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Rick Fox is an enthusiastic disciple of all things food and wine, to the despair of his doctor. His spare time is spent seeking out rare mushrooms and obscure psychedelic rock albums.

The Grapevine

Rick Fox

The more I read about wine and the history of it, the more fascinated I am with the extent to which this wonderful bottle of joy has played such a hugely influential part in human history – our favourite beverage has been vitally important in our development as a species. I keep coming across startling and amusing facts about wine and I would like to share some of them with you, so why not settle down with a generously filled glass of choice, and savour this modest collection of wine based trivia.

Let’s go right back to the beginning of wine manufacture. When Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered in 1922, there was a quantity of wine jars found buried with him – the jars identified the year the wine was made, as well as the person who made it. There was even critical tasting notes such as ‘very good wine’.

A bit further on, Romans discovered that mixing lead with wine not only helped preserve it, but also gave it a sweet taste and succulent texture. It is hardly surprising therefore that lead poisoning had a devastating effect on the Roman Empire and has been recognised as a major factor in its eventual collapse. But perhaps the Romans deserved their demise: during the empire’s more austere periods, Roman women were forbidden to drink wine, and a husband who found his wife quaffing a sneaky glass was at liberty to kill her if he wanted to, without penalty. Charming.

Good old Plato was more than happy to join the party. He believed that once a man reached 40, he should be able to drink as much wine as he liked because wine had a beneficial effect in curing the “crabbedness of old age”. What a wise man he was. I can personally testify to the accuracy of his judgement. However, he wasn’t all about drunken debauchery; he reckoned that the minimum drinking age should be 18 and that anyone aged between 18 and 31 should only be allowed a very moderate ration of wine. That’s a pity. I was starting to warm to him.

Coming up to date, if you come across a wine enthusiast who reckons that they can identify a wine by its smell alone, treat them with suspicion. The world champion wine sniffer was honoured in 2003 for correctly identifying 43 out of 50 wines presented to him. But his feat was extraordinary, and pretty much unique. The sniffer who was rated second in the world could only identify a feeble four out of the 50.

Now let’s move on to keeping in shape and maintaining our good health. We all feel guilty after polishing off too much wine, and we shudder when we look at the calorie count involved in a modest evening’s wine consumption. But try not to worry – I bring you good news. I am far from convinced this is really true, but apparently drinking wine does not have a detrimental effect on your waistline. I have discovered that “women who routinely drank moderate amounts of alcohol, totalling about one drink per day, carried almost 10 pounds less body fat than women who did not drink at all”. This is down to the fact that the calories in alcohol are not processed through the body in the same way as calories from carbohydrates, fats or protein. This is excellent tidings. We need to bin the chocolate and crisps, and crack into a bottle instead. I could probably just about manage that. On a good day.

Finally, which country guzzles the most wine per capita in the world, do you think? France? Italy? Australia? No. The most enthusiastic imbibers on the planet are the perpetually hammered residents of the Vatican, who slurp down roughly a hundred bottles per year, per person. That’s quite some dedication to the grape.

- Rick Fox