May 24, 1337: On this day in 1337 the Hundred Years War between England and France commenced when King Philip VI of France confiscated the Duchy of Guyenne in western France from its owner, King Edward III of England. In retaliation, Edward declared war on France and claimed the French throne for himself. The war which followed lasted for over one hundred years as successive kings of England sought to acquire extensive territory in France and the French attempted to expel the English entirely from their country. One of the seldom discussed knock-on effects of this protracted conflict was that English governments tried to severely limit their importation of French wine between the mid-fourteenth and the mid-fifteenth centuries, the goal being to hurt the French financially. This, combined with the deleterious effects of the Black Death of the 1340s and 1350s and the devastation caused across France by the war itself, saw French wine production dip very considerably in the second half of the fourteenth century. For more information, see Jonathan Sumption’s Trial by Battle: The Hundred Years War 1 (London, 1999), as well as Christopher D. Turgeon’s ‘“Bacchus and Bellum”: The Anglo-Gascon Wine Trade and the Hundred Years War (987 to 1453 AD)’ (MA Thesis, The College of William and Mary, 2000).
May 24, 1453: The oldest reference to Cristallo glass in history was from this date. Cristallo was a significant factor in transforming the region in Venice, Murano, into the center of glass-making in Europe. At the time Cristallo was regarded as the clearest glass on the continent. The term was given because it resembled transparent quartz or rock crystal, which has long been carved into a variety of containers and tiny hardstone carvings. In the middle Ages, Christian holy artifacts frequently employed rock crystal, which was thought to have magical properties. The popularity of Cristallo soared. Despite being delicate and challenging to cut, this form of glass could be etched and enameled. The secret recipe for making Cristallo included manganese dioxide, a decolorizing chemical. It was simple to create a frosted or crackling version of the Murano Cristallo.
May 24, 1976: On this day, for the first time, two California wines triumphed over many French classics in a wine-tasting competition in France. French and American wines were tasted side by side by Steven Spurrier, the founder of the Academie du Vin, amongst other big names in the wine business of the 70s. The panel of judges voted 1973 Chateau Montelena as the best chardonnay. The vineyard was owned by Jim Barrett, from the Napa Valley. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was voted the best red wine. For more on Steven Spurrier, click here; for more on the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, see our other posts.