A question on wine

Discussion in 'Research' started by thedarknessrising, Mar 14, 2017.

  1. thedarknessrising

    thedarknessrising Mystagogue

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    I've been writing fantasy since before I was legally allowed to drink alcohol (21 years old in the states, for any non US members). So I've never really been sure how to write about the taste of alcohol, the effects of it, etc. I turned 21 recently, and had my first glass of wine last night.

    When I drank it, it had this horribly bitter taste to it. Apparently, that's what "dry" wine means, according to my mom. She told me to add some Sprite in it to sweeten it up a bit. Which got me wondering.

    What would they have done in medieval times to sweeten up an otherwise dry wine? Would they just drink it as is and not care, or did they add something to it to make it a little sweeter and more pleasant?
     
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Mythic Scribe

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    Sometimes they would drink mulled wine, which is wine heated up (possibly to boiling?) and blended with various spices. There's also the possibility of adding honey, or simply drinking mead, which is an alcoholic drink made from fermented honey.
     
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  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Valar Lord

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    Wine have got a lot stronger in the last few [hundred] years as science behind the fermentation has improved. Modern wines often 10-15% alcohol [up to 20% and more if your play your cards right...] were as more traditional method of fermentation were closer to 7% but varied widely.
    All except the very sweetest wines are [to me] fairly bitter. It's the flavours that go along with it that I enjoy.
    @Ireth You should never boil [mulled] wine, just warm it up until its a bit cooler than you would drink a cup of tea. Any hotter and you are boiling off the alcohol, and then it's just bitter flavoured water....
    You can buy wine warming machines that will get the bottle up to exactly the right temperature, even up to "mulled".
     
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  4. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    There is also mead, which is honeyed wine and it's pretty sweet, especially if you add berries to it (my husband did a blueberry batch once). But generally, in medieval times they had everything from hospitals to sweeter wine. The wine world is a vast and delicious place, ripe with merlots that are smooth and sweet, cabernets that are a bit heavy and tangy but not bitter, there are sweet PORT dessert wines, and the Italian earthy wines.

    All you need to say is that the wine the character drank was sweet, smooth, with a hint of earth. (I sold wines for a living for 10 years, so ask away...) ;)
     
  5. SumnerH

    SumnerH Journeyman

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    Dry wine just means that it isn't sweet; it shouldn't be bitter. You're probably reacting more to tannins than to dryness; they're a byproduct of heavily oaked wines, which are popular today but were less common in the middle ages. Most medieval wines weren't aged nearly as long as modern ones are, and thus were less complex, less tannic, and somewhat sweeter. There are certainly sweet wines out there if you want them (start with a Muscat or a Valpolicella for a sweeter white or red, or anything labelled "dessert wine").

    If you want to know what "tannic" taste means, bite into a banana peel.

    In ancient times, adding pine resin and mixing your wine with water or even with salty sea water were approaches to improving the flavor of inferior wines. The Romans would smoke the wine made from lesser vintages.

    As noted by Ireth, spices and honey were often added to wine as well. And beginning in medieval times, wine was distilled and fortified into port, sherry, madeira and such, some of which was sweet (many ruby ports, Oloroso sherry, Bual madeira, etc).

    Then as now, though, a good dry wine was the most valuable--the above approaches (aside from the distilled/fortified wines) were meant for dealing with inferior wines, and experts warned against ruining a good wine by adulterating it.
     
  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    Another note, adding honey to wine you are about to drink is fine, but if you add honey to wine in order to bottle, the sugars could easily set off another fermentation in the bottle, without sulfiting. A 7% wine is going to be unstable, it's vinegar waiting to happen, and the wild yeasts they relied upon would yield all kinds of interesting results with stuck fermentations and such. Mead was also wildly inconsistent in alcohol content. There's lots of fun history with wine, little things like the French used oiled rags instead of cork into the 17th century. Until they had bottles which would store sideways, cork was impractical also, as it would dry out and allow oxygen into the bottle. If memory serves, decanting not only started as a way to settle the sediment before drinking but to air out the sulfur smell from preserving the wine... mmm, yummy!

