The Origins of 5 Different Wine Traditions from around the World
Ever since wine was first discovered, people began ritualizing its production and consumption. For many, wine is to be savored with dinner. We raise our glasses in celebration and toast to good health. We might clink glasses with friends and family (this act is said to stem from the middle ages when wine drinkers would touch glasses to ensure that no one had poisoned the wine). Whilst these traditions all seem entirely normal and acceptable to us, wine traditions from around the world can vary greatly.
From the weird and wonderful drinking wine out of a shoe tradition in Ukraine to the highly revered wine rituals in France, each wine-producing region has its own unique wine traditions that sets it apart from the rest. Like wine, wine traditions have evolved over time, influenced by a blend of cultural and historical factors.
French Wine Traditions
In France, wine is seen as an essential part of daily life and meals, with specific wine and food pairings a norm at the dinner table. This matching of food and wine dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans who believed that wine aided digestion. However, it was during the Middle Ages when French wine production and wine culture truly flourished, with the French monarchy becoming highly involved in wine cultivation.
As wine was a necessary part of aristocratic life, the French monarchy set wine laws and regulations, working towards creating the perfect wine. This led to the establishment of wine regions and wine classification systems, such as the 1855 Official Bordeaux Wine Classification.
A notable Gallic wine tradition is the wine tasting ritual. Instead of simply swirling and sniffing wine, the French adopt a more meticulous approach. The first step is to look at the wine’s color, clarity, and wine legs (the wine streaks left on the glass after it is swirled). Next, they observe the wine’s aroma by gently swirling the wine and taking a whiff. Finally, they consider the wine’s body and length (how long its taste lingers) by taking a small sip and letting it roll on their tongues. Only then is it time to finally imbibe, certainly never quaffing, the wine slowly. And you can forget about spitting the stuff out as the last step of wine tasting (unless you’re a judge in a win competition, of course!).
Georgian Wine Traditions
Wine has been produced in the Eastern European country of Georgia for over 8,000 years, and the Alzani Valley in Georgia is said to be one of the world’s oldest wine regions in the world. The traditional method of wine production in Georgia is through the use of qvevri – large clay pots buried underground and used for fermentation, storage, and aging. This wine tradition dates back to at least 6,000 BC and is still commonly practiced today.
Another Georgian wine tradition is the supra, a traditional Georgian feast involving wine, food, and toasts made by the tamada or toastmaster. The tamada plays an important role in leading the supra, deciding on the wine, food, and toasts. Toasts are often deep and meaningful, with topics ranging from love and friendship to politics.
However, we must warn you that there are hundreds of different toasts the tamada has at their disposal and it’s not uncommon to raise your glass 20 times or more during one meal. So, if you’re ever invited to a Georgian supra, don’t forget to pace yourself with the wine – it could be a long night.
Spanish Wine Traditions
Throwing a glass of wine in someone’s face may not be taken as a friendly gesture in most parts of the world. But in the Spanish north-eastern region of La Rioja, they have taken the practice of wine throwing and turned it into a joyous celebration.
Each year on the 29th of June, the Batalla del Vino, or “the wine battle”, takes place. Thousands of participants gather to wine-fight on the streets. The festivities begin when the townsfolk, dressed in traditional white clothing, carry red wine in jugs, bottles, buckets, and whatever else they can find through the streets. A procession is led from Haro to the Cliffs of Bilibio by the mayor on horseback, where a mass is held at The Hermitage of San Felices in honor of the saint.
After the mass, everyone gets armed with buckets, water pistols, and sprayers filled with wine, and then all bets are off! The whole scene erupts into a messy spree of wine-flinging chaos. If you’re ever in Spain around late June, be sure to check out this unique wine tradition for yourself!
Ukrainian Wine Traditions
When it comes to weddings in Ukraine, wine plays a special role in the celebration. Ukrainian wine tradition dictates that if a guest is able to steal one of the bride’s shoes, they earn the right to make the other guests undertake various duties, in a playful sense of course! Most frequently, the thief will demand guests drink a toast out of the stolen shoe.
The good news is that this tradition has become somewhat refined over the years and it is now commonplace that a wine glass is attached to the bride’s shoe so that the toast can be drunk without the aroma of feet ruining your drink! Whether you think this tradition is fun or just plain weird, there’s no denying that it’s a unique way to enjoy some wine with your friends and family.
Japanese Wine Traditions
Wine is often seen as a sophisticated beverage, and there are certain wine traditions that are considered to be sacrosanct. However, in Japan, it’s become trendy to drink wine “on the rocks” – that’s right, wine with ice. This unorthodox approach to wine has divided opinion among wine lovers, with some seeing it as a refreshing twist and others considering it a great wine sin. We tend to think of it as more of the latter, but it’s definitely something to try if you happen to be in Japan and want to fully immerse yourself in their wine traditions.
According to the ancient Greeks, wine was a gift from the gods. Certainly, humankind has found many ways to honor this divine gift – from wine battles to multitudinous wine toasts. When you think about it, the wine rituals you and I might take as normal, such as wine pairing with meals, may seem odd to people from other wine traditions around the world. Wine and wine drinking is simply whatever we make of it. So the next time you open a bottle, remember the diverse history and cultural significance of wine, and perhaps even try out a wine tradition from another country. Who knows, you might just find your new favorite wine tradition. Cheers!
Also read: The Science, Art, and History of Wine Bottle-Making
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