In my books, the characters often drink ‘spiced wine’. In book I, The Road to Alexander, Ashley sips a cup of wine and notes it has a faintly spicy taste. Sometimes she says she has a cup of honeyed wine.
We cannot time travel, as Ashley did, to ancient Greece. But we can time travel – by reading history, myths, visiting a museum, or doing something slightly differently – such as drinking wine like the ancients did. Wine – one of the most ancient of human inventions. In the pantheon of Greek gods, the god of wine, Dionysus, is the most mysterious, whose origins are obscure. The most common origin given for Dionysus was that he was the son of Zeus and Semele. Zeus seduced the princess of Thebes, but then jealous Hera tricked Semele into demanding that Zeus reveal his true form to her. As a mortal, Semele could not look upon a god’s true form without dying. Zeus managed to rescue the unborn Dionysus by sewing him into his thigh. A few months later, Dionysus was born from Zeus’s thigh. In other stories, Dionysus’s mother is Persephone, and that Hera sent Titans to kill the infant Dionysus. Regardless of the mother’s identity, the myths remained consistent that Zeus sewed Dionysus into his thigh. Thus, Dionysus was known to have been twice-born and was sometimes called “dimetor” (of two mothers).
In ancient Greece, wine was often drunk watered down and savory flavors added such as garlic or assafoetida (to our modern noses, a foul-smelling onion type root), as well as raisins, honey, or other spices. Pine pitch was sometimes used when the wine had gone sour, and a pine cone is part of the wine-god’s sceptor.
Dionysus (or Dionysos) was the Greek deity of winemaking and wine, of ecstasy and madness. His symbol is a thyrsus – a stalk of giant fennel (narthēx) segmented like bamboo, sometimes with ivy leaves inserted in the hollow end and topped with a pine cone. According to legend, it dripped honey – and so we can imagine that fennel, pine, and honey were traditional additions to cups of wine.
Here is an ancient recipe for wine – Enjoy!
Recipe for Mulsum
Also known as Conditum paradoxum, from Apicius’s De re coquinaria
1 bottle dry white wine
¾ cup (6 ounces) clear honey
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
Pinch saffron threads
1. Pour 2/3 cup of the wine and the honey into a 2-quart saucepot and bring it to a boil.
2. Remove the saucepot from the heat and add seasonings to the hot wine; set it aside for 5 minutes.
3. After 5 minutes, add the rest of the wine.
4. Serve mulsum warm or transfer the mixture to a glass jar, cover, and refrigerate. As a modern variant, this drink can also be enjoyed cold over ice.
In the Medoc, we have friends at the Winery Tour Haut Caussan who make wine. This year, they made a limited edition of a form of rosé called claret. It’s darker than traditional rosé wine, because the color comes from the grape skins, and the skins also protect the wine because they have a higher amount of tanin. Sulphur addition dampens fruit aromatics and bleaches colour, which is why white wines and rosés have a higher amount of sulfates. There is nothing really wrong with sulfates – our own bodies produce them naturally – but some people say they can cause headaches and so prefer red wine. The claret is a rosé that has not been bleached by sulfates, and as such, is a clear ruby color. But besides the delicious taste, it was the design on the bottle that caught my eye!