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Winey Vidi Vici – I Came, I Slurped, I Conquered

 article about Winey Vidi Vici – I Came, I Slurped, I Conquered

This article belongs to Wine theme.


Most people don't know this but drinking wine can actually make you more intelligent. Certain chemicals found in grapes are a natural neural stimulant. During the fermenting process these chemicals become active, increasing their potency. This actually allows the drinker to think more clearly, opens his mind to new ideas and concepts and, after prolonged usage, can increase his intelligence by up to forty percent. Not only that, becoming a wine drinker can also make you more polite, cultured and dignified. Doctors now believe that a glass of red wine a day can decrease your chances of developing heart problems and increase your chances of becoming a successful poet.

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On what basis do we consider fermented grape juice to be an elixir of style and sophistication?
I am, of course, being ironic. Wine can no more turn you into a handsome prince than a kiss from Princess Diana (it didn't work on Prince Charles). But that's what we'd all like to think, isn't it; that by drinking wine we show ourselves to be cultured and perhaps even upper class? Just why is that? On what basis do we consider fermented grape juice to be an elixir of style and sophistication?

Why are we all compelled to drink wine on Valentines Day? Is it really so romantic a drink? Will it get your date drunk and into bed any quicker than a small glass of chilled vodka? No, it's because we want to project a certain image of ourselves, show our respective lovers that we are sophisticated creatures, akin to the pleasures of high society. A more effective way of doing that might be to start breeding horses at the dinner table but somehow I think it might put a lady off her carbonara.

Why does knowing our wines make us feel like members of the aristocracy? In what crazy world is knowledge and the consumption of alcoholic beverages a signifier of wealth and good breeding?

In class obsessed Britain, that's where.

Perhaps it's different in the sunny climes of southern Europe. Where wine is actually produced it must have been historically more available and much cheaper. For the Romans wine was as vital a commodity as water, and it made sense. Being alcoholic, wine was safer to drink than water and was drunk with the same gusto as fizzy-pop is today. In Celtic Britanica, we had to make do with beer and were quite happy with our own equivalent. Wine was something foreign that we simply didn't understand and weren't interested in trying. We said things like ‘ee those southern bloody Romans, swanking around with their fancy wine. Give me a flagon of Old Tooth Rot any day,' as many in the North of England still do today. But as Rome expanded it's influence so did it's wine merchants. Tribal leaders in southern Britain made alliances with the great civilization and so wanted to be seen as being Roman themselves. For these people Old Tooth Rot simply wouldn't do any more. They needed wine and mosaics and consumed both in great quantities, importing the Roman goods in giant clay carafes. The battle of the classes – and so the war between beer and wine – had begun.

Things changed very little with the Roman invasion of Britain except that there were now more newly rich farmers building villas, drinking wine and staggering around the countryside singing ‘show me the way to go to Rome…' The poor still drank their beer and regarded the rich as Roman sell outs. The newly formed middle classes probably drank more wine and ate more cheese than anybody but they aren't so important as they'd be the first to be slaughtered when the Saxons came a knocking, saying ‘ere, what's this posh muck they're all drinking?'

As it happens the Saxon invaders would develop a taste for wine themselves and when Roman armies pulled out of Britain once and for all the demand for wine remained high. The fact is we never actually wanted them to go. We enjoyed the civilization they had brought and we were afraid that without the legions to protect us we'd be plunged into the dark ages – and that's exactly what happened. But just because the legions had gone that didn't mean we couldn't keep on acting like Romans. The rich still wanted to show off, more so than ever. They wanted the world and his missus to see that they were as civilized as any Roman governor. They wanted to invite the world and his missus to a fondue party and show off their new tiled bathroom. The fact that this new ruling class had transplanted themselves from Germany, slaughtering their predecessors and pillaging the countryside, only meant that they had more to prove.

‘Do you like the tiles Hilda? We pillaged them from the villa down the road.'

‘Is that the place on Watling Street? Where we got our dining set?'

‘Oh goodness no. We wouldn't be seen dead pillaging there.'

In later years it would be the Vikings that rose to power over Britain, with more of a taste for beer and Klingon Blood Wine, but they'd drink anything so long as it got them pissed. After that it was the turn of the Normans, who already knew so much about wine that they could tell the difference between the good stuff and the cheap plonk from down the off-licence.

Throughout all of these invasions beer always remained the preferred drink of the masses. But the rich and the ambitious have always had the need to drink wine. By doing so they were following an ancient tradition. They were confirming, or inventing, a kinship with the original great civilization of Europe – the Roman Empire.

So the next time you order a large dry white, consider what it is that you are doing. You're saying ‘I'm no longer a savage Celt.' You're making the claim that you are somehow part of the Roman tradition of civilization.' Wine won't turn you into a great Roman senator, but somewhere deep in your psyche will be a small part of your ego imagining that you're wearing a toga and laurels, whilst designing an aqueduct.

Personally, I prefer a pint of beer. But then what do I know – I'm just an uncivilized Celt.


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