Wine - the Last 1,000 Years Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Wine - the Last 1,000 Years

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A medieval man and a bunch of grapes

Wine is the perfect subject for a list of the best of the last 1,000 years, because wine memories do go back that far. So, just to prove that wine is good for your brain cells, and stimulates the imagination, here goes, in chronological order:

Leif's Relief 1001

Made in 1001 from the native scuppernong variety shortly after Leif Eriksson and his party became the first Europeans to visit North America and stay for a while. Leif was so taken with the local grapes that he named the continent Vínland, literally Wineland. A rough rosé with a marked foxy characteristic, all drunk on the night, this was the original New World vintage.

Shiraz 1115

Astronomer, mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam's famous 'jug of wine' brimmed with this, inspiring the most delightful literary support that wine has ever had. Today you can try Châteauneuf-du-Pape for a taste of the Shiraz/Syrah grape.

Commandaria 1223

A powerful sweet wine from Cyprus that won the first wine competition, La Bataille des Vins, organised by the French king, Philip Augustus. Where is it now?

Chablis 1396

The first great vintage recorded in this village, making it famous and establishing the now-popular tradition of label fraud. According to French wines laws and throughout the European Union, the name Chablis can only be used on wine from the Chablis region, in other parts of the world you will find 'Chablis' is just another name for Chardonnay.

St Remy 1396

This embryonic Champagne was so good that Wenceslas, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, drank himself into oblivion on it and had to cancel his meeting with France's Charles VI. What should have been a historic occasion became the first international non-event.

Sack 1597

Probably a blend of various vintages and curious beverages, mostly Spanish, this was the favourite tipple of Sir John Falstaff (a character in Shakespeare'sThe Merry Wives of Windsor) who said at the Boars Head:

If I had a thousand sons... I would teach them ... to forswear thin potatoes, and addict themselves to sack.

It was the beginning of a long alliance between high art and bad wine.

Tokaji Aszu 1650

The first wine made from botrytis-infected grapes, in Hungary by Szepsi Rakoczi. This 'noble rot' gives the grapes an extra sweetness. The process of making sensationally sweet, concentrated wines and charging Czars' ransoms for them has since been copied by the French, Germans, Americans - everybody. For a modern equivalent, try a German Beerenauslesen.

Constitution 1789

Drunk in liberal quantities by Thomas Paine as he worked on his masterpiece of democratic ideology The Rights of Man, this famous Madeira wine can still be found in exclusive auction houses. Madeira wine is fortified by the addition of brandy, and further improved by a process of heating, so that it lasts very well. If you can afford to buy some old Madeira, you will find that it really does improve with age.

Hugel Gewurztraminer 1923

This spectacular Alsatian wine was one of Erwin Schrödinger's favourites during his Zürich period in 1925/26 when he invented quantum mechanics. With a name literally meaning 'spicy Traminer', its effects have spiced up the rest of human history with immeasurable influence.

Corbans White Label Chardonnay 1999

Although the wines above such as Chablis, Hugel Gewurztraminer and others are still available in the shops, you won't be able to try the vintages listed here, since they are long gone. So now that your palate is titillated, try Corbans White Label Chardonnay instead:

It's pretty toothsome, almost dry New Zealand white at a good price for just drinking. Clean and tidy, with enough Chardonnay fruit flavour to taste like the real thing, some fruit character to soothe your jangled nerves at the end of a hard day, and no nasties to upset the dinner table. Not one of the great wines of the Millennium, but who cares?

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