin or whisky concoctions. When good wines are readily available at reasonable prices, the hard liquor habit will no doubt give way to the custom of serving a glass of wine as an act of hospitality.

Fourth, medicinal wines really a misnomer because any good wine is more than a medicine even though it has been sold under that name for the past thirteen years. The health giving qualities of wine have been recognized for so many generations that wines used for this purpose should be known as health wines.

Fifth, cooking wines. The use of wines for seasoning to delight the palates of discriminating diners is an art well known to professional cooks and is one that has been sadly overlooked in the average American kitchen. Just as wine served with food adds life to the meal, so wine used in preparing certain dishes lifts them out of the ordinary and makes them a work of art. In this connection, the wine drinker should favor use of wine vinegar for his salads for the reason that ordinary malt and cider vinegars and wine are natural enemies. They fight each other not only upon the palate of the user, but in his stomach as well. Wine vinegar, on the other hand, is a close kin of wine itself and therefore is on good terms with good wine.

The wine wise person finds in good wines a subtle something found in no other food or drink. More able writers than the author have undertaken to describe these intagibles of wine in prose and poetry. Too often they have missed their mark because the good in wine is something that the wine drinker must discover for himself. Therefore, the writer contents himself with talking not so much about wine as the uses of wine. While wine defies all of the rules of logic in so many ways, it is futile to reduce wines to words. We all recall the old school-day principles that you could not add, we will say, apples and peaches and other unlike articles. Good wine defies even the rules of arithmetic. It is a marvelous combination of liquids, acids, salts, aromas, esters and colors so beautifully blended that like a medley of sound that makes music they are simply one harmonious result which we call wine.

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