    Dry is not simply a lack of sweet, practically speaking, it's a lot to do with acidity, a lot of that outside of tannins. Malolactic fermentation is critical to taming the acids, and oak will mellow acidity further. The "dry" of wine has several factors. I had a little winery, so I've some experience with joys of wine making, LOL. And better yet, with cold weather grapes... hello acids!
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2017
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  7. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Grandmaster

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    Was it red or white?

    I've only tried a handful, but I think white Moscato is the best (especially if you aren't a big drinker). Reds have a stronger taste-- often more dry & they're not so much something you sit and drink straight. They usually go with meats/dinner. Whites you could easily sit and drink (so much better IMO) they go with cheese / deserts. There's a big range in how dry a wine is, and yes, the first time it might taste nasty, but more exposure to it means it tastes better and better every time. A sip off father's cup here and there would have acclimated a child in no time. And if it didn't, he might be too frightened of ridicule to say otherwise.

    For the teens here, (because I just know you're all good law abiding citizens who wouldn't dream of drinking before 21) the closest thing I would compare it to is the slight burn you feel in the back of your mouth and throat with Jarritos (those super carbonated Mexican sodas) or a strong ginger ale... but with more burn.

    To the OP - if you didn't care for wine, stay away from whiskey & tequila! Whiskey is literally the most foul thing I've ever tasted in my life, so naturally, my male characters drink it all the time :)

    Aside from straight up drunkenness (which I've also never experienced *virtual high five*). When you drink any alcohol, it makes your body feel warm (like drinking hot chocolate on a cold day, but more so). You feel it mostly in the throat and down into your stomach - it radiates from there. A bit of a buzz feels like your body is relaxed ... like stepping into a warm bath or curling up with a kitten on a comfy sofa. You might even get a bit lightheaded ... which means you should stop.

    As already noted, the alcohol content was much lower ... I also wouldn't be surprised if many taverns made their supplies go farther by watering it down.

    Hope this helps!
     
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    I'm not sure about alcohol content being so much lower, and again this depends on so many factors... sugar content can vary widely by region and growing year, plus the strain of wild yeast that happens to be sitting on the grape and native to the region. Watering down wine would be typical, in particular with an acidic vintage, but in the history of winemaking sea water has also been used in wine... I'm not exactly sure why, the salt probably smooths the acids? Also, as I mentioned, alcohol content is one good way to have a stable wine that fights spoilage (along with sulfites) so once distillation comes along, even a bad year of grape that would produce an unstable low alcohol wine could be fortified with brandy to preserve it and obviously, give it a little extra kick, LOL. Salt, would it lay a preservative role like with meats? An oddball replacement for sulfites maybe?

    Ok, now I'm just babbling, LOL.
     
  9. Russ

    Russ Istari

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    There are a wide, wide, wide variety of wines available with a incredible variety of tastes. No wine should be drunk with sprite in it to sweeten it up.

    But back on point, I have never read about people adding anything to historical wine to sweeten it up. The modern sweet tooth is, just that a very modern thing. Modern man consumes orders of magnitude more sugar than historical man ever did. And your historical chap would have a period palate that would be quite used to drinking what was around at the time.

    And I think you are unwise to conclude that all wines taste anything like the first glass you tried. Start researching! Not only by drinking the stuff, there are lots of articles around on historical wine.
     
  10. thedarknessrising

    thedarknessrising Mystagogue

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    Thank you all for your input! It's definitely gonna help me when I'm writing scenes set in taverns or social gatherings. Plus I'm still trying different drinks, just so I can get a better understanding of each type of alcohol.

    You guys rock!


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
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  11. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    Hypothetically, the use of salt water was to "sweeten" wine, but I don't think we actually know that ancient process or what they exactly did. On top of that, a lot of wine yeasts won't survive past 12% or so in alcohol, so... let's say you grow some grapes with sugars that ideally would take the alc % to 15... but! your local yeasts only get you to 11 or 12%. What you have produced right there is a "sweet" wine. Now let's go into stabilizing the wine by adding brandy, again, this can effectively "sweeten" a wine because of alcohol content boosting the "sweet" flavor, a funny thing with human taste buds. Mead, at least as ancient as wine, is exceptionally sweet, no way around that. So, don't underestimate the natural human thirst for sweet. If Lord Byron and folks thought to mix opium with their wine for a doozy of a buzz, no doubt people sweetened if they could.

