Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Traditional US Navy Wine Toast

Traditional US Navy Wine ToastThe following is excerpted from the US Navy's "Mess Night Manual", Naval School, Civil Engineer Corps Officers, Port Hueneme, California, August 1986, and contains a very readable description of how to give a wine toast...

A toast is a social formality in which wine or liquor is drunk in honor of an individual or organization. The custom of toasting is very old, dating from the pre-Christian era. Today it is practiced throughout the world with slight variations in different localities.

The term "toast" has its origin in sixteenth century England, where it was fashionable to add a small piece of toasted bread to drinks. The toast was a delicacy, somewhat like the olive in a martini. It thus became customary for the term "toast" to be applied to a drink proposed in honor of a person during a meal or at its conclusion. Although the bit of toast is no longer used, the term has survived to the present day.

In our society, toasting is a part of many occasions - wedding receptions, engagement parties, anniversaries, wetting-down parties, and official dinners, including Mess Nights. Much of the etiquette of toasting is the same for these occasions. For the details of toasting at occasions other than Mess Nights, the reader should consult one of the many excellent books available on social etiquette.

Toasts are offered in honor of one or more individuals or organizations. Toasting to places or things is improper. Thus when proposing a toast to a command, one must be careful to speak of the command as an organization of people rather than as a geographical location or a facility. When toasting individuals, it is proper to toast the individual's position, but not toasting them by name.

When a toast is proposed, all persons present stand and participate except those who are the object of the toast. These persons may either stand or remain seated, but do not sip the drink, for to do so would be to drink to oneself. It is entirely proper to drink to ones own country or head of state. Although some etiquette books disagree, it has become the practice to drink to ones service, i.e., "The Navy," when that service is the only one present. Likewise, it has become customary to drink to ones own component of the service when nearly everyone is a Civil Engineer Corps Officer, all would participate in toasts to "The Civil Engineer Corps" and "The Seabees". However, a few naval officers at a civilian dinner would not participate in a toast to "The Navy." It is always improper to drink to ones own command. This restriction may be circumvented by toasting the commanding officer of the command.

Toasts are usually made with champagne, but other wines are also suitable. At a Mess Night, port wine is used for all toasts. Although civilian practice is more permissive, in the military, toasts are never drunk with liqueurs, soft drinks, or water. Tradition is that the object of a toast with water will die by drowning.

There are other traditional reasons why water is not available during the toasting. In 1649, Oliver Cromwell took over the government of England upon the execution of Charles I. The Royal Successor, James I, was in exile on the Continent. Thus, it came to pass that certain subterfuges developed in the military among the officers remaining loyal to the crown. Water goblets formerly remained on the table during the toasts, and the officers remaining loyal to the uncrowned king always passed their wine over the water in the goblet. In this manner, they were secretly and silently saluting the Royal Exile, who was "over the water." When this clandestine homage was exposed, the least of the consequences was the removal of water goblets prior to passing the port, a custom which remains with us today.

It is socially improper to refuse to participate in a toast, even though one does not drink. A non-drinker should lift his glass of wine to his lips without actually drinking it.

International custom dictates certain procedures which are followed when toasts are exchanged in foreign messes or United States messes when foreign guests are present. At the end of the meal, the host proposes a standing toast to the head of state of the foreign guest's country. All present rise, repeat the toast, sip the wine (or raise it to their lips if they are non-drinkers), remain standing while the national anthem of the guest's country is played, following which they sit down. A minute or so later, the highest ranking foreign guest then responds by proposing a toast to the head of state of the host's country. (All rise, repeat the toast, drink, remain standing through the national anthem of the host's country, and sit down.) These toasts may be followed by toasts to the services present.

If it should occur that guests from several foreign countries are present, the host may propose a collective toast to the heads of their states. They should be named in order of seniority of the guests present. The highest ranking foreign guest then responds with a toast to the head of state of the host's country.

When drinking a toast, one should sip the wine. It is not necessary to empty the glass. Several toasts may be made with the same glass of wine. He who exercises moderation in drinking each toast will survive a long series of toasts in better fashion than one who "bottoms-up" on each toast. This is especially true at a Mess Night where the port wine used for toasting is sweet and strong.

