Happy Friday! Today on Museum Bites we’re bidding the polar vortex adieu with a robust glass of red. Wine is an ancient brew that dates back more than 7,000 years and throughout the ages, it has played an integral role in our lives. From grape to glass, we lovingly cultivate it, rejoice its harvest, take pains to pair it, and get sniffy about age and blend. And in all the fuss we’ve come up with some rather interesting wine accoutrement. Join me for a brief look at some of the wine gear I’ve come across in my travels. But first, a little background…
Cracklin’ Rose you’re a store bought woman. But you make me sing like a guitar humming.
~ Neil Diamond (Cracklin’ Rosie, 1968)
Aged Wine: Wine is made from the juice of fermented grapes (Vitis vinifera). The oldest wine on record—residue discovered in jars in Iran—is approximately 7,400 years old. Scientists, however, believe wine may be even older and initially used for medicinal purposes as far back as the Paleolithic Era (12,000+ years ago).
Fun Wine Fact #1: Neil Diamond’s song, Cracklin’ Rosie was inspired by a trip the artist took to Canada. Diamond had learned about a Native American tribe that had more men than women. While their friends were out on dates, the bachelors would hang out and drink homemade booze. Thus, Diamond’s song is about wine, not a woman. Crackling is a term used among wine enthusiasts to describe a light, sparkling wine and Rosie is a play on rosé, a light blush wine.
Ceremonial Wine: Our first and oldest wine gear hails from China and dates back to the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 BCE). Bronze vessels called Gu and Jue were used by the royal court for ancestral rituals. Servants poured wine from the chalice-like Gu and court members drank from the whimsical Jue. The pair of Gu on display at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) has a malachite patina with kui dragons and taotie masks etched into the surface. The taotie motif represents a gluttonous ogre or monster mask and was a popular design during the Shang and Zhou Dynasties (c1046-256 BCE).
The delightful Jue is characterized by its three legs and impractical ornamentation. The Jue on display at the UMMA and Shaanxi History Museum are tricked out with chimney-like knobs, long spouts, and other protrusions which seem to serve no purpose other than getting in the way of a good drink. Artistically, however, they don’t disappoint.
Fun Wine Fact #2: The oldest fermented drink, a rice and honey wine, dates back approximately 9,000 years and was discovered on pieces of pottery in Jiahu, a village in north central China.
Wine is the only artwork you can drink.
~ Luis Fernando Olaverri
Everyday Wine: The ancient Greeks were more liberal with their wine. From adult to child, king to slave, everyone imbibed, and to satisfy their thirst, specialized wine ware was handcrafted from clay. For example, wine was stored in tall two-handled jars with narrow necks, while wide-mouthed bowls were used to prep and mix the fermented brew with water. Decorative pitchers were on hand to serve the wine and two-handled cups resembling shallow bowls were crafted for sipping. The pottery industry flourished and potters competed to show off their work, often decorating their wares with painted scenes of everyday life. Like a photograph, these pieces provide a snapshot of life in Ancient Greece. To learn more about this messy but spirited profession click on Museum Bites: A Festive Leg to Stand On.
Fun Wine Fact #3: Dionysus is the Greek god of wine. He is the son of Zeus and human mother, Semele. Zeus’s wife, Hera was jealous of Semele and convinced the mortal to have Zeus appear as a real person. Zeus complied but his transformation into human form went awry. Semele was blasted with his mighty thunderbolts and died. Zeus saved their unborn son, Dionysus by sewing him up inside his thigh. Dionysus is said to be “twice born” and the lifeblood or sap of nature.
In vino veritas (translation from Latin: in wine truth, or there is truth in wine).
Kegger Wine: Our next wine gadget is an excellent example of Roman ingenuity and engineering. This portable wine heater is both pretty and practical. Like a keg at a frat party, Roman revelers toted this clever contraption to parties, filling the bronze barrel with wine and making a small fire within the semi-circle. A turn of the spigot and wine flowed into the walls of the hollow semi-circle chamber where it was quickly heated. Another turn of the tap and warm wine flowed into waiting cups. This delightful device was discovered in Stabiae, a resort town near Pompeii that was also annihilated with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.
Fun Roman Fact: In addition to wine, Romans supplemented their Mediterranean diet with the occasional rodent. To learn more click on Museum Bites: Dining on Dormouse.
Frightening Heat Fact: Things became quite heated in Pompeii on August 24, 79 CE when Mount Vesuvius erupted causing a 1300° F heat flash and burying the city under 16 feet of ash and rock. Click on Museum Bites: Pompeii What a Blast to learn more.
Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.
~ André Simon, wine connoisseur
Chilled Wine: Our final wine accoutrement was manufactured in late 18th century Europe, an era when wine was reserved for the elite. A popular piece of tableware during this time was the monteith, a festive punch bowl sporting a scalloped rim. These decorative notches were crafted to hold the stems of wine glasses while they chilled in an ice bath prior to pour. These unique bowls were named for a charismatic 17th century Scotsman known for the scalloped hems on his coats. And today his identity (beyond his surname) remains a mystery.
That concludes our look at wine accoutrement. Next week, we’ll be taking a dive into the Great Lakes. In the meantime, here’s a little something to get your weekend started. Cracklin Rosie by Neil Diamond. Enjoy!
Photo by Arek Socha, courtesy of Pixabay.