Sam Pepys, bon viveur, ladies’ man, naval administrator extraordinaire and diarist, was no stranger to hangovers. A cup of morning chocolate was sometimes enough to get him fit for work but, typically he was consumed by guilt and self-loathing after over-indulgence – be it in food, sex or wine. 9th August 1660 was perhaps an exception. He’d started a long day with ‘a great deal of Rhenish wine’ before meeting up for dinner and more wine with his wife and friends. After dinner (probably around 2 pm) his wife went to visit another friend but Pepys ducked out to go back to work before returning later for beef and more wine. The next day he was very low – having slept badly and endured a ‘great loosing upon me’ – but struggled into work before watching a foot-race around Hyde Park.
Sam Pepys looks serious
Could he blame the wine? High sugar German wines are often accused of causing headaches; if the culprit is not the ‘Red Wine Headache’, dignified as the RWH syndrome. Some suggest it’s simply the result of cheap, short-cut wine-making; others that high levels of sulphur dioxide may be implicated – though fewer than 1 in 1000 has any true allergy to sulfites (the collective name for sulphur products used in wine).
Rhenish wine was a catch-all description for wines from the German Rhineland but there was a recognized set of London taverns (probably run by Dutchmen or Germans) specialising in such wines. The one Pepys went to was in King St, just north of the Houses of Parliament.
We don’t know what the wine that Pepys indulged in would have tasted like. It would have been ‘white’; it might have been made from Riesling grapes (first documented in 1435) but could have been Elbling (though this is very acidic) or Sylvaner. Hugh Johnson described in Vintage, The Story of Wine the experience of drinking a bottle of 1540 Steinwein from Wurzburg. Though brown in colour (like Madeira) this wine from a legendarily hot year was on first tasting “still alive”, though it quickly oxidised. This doesn’t tell us much and I’m sure Pepys knew little more. A day later (11 August 1660) he decided that the wine was to blame. It usually is.
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An Age UK study, released today (8 August 2013) has raised concerns that too many over-65s are drinking to excess. Many of the over-65s interviewed, however, did not see a particular problem. Drinking helped them relax, made it easier to socialise, and, in their view, wasn’t much of a problem so long as they weren’t out of control in any way.
Francis Anstie, the Victorian doctor whose 1877 book On the Uses of Wines in Health and Disease, I was reading yesterday might have shared their view. He was concerned about the ‘grave danger’ of excessive drinking caused, in his view, by the “multiplication of alcoholic drinks, with different flavours, each tempting in its turn” and by the lack of accurate label information on the strength of drinks. However, he was also determined (perhaps in the face of a temperance threat) “to demonstrate the prominent fitness of wine, above all other alcoholic drinks” as a remedy for a wide range of illnesses.
Francis Anstie, FRCP, MD
Let’s hear it for Cabernet Franc
One of France’s most under-rated wine areas is the Loire; one of the most under-rated of all grapes – particularly for summer drinking – is Cabernet Franc. I love its cool, raspberry-accented, red fruit character and its leafy, even tobacco notes on the finish.
The other night I drank the Domaine de la Croix de Chaintres Saumur-Champigny made by Fredrik Filliatreau and his sister Christina on a ‘biologically oriented’ 18 hectare Loire estate very close to the river and just south of Saumur.
Over a hundred years ago, my grandmother (then in her early 20s) was taken on to work at the Prudential Insurance Company’s Head Office in London. Men and women were on separate floors and her main memory was that many of the girls working there kept long white gloves in their desk drawers so that they could head straight out in the evening after work. Incidentally, there was a ‘language’ of gloves just as there was a language of fans. Holding the tips of the gloves downward meant ‘I wish to make your acquaintance’.
4th August 2013 seems like a good date to launch this blog since – by some accounts – it’s precisely 320 years since Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon reputedly ‘invented’ champagne in 1693. Others say June 1694 but I’m too late or too early for that.
I’m heading back to University this autumn to do a Masters’ Degree on the ‘Perception and Marketing of Champagne in Victorian England’ so this date has a special resonance for me. And Dom P himself is yet another entry in the catalogue of marvellous myths, brand management, white lies, counterfeit labels and dubious brands that make up much of the history of champagne when you leave the relative safety of the ‘celebrated brands’ that we recognise and salute today.