It is customary for a special toast to be given for each evening of the week. The toasts are as follows:

Monday night: "Our ships at sea"
Tuesday night: "Our men"
Wednesday night: "Ourselves"
Thursday night: "A bloody war or a sickly season"
Friday night: "A willing foe and sea-room"
Saturday night: "Sweethearts and wives"
Sunday night: "Absent friends"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

French Village Life at Wine Harvest, 1879

This edited excerpt from "Facts About Champagne and Other Sparkling Wines", by Henry Vizetelly, 1879, is very descriptive of French village life during a wine harvest in the latter part of the 19th century.

With the exception of certain famous vineyards of the Rhône, the vinelands of the Champagne may, perhaps, be classed among the most picturesque of the more notable vine districts of France. Between Paris and Epernay even, the banks of the Marne present a series of scenes of quiet beauty. The undulating ground is everywhere cultivated like a garden. Handsome châteaux and charming country houses peep out from amid luxuriant foliage. Picturesque antiquated villages line the river’s bank or climb the hill sides, and after leaving La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, the cradle of the Condés, all the more favoured situations commence to be covered with vines.

The pleasantest season of the year to visit the Champagne is certainly during the vintage. When this is about to commence, the vintagers—some of whom come from Sainte Menehould, forty miles distant, while others hail from as far as Lorraine—are summoned at daybreak by beat of drum in the market-places of the villages adjacent to the vineyards, and then and there a price is made for the day’s labour. This is generally either a franc and a half, with food consisting of three meals, or two francs and a half without food, children being paid a franc and a half. The rate of wage satisfactorily arranged, the gangs start off to the vineyards, headed by their overseers.

In these ordinarily quiet little villages the majority of the inhabitants were afoot, the feeble feminine half with the juveniles threading their way through the rows of vines half-way up the mountain, basket on arm, while the sturdy masculine portion were mostly passing to and fro between the press-houses and the wine-shops. Carts piled up with baskets, or crowded with peasants from a distance on their way to the vineyards, jostled the low railway trucks laden with bran-new casks, and the somewhat rickety cabriolets of the agents of the big champagne houses, reduced to clinch their final bargain for a hundred or more pièces of the peerless wine of Ay, beside the reeking wine-press.

The men are mostly in blue blouses, and the women in closely-fitting neat white caps, or wearing old-fashioned unbleached straw-bonnets of the contemned coal-scuttle type. They detach the grapes with scissors or hooked knives, technically termed “serpettes,” and in some vineyards proceed to remove all damaged, decayed, or unripe fruit from the bunches before placing them in the baskets hanging on their arms, the contents of which are from time to time emptied into a larger basket resembling a deep clothes-basket in shape, numbers of these being dispersed about the vineyard for the purpose, and invariably in the shade. When filled they are carried by a couple of men to the roadside, along which dwarf stones carved with initials, and indicating the boundaries of the respective properties, are encountered every eight or ten yards, into such narrow strips are the vineyards divided. Large carts with railed open sides are continually passing backwards and forwards to pick these baskets up, and when one of them has secured its load it is driven slowly—in order that the grapes may not be shaken—to the neighbouring pressoir, so extreme is the care observed throughout every stage of the process of champagne manufacture.

In many of the vineyards the grapes are inspected in bulk instead of in detail before being sent to the wine-press. The hand-baskets, when filled, are all brought to a particular spot, where their contents are minutely examined by some half-dozen men and women, who pluck off all the bruised, rotten, and unripe berries, and fling them aside into a separate basket. In one vineyard we came upon a party of girls, congregated round a wicker sieve perched on the top of a large tub by the roadside, who were busy sorting the grapes, pruning away the diseased stalks, and picking off all the doubtful berries, and letting the latter fall through the interstices of the sieve, the sound fruit being deposited in large baskets standing by their side, which, as soon as filled, were conveyed to the pressoir.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

California as a Vineland, 1864

This excerpt from May 1864 edition of The Atlantic Monthly Magazine is interesting in its comparison of early California wines to their European cousins of the time.

