Large wine presses, barrels and old bottling equipment demonstrate how much work was involved before wine could reach the palate. Making wine today is no picnic, and it sure wasn’t 500 years ago! Wine was considered a “divine” drink that only the most fortunate could drink (literally and figuratively).
Considering how much work it took to care for the grapes, vintners were never pleased to see anyone helping themselves to them. If someone was caught stealing, he was chased through the village with a shrew’s fiddle restraint around his neck. At least, that is how it was done in Hassloch around 1790, a small community in the Bad Dürkheim district in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.
Note: If you go online and look for images of a shrew’s fiddle – which is what I did for research purposes – beware of the potential lewd content ; )
Châteauneuf-du-Pape roughly translates to “the pope’s new castle” and, indeed, the history of this appellation is firmly entwined with papal history. In 1308, Pope Clement V relocated the papacy from Rome to the town of Avignon, in the Rhône region of France. For the next 70 years, wine-growing around the town of Avignon was anything but illustrious. While the Avignon Papacy did much to advance the reputation of Burgundy wines (which they loved), they were also promoting viticulture of the surrounding area, more specifically the area 5-10 km north of Avignon close to the banks of the Rhône River.
Clement V was succeeded by John XXII who did much to improve viticultural practices. Under John XXII, the wines of this area came to be known as “Vin du Pape”, which later became Châteauneuf-du-Pape. John XXII is also responsible for erecting the famous castle which stands as a symbol for the appellation.
Fun fact: The Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the early 1900’s was a much lighter-style wine than the Châteauneuf-du-Pape of today. Prior to World War I the bulk of Châteauneuf-du-Pape was sold to Burgundy as “vin de médecine” to be added to Burgundy wine to boost the strength and alcohol levels.
The wine from that region being cheaper than Burgundy wine, many wine merchants from the Bourgogne region would buy a great deal of barrels from there. They would bottle the wine themselves, only to sell it in Bourgogne with an obvious advantage: a lower price tag. This practice is no longer allowed but I had the pleasure to enjoy one of those bottles (vintage 1947) during one of my many trips to Burgundy… and that’s another story!
“It’s a rock! A peak! A cape! – A cape? Forsooth! It’s a peninsula!” – Cyrano De Bergerac
Robert Parker’s nose doesn’t take part in those above allegories, but it is worth $1 million, hence the popular allusion to “the million-dollar nose”. Parker’s unparalleled talents with taste and smell has made him the leading arbiter of quality wine. Back in 1978, he created the monthly newsletter called The Baltimore-Washington Wine Advocate (renamed The Wine Advocate a year later) and quickly became the most influential wine critic in the world. Winemakers, growers and consumers listen to Robert Parker the way Wall Street listens to Alan Greenspan. Parker’s memory is extraordinary. He says during a CBS interview with Charlie Rose “he can describe the more than 200,000 wines he’s tasted” and we all believe him. Why? Because of his well-founded credibility. Parker has worked really hard at what he does, and he dedicated the past 40 years to wine. That’s quite an investment that needs proper insurance. In 2008, Robert Parker insured his nose and palate for $1 million.
Fun Fact: While some people treasure his newsletter, others decide to ignore his 100-point system as it reduces the mystery and poetry of wine to a mathematical formula. They deny that anyone can “objectively” evaluate wine. As this may be true, Parker’s influence on the world of wine is an undeniable fact. If a château gets a 100 they simply multiply their prices by four which is exactly what Château Mouton did in 1982 after Parker bestows his blessing of perfection.
According to Hungarian legend the first aszú (a wine using botrytised grapes) was made by Laczkó Máté Szepsi (a preacher, teacher, historian and also a poet) in 1630. When vineyard classification began in 1730 in the Tokaj region, one of the gradings given to the various terroirs centered on their potential to develop Botrytis Cinerea. In a separate region, a popular myth is that the practice originated independently in Germany in 1775, where the Riesling producers at Schloss Johannisberg (Geisenheim, in the Rheingau region) traditionally waited for the estate owner’s command, Heinrich von Bibra, Bishop of Fulda, before cutting their grapes. In this year (so the legend goes), the abbey messenger was robbed en route to delivering the order to harvest and the cutting was delayed for three weeks, time enough for the Botrytis to take hold. The grapes were presumed worthless and given to local peasants, who produced a surprisingly good, sweet wine which subsequently became known as Spätlese, or late harvest wine.
• Learn about the meaning of noble rot and Botrytis in Wine Facts [Part 6].
“There’s something about being able to literally consume a work of art – then to divide all that pleasure of it – because it’s a memory. A great wine for me is a memory, it’s an extraordinary experience.” – Robert Parker (enjoy more memorable wine quotes here.)