Rod Phillips : A Short History of Wine, Ecco Press, pp. 369, ISBN 006621282

Reviewed by John Lowrance


The author has cleverly concealed a most interesting history book under the mantle of wine. This book is the outgrowth of the authorís courses in the history of alcohol at Carleton University, Ottawa. As such it benefits from the extensive research Prof. Phillips has done on the evolution of wine in civilization. In following this evolution the reader learns, in a very interesting way, some archeology, economics, politics, folklore and history.

One learns that, based on residue in vessels found in archeological digs, viniculture dates back to at least 5600 BC and may have been spread to Europe and the Near East by people fleeing a great flood that created the Black Sea. Perhaps Noah enjoyed wine on his cruise.

Wine was considered more upper class than beer and women were not allowed to drink wine in some societies. Wine was usually diluted and mixed with honey, spices and sometimes seawater.It was considered food and employed as medicine as well as in religious ceremonies, with monks becoming expert in viniculture.And as today, wine in moderation was encouraged, drunkenness was punished by society.

Wine trade between Mediterranean regions became significant from an economic standpoint very early. One reason, perhaps, being its transportability at a reasonable cost compared to its market value.In more modern times, English taste for Port and Madeira wine evolved from a balance of trade in English textiles with Portugal and Spain, precipitated in part by and England stopping wine imports from Bordeaux to reduce wine tax revenue to a hostile French king.

One learns the origin of champagne, brandy, rum, and other alcoholic beverages. Wine enthusiasts will be interested to find that Haut Brion is the first wine to bear the vineyard name rather than just the region, and that Hungarian Tokay sweet wine results from a late harvest due to fear of attack by Turkish armies in the seventeenth century.

Even though there were wild grapes, there is no evidence of wine in the New World. But viniculture was developed successfully by the Spanish in the 16th century in South America and in the 18th century in California, reaching the Napa valley ~1820. The Virginia Colony and Puritan efforts with viniculture failed.

Prof. Phillips covers the development of the wine industry in North and south America, Australia and Australia, continuing his most interesting account of wineís entwining with world history into the twentieth century.

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