The wines now made in California are known under the following names: "White" or "Hock" Wine, "Angelica," "Port," "Muscatel," "Sparkling California," and "Piquet." The character of the first-named wine is much like that of the Rhine wines of Germany. It is not unlike the _Capri bianco_ of Naples, or the white wines of the South of France. It is richer and fuller-bodied than the German wines, without the tartness which is strongly developed in nearly all the Rhenish varieties. It is a fine wine, and meets the approval of many of our best connoisseurs. Specimens of it have been sent to some of the wine-districts of Germany, and the most flattering expressions in its favor have come from the Rhine. The "Angelica" and "Muscatel" are both _naturally_ sweet, intended as dessert-wines, and to suit the taste of those who do not like a dry wine. They are both of a most excellent quality, and are very popular. The "Port" is a rich, deep-colored, high-flavored wine, not unlike the Burgundies of France, yet not so dry. The "Sparkling California" and "Piquet" are as yet but little known. The latter is made from the lees of the grape, is a sour, very light wine, and not suitable for shipment. Messrs. Sainsivain Brothers have up to the present time been the principal house engaged in the manufacture of Champagne. So far, they have not been particularly successful. This wine has a certain bitter taste, which is not agreeable; yet it is a much better wine than some kinds of the foreign article sold in our markets. The makers are still experimenting, and will, no doubt, improve. It is probable that most of the good sparkling wine which we shall get from California will be made in the northern part of the State; the grapes grown there seem to be better adapted to the purpose than those raised in Los Angeles.

There is no doubt, too, that the foreign grape will be used for this branch of the business, rather than the Los Angeles variety. All that is required to obtain many other varieties of wine, including brands similar to Sherry and Claret, is time to find a proper grape, and to select a suitable soil for its culture. Considering the short time which has elapsed since the business was commenced, wonders have been accomplished. It has taken Ohio thirty years to furnish us two varieties of wine, while in less than one-third that time California has produced six varieties, four of which are of a very superior quality, and have already taken a prominent position in the estimation of the best tastes in the country.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Instructions for an American Wine Cellar, 1866

As the wine-cellar and press-house are generally built together, I will also describe them together. A good cellar should keep about an even temperature in cold and warm weather, and should, therefore, be built sufficiently deep, arched over with stone, well ventilated, and kept dry. Where the ground is hilly, a northern or northwestern slope should be chosen, as it is a great convenience, if the entrance can be made even with the ground. Its size depends, of course, upon the quantity of wine to be stored. I will here give the dimensions of one I am constructing at present, and which is calculated to store from 15,000 to 20,000 gallons of wine. The principal cellar will be 100 feet long, by 18½ feet wide inside, and 12 feet high under the middle of the arch. This will be divided into two compartments; the back one, at the farthest end of the cellar, to be 40 feet, which is destined to keep old wine of former vintages; as it is the deepest below the ground, it will keep the coolest temperature. It is divided from the front compartment by a wall and doors, so that it can be shut off should it become necessary to heat the other, while the must is fermenting. The other compartment will be 60 feet long, and is intended for the new wine, as the temperature will be somewhat higher, and, therefore, better adapted to the fermentation of the must. This will be provided with a stove, so that the air can be warmed, if necessary, during fermentation. This will also be closed by folding doors, 5½ feet wide. There will be about six ventilators, or air-flues, on each side of these two cellars, built in the wall, constructed somewhat like chimneys, commencing at the bottom, whose upper terminus is about two feet above the arch, and closed with a grate and trap-doors, so that they can be closed and opened at will, to admit air and light. Before this principal cellar is an arched entrance, twenty feet long inside, also closed by folding doors, and as wide as the principal cellar. This will be very convenient to store empty casks, and can also be used as a fermenting room in Fall, should it be needed. The arch of the principal cellar will be covered with about six feet of earth; the walls of the cellar to be two feet thick. The press-house will be built above the cellar, over its entire length, and will also be divided into two rooms. The part farthest from the entrance of the cellar, to be 60 feet by 18, will be the press-house proper, with folding doors on both sides, about the middle of the building, and even with the surface ground, so that a wagon can pass in on one side and out on the other. This will contain the grape-mill, wine-presses, apparatus for stemming, and fermenting vats for white or light-colored wine. The other part, 40 feet long, will contain an apparatus for distilling, the casks and vats to store the husks for distilling, and the vats to ferment very dark colored wines on the husks, should it be necessary. It will also be used as a shop, contain a stove, and be floored, so that it will be convenient, in wet and cold weather, to cut cuttings, &c. A large cistern, to be built on one side of the building, so that the necessary water for cleaning casks, &c., will be handy; with a force-pump, will complete the arrangement. I need hardly add here, that the whole cellar should be paved with flags or brick, and well drained, so that it will be perfectly dry.

