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Wine & Adulteration

Rod Phillips explains why, in spite of the reputation of old vintages, most wine consumed in the past would not have suited modern palates.

Look for a theme that runs through modern wine advertising and you’ll soon come up with history. For, whether it is expressed as tradition, age, or lineage, wine makers and merchants are at pains to stress the historical depth of their establishments and their wine. Recent issues of the influential magazine Wine Spectator include advertisements for wines made by the Antinori family which ‘has been pursuing [excellence and quality] in Tuscany for more than 26 generations’; for the French wine merchant Nicolas which describes itself as ‘a tradition’ people have depended on ‘for generations’ since 1822; and for Château Pape Clément, whose owners (‘the same family for many years’) point out that their vineyards were planted in 1220 and that they have just acquired an estate planted in 1459.


Undeterred by its youth, the American industry promotes itself in the same way. Gallo, the huge American wine producer, currently displays images of Gina Gallo, whom it describes as a ‘third-generation family winemaker’, while Clos Du Val, a Napa Valley vineyard, advertises (tongue in cheek, perhaps) wines with ‘a tradition of unparalleled excellence, with lineage dating back to 1972’.


This association of wine with age-old practices and lineage is not new. It began in earnest in the nineteenth century, when so many traditions were invented in order to balance the dramatic changes that were rapidly transforming Europe’s political, social, economic and cultural landscapes. As industry grew and cities sprawled, one part of the landscape – now in a literal sense – was depicted as unchanging: vineyards were portrayed as having been planted in the mists of time and the houses of their proprietors were endowed with a patina of age.


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