hist-brewing: Period Questions

BurrLoomis at aol.com BurrLoomis at aol.com
Sun Jan 24 06:22:04 PST 1999

The following is in reply to the posting by ccaronna at swbell.net.  It comes
from Baron Finn Normansson, a notable vintner in Gleann Abhann:
<<	I went over my references in regard to your questions. The following
information comes from Hugh Johnson's The World Atlas of Wine, fourth
edition, Simon & Schuster, 1994.

<<	In Roman times, amphora were replaced by barrels. Wine was fermented in
the barrel, shipped in the barrel and served from the barrel. During
Roman and Medieval times ceramic jugs and (more rarely) glass bottles
were used chiefly as a means of getting the wine from the barrel to the

<<	The Atlas has this passage under ancient wine which you might find
interesting: "...Pliny, whose Natural History contains a complete
textbook on wines and winemaking, recommends the boiling of
concentration of must in vessels made of lead, 'to sweeten it.' The
resulting lead oxide poisoning must have been excruciating. The cholics,
and eventual blindness, insanity and death that resulted were never
connected with their cause; pains were even put down to bad vintages."

<<	As I have indicated, winemaking in period was a single stage operation
taking place in one barrel. I know of no reference to period
fermentation locks and doubt that any existed. However, the fermenting
wine would have given off large quantities of carbon dioxide which,
since it is heavier than air, could have formed a cap over the
fermenting must.

<<	I also know of no period references to addition of sugar or tannin to
wine. Since sugar in period would have been a luxury item I very much
doubt that it would have been used in winemaking. What was done, was the
addition of honey to fermenting wine to increase its potency. A red wine
made this way was called pyment, a cyder (apple wine) made this way was
called cyser, other fruit wine made this was called mel-o-mel, and
if the red wine had spices and herbs added for medicinal purposes it was
called hippocras. The preceding information comes from Making Mead by
Bryan Acton and Peter Duncan, an Amateur Winemakers Publication,
fourteenth impression, 1980.

<<	The addition of sulfites to wine as a stabilizer does have period
precedence. The Germans would burn sulfur candles in used wine barrels
to "sweeten" them. The Sulfur dioxide created would then dissolve in the newly
added wine creating sulfites. This information comes from one
of my American Wine Society Journals, but I'm to lazy to search through
the pile to find out which one it was.

<<	As for other additives, R. K. French states in The History and Virtues
of Cyder, St. Martins Press, 1982, that red meat was sometimes added to
aging cyder to mellow its taste. Supposedly this stemmed from the finding
that cyder from barrels in which rat bones were discovered had a
smoother taste. Yuck!

<<	Finally, an interesting piece of historic trivia from the World Atlas
of Wine:, "In 1497 English wine measures included a hogshead (63
gallons), a pipe (two hogsheads), and a tonne (two pipes). the size of
ships was measured by the number of tonnes they could carry."

<<	I hope that this information will be of use to you.
<<	Finn. >>

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