     
  12. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    Just to confirm my suspicions about the human taste bud... Honey was indeed added to some ancient wines. On top of that, there was a heating process in a lead vessel that also enhanced the sweet. That sounds healthy! Apparently lead would add to the sense of seet. Plus, some amounts of must were boiled to condense the sugar content and produce a sweet wine. This would be similar to a modern technique where a certain amount of juice is kept cold on the side while the rest of the batch is fermented. After fermentation, the unfermented wine is kicked back in to produce a sweet wine without the addition of outside sugars.In addition, in some areas, a version of ice wine was made way back when, another path to sweet wine.
     
  13. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Staff Moderator

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    Hello everyone!

    I am a very enthusiastic wine lover, and when I discovered this thread earlier today I wanted to post here immediately but I did not have time until now. What a great subject of discussion wine always is, it's fascinating to me and so here I go!

    In High Medieval times (like the 14th century) wine was served mixed with water, and also it was normal for the wine to be very spiced so it would go well with the style of recipes and food that they preferred back then. I very much doubt that they would have wanted to sweeten their wines with honey, since that would have been very unusual.

    In the other hand, the ancient Romans really enjoyed to sweeten their wines and they did this by means of a substance called Defrutum. You can learn more about defrutum in the article right here, what a curious thing that is.

    This defrutum sweetener had a very high content of lead because it was made in lead pots, and some historians and doctors have theorized that the wine sweetened with defrutum (and contaminated with lead as a result!) contributed to make some famous Romans go crazy, like the emperor Caligula for example.

    About your experience with wine for the first time: It's not a good start in the wine world to go and have some dry red, especially one with certain depth and complexity, because you would not be able to appreciate all of the scents and flavors that it conceals. The normal reaction with a dry red for a first-time wine drinker is what happened to you, indeed.

    In order to get started in the magical world of wine, I recommend that you drink only white wines at first. They have to be young whites, cheap is alright, because you need to start with something simple and fruity that can be enjoyed easily. As time passes, you shall slowly learn how to appreciate more complex wines like dry reds and others.

    Also, keep in mind that you need to use a proper wine glass. Some people just pour the wine in a normal glass, but if you do that the wine cannot express itself because you cannot swirl it like you do with a wine glass. The wine needs to be in contact with air, loads of air, and also the right glass allows you to appreciate its colors and scents better.

    About mixing with sprite:

    The only wines that should be mixed with sodas and other things are the cheapest wines available, like those that come in tetra brick containers. In some countries (like Spain) it's very common to mix those super cheap reds with coca cola, and their white counterparts can combine very well with sprite.

    This is done not to sweeten the wine, it's just to have a larger amount of beverage to combine with your meals or to enjoy at a party. I do it sometimes, especially when I have a wine that has gone bad. The combination is surprisingly not sweet, and if you are not careful with that you end up drinking too much of it and the hangover comes later.

    Wine (and other fermented beverages) masks the smell and taste of alcohol very well.

    I have combined vodka with various types of fruit juices to get an alcohol concentration similar to my favorite wines, but the result is that it tastes horrible to me. I can barely tolerate the taste of alcohol (in this case, from vodka) but when I drink wine I cannot taste it at all, I taste only the wonderful flavors of wine.

    My characters often drink wine. I have never went into deep descriptions of the wines involved, often I just say that it was a happy young red or something like that. You can use words like bright, fruity, sparkly, musky, acidic, young, spoiled and others, or you can mention hints of plum, flowers, strawberry, cherry, wood and more.

    There are so many great books about wine out there, I really recommend that you get one. Wine is so special for me, it's part of my everyday life and I would be surprised if somebody else in this site drinks more wine than I do.

    Almost forgot to mention that this thread was moved, from World Building to Research.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2017
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  14. This is a fascinating discussion. One I can contribute nothing to, being far too young to legally drink, but still a fascinating discussion.
     
  15. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Staff Moderator

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    From the point of view of a total outsider, it's very strange to realize that in the U.S. (and other countries) drinking anything with alcohol is considered a rite of passage, a privilege or some other form of an adult-only experience.

