New Wines and New Containers

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Early modern times brought the invention of several wonderful variants on plain fermented grape juice, and important improvements in wine storage. Sometime before 1600, Spanish winemakers found that they could both stabilize and give a new character to wines by fortifying them with brandy; the result was sherry. Around 1650, Hungarian winemakers managed to make deliciously concentrated and very sweet Tokaji wine from grapes infected by an otherwise destructive fungus, which came to be known as the “noble rot.” This was the forerunner of French Sauternes and similar sweet German wines. At about the same time, English importers of white wine from the Champagne region east of Paris discovered that they could make the wine delightfully bubbly by transferring it from barrel to bottles before it had finished fermenting. And a few decades later, the English developed port in the effort to stabilize strong red wines during their sea journey from Portugal. The shippers added distilled alcohol to the wines to prevent spoilage, and thus discovered the pleasures of fortified sweet red wines.