This cellar is destined to hold two rows of casks, five feet long, on each side. For this purpose layers of strong beams are provided, upon which the casks are laid in such a manner that they are about two feet from the ground, fronting to the middle, and at least a foot or eighteen inches of space allowed between them and the wall, so that a man can conveniently pass and examine them. This will leave five and a-half to six feet of space between the two rows, to draw off the wine, move casks, &c.

This cellar will, at the present rates of work, cost about $6,000. Of course, the cellar, as before remarked, can be built according to the wants of the grape-grower. For merely keeping wine during the first winter, a common house cellar will do; but during the hot days of summer wine will not keep well in it.

From "The Cultivation of The Native Grape, and Manufacture of American Wines", by
George Husmann, 1866.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Bohemian Guide to Serving Wine

This vintage summary of how best to serve wine is originally from "Bohemian San Francisco, Its restaurants and their most famous recipes--The elegant art of dining.", first published in 1914. It contains some good advice still relevant today.

A few hints regarding the proper serving of wines may not be amiss, and we give you here the consensus of opinion of the most noted gourmets who have made a study of the best results from combinations.

- Never drink any hard liquors, such as whisky, brandy, gin, or cocktails, with oysters or clams, as it is liable to upset you for the rest of the evening.
- With hor d'ourves serve vermouth, sherry, marsala or madeira wine.
- With soup and fish serve white wines, such as Rhein wine, sauterne or white burgundy.
- With entrees serve clarets or other red wines, such as Swiss, Bordeaux, Hungarian or Italian wines.
- Burgundy may also be served at any of the later courses.
- With roasts serve champagne or any of the sparkling wines.
- With coffee serve kirch, French brandy or fine champagne.
- After coffee serve a liqueur. Never serve more than one glass of any liqueur.

The following wines may be considered the best types:

Amontillado, Montilo and Olorosa sherries.

Austrian burgundy is one of the finest wines, possessing rich flavor and fine perfume.

Other burgundies are:

Chablis: A white burgundy, dry and of agreeable aroma.
Chambertin: A sound, delicate wine with a flavor resembling raspberry.
Clos de Vogeot: Similar to chambertin, and often called the king of burgundy.
Romanee: A very rare and costly wine of rich, ruby color, with a delicate bouquet.

Clarets are valued for their flavor and for their tonic properties. Some of the best are:

Chateau Grille: A desert wine of good flavor and fine aroma.
Chateau Lafitte: Has beautiful color and delicate flavor.
Chateau la Rose: Greater alcoholic strength and of fine flavor.
Chateau Margaux: Rich, with delicate flavor and excellent bouquet.
Pontet Canet: A heavier wine with good bouquet and fine flavor.
St. Julien: A lighter claret with good bouquet.

German wines are of lighter character, and are generally termed Rhein wines. The best varieties are:

Hochheimer: A light, pleasing and wholesome wine.
Brauneberger: A good variety with pleasing flavor and aroma.
Dreimanner: Similar to Brauneberger.
Deidesheimer: Similar to Brauneberger.
Graffenberg: Light and pleasant. Good aroma.
Johannisberger Schloss: One of the best of the German wines.
Rudesheimer Schloss: In class with Johannisberger.

Italian wines are mostly red, the most noted in California being Chianti, and its California prototype. Tipo Chianti, made by the Asti Colony.

Lacrima Christi Spumanti: The finest Italian champagne. Dry and of magnificent bouquet.
Vin d'Oro Spumanti: A high-class champagne. Sweet and of fine bouquet and flavor.
Lacrima Christi: A still wine of excellent flavor and bouquet.
Malaga: A wine of high repute. Sweet and powerful. A peculiar flavor is given to it through the addition of a small quantity of burned wine.
Marsala: Is a golden wine of most agreeable color and aroma.

