Thursday, March 29, 2012

More on spiced wine (really)

Continuing John in Santa Cruz's March 26 discussion: So, do any
winemakers today experiment with spicing wine? If so, are
any of them any good? And do winemakers have any idea
what grape Falernian was or how to make it?
Doc Lang replies:
According to Wikipedia, Falernian was Aglianico, a wine
prized by Romans and grown on the slopes of Mt. Falernus
between Latium and Campania. Now I too am reading Spice,
The History of Temptation
, and Turner cites a medieval
compilation of ancient writings that gives this recipe
for a spiced honey wine: "six scruples of myrrh, 12 scruples
of cassia, two scruples of costus, four scruples of nard,
four scruples of pepper, six pints of Attic honey, 24 pints
of wine and store in the sun at the rise of the dog-star
for 40 days. Some call this nectar." My problem with the
recipe is basic: what's a scruple? (Don't think I've ever
had one.) From further reading I find that spiced wines
fell from favor in the 16th Century with the development
of the technology of bottling and corking. It was no longer
necessary to disguise the spoiling of wine, primarily with
cinnamon, cloves, cassia, ginger and pepper. Until air-tight
sealing, wines quickly went sour in poorly made casks and
leather sacks, and records of English royal accounts tell
of servants pouring barrels of wine down drains, and giving
it away to the poor. One Peter of Blois reported that wine
served in King Henry II’s court was "sour or musty, muddy,
greasy, rancid, reeking of pitch and quite flat. I have
witnessed occasions when such dregs were served to noblemen,
they had to sift it through clenched teeth and with their
eyes shut, trembling and grimacing…" Poor things.

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