June 28, 2002 (Ira Pilgrim)


Wine, n. Fermented grape-juice known to the Women's Christian Union as "liquor," sometimes as "rum." Wine, madam is God's next best gift to man.

Ambrose Bierce, 1911

Sometime ago, long before recorded history, someone discovered that fruit, kept in a container, when it spoiled it yielded a liquid that would taste pretty good and, if imbibed, would make you feel happy. If too much was drunk, it could make you feel miserable.

Eventually, some entrepreneur realized that this product of rotten fruit was something that people would buy. The fruit that made the most desirable liquid was the grape. It was named vin or wine. With the advent of glass and bottles, it was bottled and sold for much more than fresh grapes or grape juice.

In France, wine making became a major industry and their product were sold worldwide. A mystique was built up around the wine industry. Some people became connoisseurs (people who KNOW) and they managed to convince a large number of people that what a connoisseur considered to be a good wine was what everyone else should consider to be a good wine. Of course, the "better" wines brought better prices. Allowing the wine to ferment in sealed bottled produced what was known as champagne and that was sold at a higher price than wines that were bottles after they had fully fermented.

Sometimes something happened to wine and instead of wine, the vintner got vinegar (vinaigre or sour wine). Louis Pasteur, a wine chemist, discovered what made wine sour. He discovered that certain tiny microorganisms made wine sour and that if the grape juice was heated (now called pasteurization) that it would kill those organisms and keep the wine from souring. The yeast that did the fermenting was added after the wine was heated. He saved the French wine industry.

Wine making as an industry flourished in many countries, including the USA. It didn't take long for vintners in other countries to match the French in the flavor and variety of their wines. Nothing, however, could match the French in the hype. Periodically, bottles of French wines would sell for a price that no one in his right mind would pay for a bottle of fermented grape juice.

I love fresh grapes as well as the juice of them. I even like the fermented variety and enjoy the effect in small amounts. Several hangovers in my youth convinced me that booze only felt good in small amounts. While I like wine, I find the mystique about it to be idiotic. The idea that there are some wines that are "better" than others is pure baloney. As far as I am concerned, the only judge of what tastes good, and is therefore a "good" wine, should be the person drinking it: You! If you believe that a wine connoisseur knows more about what you like than you do, then you deserve to be charged ridiculous prices for fermented grape juice.

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