Sauterne: Is a white Bordeaux, a strong luscious wine, the best known varieties being:
Chateau Yquem: Remarkable for its rich and velvety softness.
Barsac: Rich and good.
Chateau Filhot: Of rich color and good flavor.
Chateau Latour Blanche: A white sauterne of exquisite bouquet.
Haut Sauterne: Soft and mild. Of good flavor.
Vin de Graves: Good and Strong. Good aroma and flavor.

Vintage years have much to do with the quality of wines. The best vintage years are as follows:

Champagnes: 1892.
Rhein and Moselle: 1893.
Burgandy: 1892, 1899 and 1904.
Claret: 1898 and 1904.
Port: 1896 and 1904.
Sherry: 1882, 1890, 1898 and 1900.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Champagne Bottling in the 19th Century

This is from "Facts about Champagne and Other Sparkling Wines", by Henry Vizetelly, 1879.

The cellars of the champagne manufacturers are very varied in character. The wine that has been grown on the chalky hills undergoes development in vaults burrowed out of the calcareous strata underlying the entire district. In excavating these cellars the sides and roofs are frequently worked smooth and regular as finished masonry. The larger ones are composed of a number of spacious and lofty galleries, sometimes parallel with 58 each other, but often ramifying in various directions, and evidently constructed on no definite plan. They are of one, two, and, in rare instances, of three stories, and now and then consist of a series of parallel galleries communicating with each other, lined with masonry, and with their stone walls and vaulted roofs resembling the crypt of some conventual building. Others of ancient date are less regular in their form, being merely so many narrow low winding corridors, varied, perhaps, by recesses hewn roughly out of the chalk, and resembling the brigands’ cave of the melodrama, while a certain number of the larger cellars at Reims are simply abandoned quarries, the broad and lofty arches of which are suggestive of the nave and aisles of some Gothic church. In these varied vaults, lighted by solitary lamps in front of metal reflectors, or by the flickering tallow candles which we carry in our hands, we pass rows of casks filled with last year’s vintage or reserved wine of former years, and piles after piles of bottles of vin brut in seemingly endless sequence—squares, so to speak, of raw champagne recruits awaiting their turn to be thoroughly drilled and disciplined. These are varied by bottles reposing necks downwards in racks at different degrees of inclination according to the progress their education has attained. Reports caused by exploding bottles now and then assail the ear, and as the echo dies away it becomes mingled with the rush of the escaping wine, cascading down the pile and finding its way across the sloping sides of the floor to the narrow gutter in the centre. The dampness of the floor and the shattered fragments of glass strewn about show the frequency of this kind of accident. The spilt wine, which flows along the gutter into reservoirs, is usually thrown away, though there is a story current to the effect that the head of one Epernay firm cooks nearly everything consumed in his house in the fluid thus let loose in his cellars.

In these subterranean galleries we frequently come upon parties of workmen engaged in transforming the perfected vin brut into champagne. Viewed at a distance while occupied in their monotonous task, they present in the semi-obscurity a series of picturesque Rembrandt-like studies. One of the end 59 figures in each group is engaged in the important process of dégorgement, which is performed when the deposit, of which we have already spoken, has satisfactorily settled in the neck of the bottle. Baskets full of bottles with their necks downwards are placed beside the operator, who stands before an apparatus resembling a cask divided vertically down the middle. This nimble-figured manipulator seizes a bottle, holds it for a moment before the light to test the clearness of the wine and the subsidence of the deposit; brings it, still neck downwards, over a small tub at the bottom of the apparatus already mentioned; and with a jerk of the steel hook which he holds in his right hand loosens the agrafe securing the cork, Bang goes the latter, and with it flies out the sediment and a small glassful or so of wine, further flow being checked by the workman’s finger, which also serves to remove any sediment yet remaining in the bottle’s neck. Like many other clever tricks, this looks very easy when adroitly performed, though a novice would probably empty the bottle by the time he had discovered that the cork was out. Occasionally a bottle bursts in the dégorgeur’s hand, and his face is sometimes scarred from such explosions. The sediment removed, he slips a temporary cork into the bottle, and the wine is ready for the important operation of the dosage, upon the nature and amount of which the character of the perfected wine, whether it be dry or sweet, light or strong, very much depends.