Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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sack, name for a white fortified wine, imported from Spain or the Canary islands, which was much in vogue in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. Its most famous, fictional, consumer was Sir John Falstaff in Shakespeare’s 2 Henry IV, Act iv, Scene ii he delivers his classic speech in its praise. The etymology of sack is disputed. The Oxford English Dictionary derives the word from the French word sec meaning ‘dry’, but admits that it cannot produce a convincing explanation for the difference in vowels. Moreover, sack was probably sweet. It was matured in wood for up to two years so it would have been like a cheap oloroso. Hence Julian Jeffs proposes another derivation: Spanish sacar, to draw out, from which sacas became exports of wine. Often the place of production was put before the noun, as in Canary sack (see la palma), Malaga sack, (see Málaga), Sherris (or Sherry) sack. Sherris is jerez, hence the modern word sherry. From the end of the 17th century, ‘sherry’ began to replace ‘sack’ as the generic term, but sack was still used in the 18th century.