Stick a Cork in It

Where have we been? While Americans were guzzling cocktails and beer, Europeans were enjoying the smooth and flavorful delights of the almighty grape. It took decades for the U.S. to realize what they were missing, and wine has become a welcome addition not only with dinners out, but at home.If you are old enough to remember, in the 60′s and 70′s there were some popular not-so-great wines called Boone’s Farm Apple, Cold Duck, Lancer’s Rose, Ripple and Mateus. In college, we thought they were great (and cheap), but to a refined palette, they were unacceptable, and, adding insult to injury, many had screw tops (a crime to be sure). No wonder so many eschewed wine, except at fine restaurants which featured fine wines to accompany their fine cuisine. I mean, really, no offense to the good folks who produce Boone’s Farm, but apple wine with a screw top? (The Velveeta of wines) Yikes.To be honest, this author, a native Midwesterner, did not become a wine aficionado until her move to California in the late 1990′s. Viola! Napa Valley, richly populated with wineries, became the Holy Grail, and a great dinner just wasn’t complete without a glass or two of wine (make mine white, please). And happy hour accompanied by cheese and crackers… well, hey, now you’re talking.

It is common knowledge that the countries of France and Italy have been synonymous with wine, it seems forever. Monks and brothers in monasteries have been producing it for centuries, and it wasn’t all just for Sacrament (no hate mail, please). Persia (now Iran) frequently depicted wine in their tapestries and paintings, and Egyptians placed jugs of it in tombs.Wine is mentioned frequently throughout the Bible, and Noah was reportedly drunk on the stuff after the flood (who could blame him). Spirits were consumed daily by many cultures, and in some countries ale and beer were preferred as a beverage of choice. The French still offer watered down wine to their children in limited quantities, insuring an early start to their signature beverage.So, where did it all begin, anyway?Archaeologists have found evidence of wine as far back as 7000 B.C. in areas of China and Iran, and later in Italy and Greece. It is believed that in ancient areas of Armenia, wineries actually existed to supply their populace. Wine was originally a significant part of religious practices in Judeo and Christian ceremonies, although Islam forbade it. If enough was consumed, an individual’s altered state could be considered a religious experience. Wine was also served at feasts and celebrations throughout the world. The Greeks and Romans offered up wine to their gods, and even named one after their favorite beverage, Bacchus, the god of wine.While no one knows when grapes started being cultivated for wine production on a large scale, various berries and grapes grew wild in the Middle East, and after storing them for several weeks, a fermentation process took place with the end result quite pleasant. Possibly around 4000 B.C. domestic grapes were grown for consumption as a fruit and also a beverage. The French and Romans would like to think it began with them, (sorry, guys) but truth be told, it was more likely that we can thank the Middle East for starting the ball rolling when grapes were specifically grown for wine production.

To be sure, this glorious beverage called wine caught on across the globe, well before it became a part of Christian ceremonies, and no culture seems to have been left out. Whether your preference calls for bold Burgundy, a light Rose, slightly sweet Riesling, plain old Chianti, this author’s favorite, Pinot Grigio or the bubbly delights of Champagne, run don’t walk to the nearest wine-tasting room and enjoy. But beware the screw tops. Probably not a good idea.