Having a little more time after finishing my dissertation studies I decided to start cultivating my love of wine and what better way to start than reading about its history? And what a history wine has! It starts sometime between 8500 BC at the earliest and 4000 BC at the latest (p.11). The book is perfect for afternoon readings, especially if you have a glass of nice wine to accompany it.
John Varriano carefully selects historical sources to carry you through the journey of wine making and consumption, from ancient times to modern day times. It is beautifully illustrated with works of art: sculpture, pottery, paintings and lithographs, all thoughtfully inserted to make the reading more enjoyable. It made me aware of the importance of wine in all rituals and aspects of life, in ancient Greece, where the drank wine mixed with water, than in ancient Rome, where members of high class used to feast on wine taking it as a reminder of momento mori and carpe diem, whilst also encouraging the people to drink it for medicinal purposes. Often time throughout the history wine was used to cure various ailments both topically and internally.
Galen’s account of wine usage for treating wounds is one of the most vast and attentively constructed medical books of those times, widely used until late 17th century, describes mixes of herbs with wine and even usage of wine as a disinfectant for open wounds. It really made me think twice about what natural medicine can do in order to cure diseases, especially those linked to mineral deficiencies.
The story of wine and how it became widely enjoyed by all people also describes the first wine with controlled denomination, Château Haut-Brion – founded by Jean de Pontac- 1550, to be named by the region where it was made. Wine continued to be enjoyed by members of high class, royalties and popes (Châteauneuf “Vin du Pape” – 1316-1334) (p. 103). The pleasure and rituals associated with wine are depicted beautifully in art. Works of art: painting of Michellangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Bellini and Titian, Rubens, Poussins, Vermeer, and sculptures and lithographs embroider the story and make you wish you could see them all first hand.
Modern time abounds with pictures, descriptions and studies all hailing the benefits of moderate wine consumption. Starting with wine’s effect as a means of aiding people suffering from minor social inhibition and continuing with recent studies suggesting that by drinking wine we attain longevity and better health, the list is vast. It makes you wonder why with every meal you don’t appreciate the curative and pleasurable effects of moderate wine consumption. It definitely makes me want to know more about wine and cultivate my taste so I can enjoy both the health benefits and also the small pleasures of life.