“Feast on wine or fast on water,
And your honour shall stand sure;
God Almighty’s son and daughter,
He the valiant, she the pure.
If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind intentions,
Go and pour them down the sink.
(from) A Song of Right and Wrong G.K. Chesterton
Wine is an alcoholic drink made from fermented fruit juice - usually from the juice of grapes on an industrial scale, although smaller producers often use berries instead. Wines made from apples are likely to be called cider instead. Other substances referred to as wine are sometimes made from grain based substances - such as barley wine and rice wine - although these are an uncomfortable fit to the category.
Wines are usually subdivided by source (both the fruit used and the geographical area) and by colour (red, white or pink in the case of grape wines). The quality of wine production often varies from year to year, and many varieties improve in storage anyway so the year of production is also important. Historically, much wine was consumed relatively young and was often spiced, blended and/or sweetened to adjust the flavour. Good wine - especially wine that keeps and travels well - traditionally commanded a premium and has been an important trade item and luxury good since the earliest days of wine.
Humans have been making wine for a long time - not quite as long as beer, given that we only have evidence of it as far back as about 6000BC, but still time enough for it to have accquired a great deal of significance in many cultures.
A large part of this significance is religious - wine was an important part of many ancient religions, frequently being sacrificed in the form of libations and some cultures even went as far as to have a specific god of wine (such as Bacchus/Dionysius the Greco-Roman deity of wine and revellry). Obviously wine also plays an important part in the Christian Eucharist and a less central, but still significant one in Judaism in which it has connotations of sanctity1 and rejoicing2.
There is often a (sometimes artificial) barrier drawn between wine drinking cultures and beer drinking ones - usually between the Mediterranean and Northern European. This is mainly a Greco-Roman idea - since they were great wine drinkers and tended not to partake of the far more Germanic beer … although the Celts and Egyptians were also beer drinkers which tends to undermine the theory a bit. In later European culture wines were generally a higher priced (and therefore higher status) drink, leading to a class divide between drinkers which, to some extent at least, persists to this day in nations where wine is imported rather than produced.
Fortification of wine with alcoholic spirits is often used to produce stronger drinks such as port, sherry and madiera.
Wine is also frequently used in cooking and can be used as a topical disinfectant in medicine. Wine that has spoilt by oxidation produces vinegar, which has many uses of its own.
Speaking of which, the adventurer looking for something to drink with his iron rations is probably buying a "wine" that is less like a table wine and more like the posca issued by the Roman Army. The substance in question is a fairly low end wine, which had little alcohol content to start with and tends to lose a significant amount of that to oxidation, leading to a thin, sour, fairly unpleasant brew. It's main function is not so much as a drink in its own right, but rather to be mixed with the local drinking water to sterilise it and cover up any "local flavour". An ancient version of the vicious "soft drink powder" found in military ration packs.
Game and Story Use
- Note the point about posca … taking a skin full of table wine down the dungeon with you may lead to some interesting stat penalties.
- Also, the usefulness of wine as treasure - although aging of wine is not as old as might be expected, there are still records of particularly renowed wines - especially Chian - being treasured, stored for years and brought out at special occasions.
- In an after-the-end campaign set in the dark ages, a magnate with an interest in Roman literature might pay a great deal for some "Chian" dug out of the ruins of some ancient settlement.
- Of course there's an excellent chance the magnate doesn't know Chian from donkey urine and will drink whatever is in the amphora on principle (hope it's not naptha… or liquamen for that matter). This and/or the fact that even the best wines can spoil in storage could lead to an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment … and possibly a swift exit by whoever sold him the stuff.
- More generally a shipment of wine constitues quite a valuable cargo for most of the middle ages.
- Even in the modern era, there are wines that change hands for hundreds or even thousands of pounds per bottle, making it a rare, stealable treasure into the present day.
- And that as far as the trope of the hired muscle drinking the wine in ignorance (in the same vein as the antique shotguns in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels).