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A History of Wine Tasting

A History of Wine Tasting

A History of Wine Tasting

Wine tasting has been around as long as the history of wine itself. While tasting is an obvious part of wine drinking, the specific practice of wine tasting as a group or for purposes of evaluation and critique has developed in various ways throughout history. Below we will look at various periods and what the history of wine tasting was like during those times.

The Ancient World: Wine Tasting Beginnings

Wine tasting in the ancient world was a very different experience compared to what it is today. In many ancient civilizations wine was ingrained in the culture and the community’s religion.

Wine tasting in ancient civilizations was often done communally, with people gathering to drink and celebrate. Wine was served in large vessels, such as amphorae or kraters, and was typically consumed straight from the vessel, rather than being poured into individual cups.

In Ancient Greece and Rome, wine tasting was included as part of celebrations alongside music and dancing. At its base wine tasting was a social activity, and people gathered to drink, eat, and share stories.

Romain Wine Tasting
Ancient Greek Fresco in Paestum, Italy, called the “Tomb of the Diver” depicting men during a banquet.

Wine tasting in ancient civilizations was also a more informal affair, with people drinking and evaluating wine based on their personal preferences and tastes, rather than using a standardized set of criteria or a scientific approach to wine evaluation.

A History of Wine Tasting in the Early Christian Era

Wine tasting in the early Christian era was a significant part of religious practices and rituals. In Christianity wine symbolizes the blood of Jesus Christ. Additionally it is used to symbolize unity, joy, and celebration throughout different Christian ceremonies and rituals. Wine tasting in the early Christian era was done communally, with people gathering to drink and share wine as part of religious ceremonies and rituals. The wine was not typically drunk from individual glasses, but instead straight from the vessel, and was normally drunk alongside prayers, hymns, and other religious rituals.

Ancient wine cellar
Kveri wine cellar in georgia. Wine storage is a special production of alcohol in the wine industry. Stone floor. Hole in the ground. Wine production in the winery. Georgian wine. Wine production.

In addition to its religious significance, wine was also part of everyday life as a beverage and a medicine.

Byzantium: The Early Eastern European World

Wine tasting in Byzantium, also known as the Byzantine Empire, was an important aspect of daily life and culture. Like many ancient cultures wine was ingrained into many social and religious traditions.

Byzantine emperors and wealthy individuals had extensive wine collections and often hosted lavish banquets and wine-tasting events. During these events wine and food were carefully paired, and the event was judged in part by the quality of wine served.

In addition to its role in the cultural traditions, wine also played an important role in the Byzantine economy. Vineyards and wineries were located throughout the empire. Wine was used as a form of currency and was traded both within the empire and outside it.

Wine tasting in Byzantium was also influenced by the Greeks and Romans, who had a rich wine-making tradition and culture. The Byzantine Empire inherited and expanded upon these traditions, producing a variety of wine styles and methods of wine production.

The Dark Ages

The history of wine tasting in the Dark Ages was a vastly different experience compared to modern times. Similar to earlier times, wine was still a normal part of daily life, and provided nutrition as well as hydration for the people.

Wine production during the Dark Ages was largely the responsibility of monastic communities, who were the primary source of wine production and distribution. These communities often had extensive vineyards and wineries, and their wine was consumed both within the monasteries and in the surrounding communities.

Although wine tasting per se isn’t mentioned in the literature of the Dark Ages, historical chronicles of the Dark Ages do mention wine, and describe the production, distribution, and consumption of wine. These chronicles often describe the vineyards and wineries of monastic communities and discuss the importance of wine to the daily life and culture of the period.

The Renaissance

During the Renaissance wine tasting became a social activity, and knowing how to appreciate wine became a sign of education and refinement. As commerce began to increasingly spread throughout Europe, wine also began spread.

Wine tasting during the Renaissance was often consumed during large banquets and feasts. Wine was also consumed at social gatherings and events, such as weddings and festivals. The wealthy classes, in particular, were known to host elaborate wine tastings, where they would showcase their wine collections and invite guests to taste and critique the different wines.

