Recently Neal Crisford, producer of “Cooking for the Many” a film about Australia’s first cookbook published in 1864, asked me what they would be drinking back then. Now this book was aimed at “the upper 10,000” as well as the “many” so it is fair to guess this largely British colony was following in the footsteps of those back home. And it was among the upper class that from the 1860’s the so-called ‘golden age of importing French wine” had taken off. The restrictions of the Napoleonic wars and Continental system had gone. In 1855 the Bordeaux classification of wine was introduced aiming to capitalize on the British market and the new middle and upper classes who adopted table wine as their tipple of choice, and place and quality became part of the marketing.
Many early wine men in NSW had been on the Grand Tour of France and Italy in the post-Napoleonic era. People such as Macarthur, Wyndham and Busby sought to introduce wine as the drink for the colony. We know from the records of the Hunter River Vineyard Association that the wines of Burgundy such as Chambertin, were used for comparison with the locally developed wines. The Maitland Mercury reports a tasting of wine made from the Black Pineau grape; “No. 2 was a red wine, of vintage 1846, and made entirely from the Black Pineau grape; the wine was of a deeper and richer colour than No. 1 and was pronounced by the connoisseurs present to be a better and fuller Burgundy wine, having the body and flavor of the best Burgundy wine; it had a fine bouquet
So, we have a fair idea of what was consumed, but I was interested to read an article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) noting wine glass capacity had increased some sevenfold in the last 300 years.
Wine glass capacity increased from 66 ml (standard deviation 21.69) in the 1700’s to a mean size in 2016-17 of 449 ml (SD 161). The increase was gradual till the 1990’s then it took off along with the size of food portions!
What sort of glassware did they use back in the 1860’s?
As always it is Taxes that bring about change. In 1845 the glass excise tax of 1746 was repealed, and small glasses were no longer driven by taxation. This along with the manufacturing innovation of blown-molded and pressed glass and the influence of glass craftsmen led to a revolution in glassware.
Among the early designers was William Morris, who used coloured and tinted glass which became the vogue in the 1850’s. Ruby, Bright green, emerald green, light peacock-green, dark purple, and canary-yellow were the more usual colours for wine glasses.
When it comes to dinner parties in the mid to late 1800’s candlelight was the main source of lighting and maybe a large open fireplace. A key discovery by George Ravenscroft in the early 18th century of “glass-of-lead” made the cut glass industry in England possible as the glass was softer and the cuts gave a glittering effect under candlelight of prismatic flashes and flickering flames. Many decanters, serving dishes, salt and pepper shakers etc. were also cut glass adding to the visual experience. At the same time, the stems were elongated lifting the glimmering effect.
One of the key players in the early history of the Hunter Valley was James King of Illawang who at first sought to manufacture glass from the white sand deposits in the dunes along South Head Road (better than any found in England) but ended up at Illawang where he planted his vineyard and also manufactured pottery- after all the wine needed something to carry it in!
While taxation may have limited the size of an Englishman’s glass and hence the volume of wine consumed no such restriction applied to the ancient Greeks.
Wine appears to have played a significant role in the development of the philosophy of Socrates and Plato. The ancient Greeks placed a high value on wine as part of their way of life. Interestingly wine was not consumed with meals but rather after dinner when they got down to talking and discussing ideas.
The typical drinking vessel was a Kylix which roughly held 250 ml although this varied. The wine was generally mixed with water and held in a Krater from where it was poured into the Kylix often multiple times in an evening session. Symposia were the key philosophical sessions and the shape of the Kalyx enabled those attending to drink while recumbent.
Carvings of the Greek god Baccus in a recumbent position being served wine into his Kylix – he may have had one too many!
The word Kylix means cup and equates to the Latin Calix and the English word Chalice, a vessel with mainly religious connotations.
This Persian silver horn cup doubled as a jug and cup showing the fairly large capacity of its owner.
So, through the ages, the drinking vessels reflected the society in which they were used.
There are some wonderful stories about the shapes of champagne glasses which basically fall into two shapes, the flute or the coupe. Given that James King of Illawang exhibited a sparkling Pinot to the 1855 Paris exhibition and was awarded a medal, quite probably our 1864 dinner party enjoyed a glass of bubbly.
It seems the story of Marie Antoinette providing the mold for a champagne flute is unlikely, but she had porcelain bowls molded for drinking milk and encouraged noblewomen to breastfeed their babies and not rely on wet nurses (a means of limiting the spread of TB). Other women including Madam du Pompadour, Diane de Poitiers, and Claudia Schiffer have been the models for Champagne coupes!
Today we prefer the Flute as more bubbles are released over time and travel up the glass in that enticing way. Even better when there is a convergent rim to trap the fine aromas and flavours.
That is the other main change that has occurred with the development of larger glasses and “tasters” where the rim is convergent (smaller than the main bowel of the glass) whereas in the past the rim was divergent, expanding vertically and outwards allowing the aromas to dissipate and hence losing some of the flavours.
The larger wine glasses with their convergent rims enhance the flavours and possibly the desire to drink more. The BMJ article reports a 10% increase in sales when a large glass is used!
As we know Riedel introduced specific shapes for varietal and classic blends in the 1960’s and others have followed.
So, it’s not just the wine, but the shape of the glass, and I have to say the ambiance that lets us enjoy the product of the vine…but always in moderation.
Adb.anu.edu.au. (n.d.). Biography – James King – Australian Dictionary of Biography. [online] Available at: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/king-james-2307 [Accessed 4 Apr. 2018].
Elville, E. (1954). Paperweights and other glass curiosities. London: Spring Books.
HuffPost Australia. (2014). The Drinking Cup Shaped Like Marie Antoinette’s Anatomy. [online] Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/marie-antoinette-champagne-coupe_n_1424686 [Accessed 4 Apr. 2018].
HuffPost UK. (2018). The Glass Shaped Like Marie Antoinette’s Anatomy. [online] Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/marie-antoinette-champagne-coupe_n_1424686 [Accessed 27 May 2014].
Johnson, H. (1966). Wine. London: Nelson.
Johnson, H. (1989). The story of wine. London: Mitchell Beazley.
Linkedin. (n.d.). The Untold Story of Wine and Spirits Glass Evolution (Part 1 of 3, the Wine Glass). [online] Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/untold-story-wine-spirits-glass-evolution-part-1-3-george-manska [Accessed 4 Apr. 2018].
Zupan, Z., Evans, A., Couturier, D. and Marteau, T. (2017). Wine glass size in England from 1700 to 2017: a measure of our time. BMJ, 359.
Maitland Mercury reports of The Hunter River Vineyard Association
Author: Robert Lusby AM
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