    In Spain and other wine-centric countries, wine is considered just part of everyday life.

    Most families have wine every day as part of their meals, it's like drinking soda or lemon water in other cultures. I started to drink beer with food at evening at age 10 or so if I remember correctly, and by age 14 I was already used to drinking wine in a regular basis. Sure that the shops would not sell wine to me, but it was normal if I drank it at home with meals.

    What happens if you drink alcohol before legal drinking age in your countries and you are caught? Do they arrest you or something? Do parents always enforce these laws and rules?

    Sorry for derailing the thread, I am curious.
     
  16. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    Sprite isn't used to sweeten wine? That's an oddly definitive statement. Of course it is, I know lots of people who do it for that exact reason, and they do it to any wine they happen to be drinking. Fizzy Barolo anyone? To each their own.

    And to my knowledge, honey was used to sweeten wine in history. The notion of it not is far more weird than it being used. Romans did it, so if people had honey, I've no doubt they used it.
     
  17. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Valar Lord

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    It is intoxication that is the problem.
    As a child, half a glass of wine with a meal and everyone smiles and nods along...
    As an adult, drinking two bottles before you go out to drink more... then people will have something to say.
     
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  18. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    @Sheila, you can go to jail or at least get fined. I've seen someone get arrested trying to enter a bar when she was only 16, and the fines can be in the thousands. When I worked in the restaurant industry, we vigilantly checked people's I.D. cards to ensure they were of legal age to drink. Fines are expensive, especially in Alaska, and there are separate stores for alcohol here that don't exist necessarily in the lower 48. So, some states have tougher alcohol laws vs others, but in general, it's a serious thing to drink underage here. A lot of kids do, though. Heh.
     
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  19. Russ

    Russ Istari

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    You can put (if you must) sprite in your wine, but you are no longer really drinking wine you are drinking a spritzer.

    I have no doubt that there are people who make fizzy Barolo's, but I am saddened by such things happening.

    I have never read about people using honey to sweeten wine. I know the romans and many other people watered their wine down for various reasons, but I have never seen a reference to honey use.
     
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  20. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Staff Moderator

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    I am sure that somebody in Medieval Europe or before had the idea to pour some honey into their wine and mix it, and yes it must have been done sometimes but it was not a common practice. The usual procedure was to dilute the wine with water, and also to spice it, because they used loads of spices in their food back then.

    Yeah, loads of people combine their wines with sprite and other sodas. Even in wine-loving Spain this is done a lot, but the idea behind the practice (or at least the general effect that the combination has on the wine) is not to sweeten it. Sprite is not sweet enough to cause a dry wine to go sweet, at least not in a 50/50 mixture.

    What happens is that even a tannic and aggressive wine becomes more beer-like, easier and faster to drink.

    You are adding sugar to the wine, but at the same time you are adding a lot of water and so you are diluting the wine more than sweetening it. At least to me, a 50/50 combination of a dry white with sprite results in a beverage that is sparkly and pleasant, and it's easy to drink and there is sprite flavor in it but it's not particularly sweet.

    Now I am curious, and the next time that I get some tetra brick wine I am going to mix some of it with honey just to discover how sweet it can be made, look for changes in color and also to decide how pleasant the final result is.

    And yeah, I agree with you Russ that using a fine wine for mixing is a very sad thing.

    Chessie and Joe: Thanks for the replies. As far as I know underage drinking of wine is more accepted in England than at the other side of the Atlantic, but it seems that in the U.S. underage drinking is far more serious than I imagined. No offense really, but sometimes I am happy that I was not born in the U.S. because of things like that.

    Something else that could be of interest to a Fantasy writer wishing to portray wine in a medieval society:

    Today the wine lovers look for fine and expensive wines that must be kept in their cellars for years so it can evolve and become better, but centuries ago the wine that everybody appreciated was young and fresh wine, the more recently made the better. This was because wine manufacturing was simpler, and wine just went bad quickly instead of evolving.

    Even today, few wines are destined to be kept at cellars and really age and evolve for a long time. The idea that all wines become better with time is a common misconception.
     
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