Wine Tasting History during the Renaissance
Painting of wine drinking during the Renaissance era.

Wine tasting during the Renaissance was also associated with the arts, as artists and writers often included images and descriptions of wine in their works. The appreciation of wine was considered a sign of education and refinement and was associated with the ideals of humanism, which emphasized the study of classical literature and the arts.

Colonialism

The history of wine tasting during colonialism was influenced by the spread of European wine culture to the colonies. European colonizers brought their wine-making knowledge and culture, as well as their appreciation for wine and its symbol of social status.

In the American colonies wine was expensive and primarily consumed by the wealthy. Like much of history wine was also used as a medicine, and used for religious ceremonies, such as Communion. Wine production in the colonies was limited due to the harsh climate and the lack of suitable grape varieties.

In the colonial period, wine tasting was a more formal and structured activity, with wine-tasting notes and critiques being written and shared among the wealthy classes. The appreciation of wine was seen as a sign of education and refinement, and wine tasting was often associated with social gatherings and events.

In the colonies of Africa and Asia, wine was introduced by European colonizers and became a symbol of colonialism and European cultural dominance. Wine was primarily consumed by the colonial elites and was not widely adopted by the local population.

The Enlightenment

During the Enlightenment, wine tasting continued to be a symbol of social status, education, and refinement. The appreciation of wine became more widespread, as the ideas of the Enlightenment, such as reason and science, was applied to the study of wine.

Wine tasting history during the Enlightenment was influenced by the growth of trade and commerce. Because of this new widespread commerce, wine was spread from Europe to other parts of the world. Wine was increasingly seen as a product of nature, and the study of wine became more scientific, with the development of wine tasting notes and wine critique.

Vintage colour lithograph showing a scene from the works of Rabelais. The Discourse of the Drinkers. Then did they fall upon the chat of victuals and some belly furniture to be snatched at in the very same place. Which purpose was no sooner mentioned, but forthwith began flagons to go, gammons to trot, goblets to fly, great bowls to ting, glasses to ring. Gargantua and Pantagruel.

Wine tasting during the Enlightenment was also associated with the growth of the middle class, and a larger percentage of the population was now able to purchase and consume wine. Wine tasting became a more accessible and democratic activity, as wine-tasting clubs and societies were formed, where people could taste and critique wine together.

Wine tasting during the Enlightenment was also associated with the arts, as artists and writers continued to include images and descriptions of wine in their works. The appreciation of wine was considered a sign of education and refinement and was associated with the ideals of the Enlightenment, such as reason and science.

Wine Tasting in the Napoleonic Era

Wine tasting during the Napoleonic era was influenced by the spread of French wine culture, as Napoleon and his armies conquered much of Europe. French wine, especially Champagne, became a symbol of French culture and refinement and was increasingly consumed by the elites of European society.

Vintage Photo of Winemakers
Antique illustration of a men closing champagne bottles with wire

In France, wine tasting was a structured and formal activity, with wine-tasting notes and critiques being written and shared among the wealthy classes. The appreciation of wine was seen as a sign of education and refinement, and wine tasting was often associated with social gatherings and events.

Like many prosperous eras, commerce and trade increased throughout Europe in this time. This allowed France to export larger quantities of wine to other European nations. Wine became increasingly available to the middle class, as wine production and distribution became more efficient.

Wine tasting during the Napoleonic era was also influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, as the study of wine became more scientific and objective. Wine-tasting notes and critiques became more detailed and precise, and the appreciation of wine became more widespread.

The Evolution of Wine Tasting in the 19th Century

The 19th century saw many cultural shifts, and the wine world was not immune to these changes. The wine way was produced, consumed, and appreciated all changed in this period. Several key trends in this period impacted the transformation of wine, including:

  1. Industrialization: The rise of industrialization in Europe and North America impacted both wine production and distribution. Wine became more widely available, as new technologies and transportation systems made it easier to produce and transport wine.
  2. Expansion of wine culture: Wine culture continued to gain popularity during the 19th century. Wine-tasting notes and critiques became more widely available, and wine-tasting became a more structured and formal activity.
  3. Growth of the middle class: The amount of people able to afford wine increased with the growing middle class. Suddenly, wine tasting became a more accessible and democratic activity, as wine-tasting clubs and societies were formed, where people could taste and critique wine together.
  4. Scientific advancements: In the 19th century, due to the advancement of new technology and techniques, winemaking became more scientific. The science of winemaking and wine tasting became more precise, and wine-tasting notes and critiques became more objective.
  5. Rise of wine tourism: Wine tourism also became popular during the 19th century, as people began to travel to wine regions to taste and learn about wine. The growth of wine tourism helped to spread wine culture and appreciation and contributed to the growth of the wine industry.
“Vintage engraving from1846 of a scene from the English Civil War (1642 to 1651) showing Lord Goring drinking with his men. George Goring, 1st Earl of Norwich (28 April 1585 to 6 January 1663) was a prominent Royalist in the English Civil War.”

Who is responsible for the modern rise of tasting rooms, wine clubs, and wine tourism as it is practiced in the United States today?

The growing trend of tasting rooms, wine clubs, and wine tourism in the United States is the result of the efforts of individuals, organizations, and a changing cultural landscape. Here are a few of the most significant trends that have contributed to the rise of wine tourism:

  1. California Wine Industry: In the 1960’s and 1970’s California wineries, such as Robert Mondavi Winery, began offering tastings and tours to visitors. This paved the way for the today’s large wine tourism industry.
  2. Wine Appreciation Movement: The amount of Americans consuming wine on a normal basis has increased in the last few decades, also contributing to the rise of tasting rooms, wine clubs, and wine tourism. Wine writers, educators, and enthusiasts have helped popularize the idea of wine as a sophisticated and enjoyable beverage, leading to an increase in consumption.
  3. Direct-to-Consumer Sales: Wineries have discovered that they can make greater profits by selling directly to the customers that sold wine directly to consumers found that offering tastings and tours was an effective way to engage customers and increase sales.
  4. Economic Growth: The overall economic growth and prosperity of the United States also helped to spur the growth of wine tourism. As the amount of disposable income increases, the amount of travel and leisure activities also increases, helping fund many aspects of the wine tourism industry.
French Wine Tasting History
Wine cellars in a row at Tokaj Wine region, Hungary

The Future of Wine Tasting

The future of wine tasting is likely to be heavily impacted by the rise of new technology, changing consumer preferences, and the impact of globalization. Here is a closer look at the trends that will shape wine tasting in the future:

  1. Technology: The increased use of augmented and virtual reality is likely to make its way into the wine world. This will allow customers to virtually visit wineries and wines regions from thousands of miles away.
  2. Personalization: Personalized experiences have been gaining popularity in the recent years, and this has started making its way into winery tasting rooms and tours. As more and more consumers are interested in having unique experiences, wineries are starting to create custom tastings and tours based on their customers unique wants and needs.
  3. Sustainability: More and more consumers are showing interest in how the products they buy effect the environment and the earth. In turn, many wineries have started integrating more organic and sustainable practices in their tasting rooms, vineyards, and winery. It appears this trend will only increase in the coming years.
  4. Globalization: The globalization of the wine industry is likely to continue, making wineries and wines that were previously inaccessible easier for customers to find and buy. It will allow unknown wine regions access to markets around the world, giving consumers a chance to try new and interesting wines.

References

1.https://tasting-experiences.com/the-history-of-wine-tasting/

2.https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wine-tasting

3.https://thesophisticatedlife.com/wine/wine-story-the-art-of-wine-tasting-2/

4.https://divinea.com/blog/en/wine-history-and-the-digital-transformation/

Want to read more on Wine History? Try these books!

Kevin Zraly Windows on the World Complete Wine Course- Revised & Updated : 35th Edition The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting- Volume 2

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