Telling wine’s history in 100 bottles

By on October 26, 2015
The History of Wine in 100 Bottles

British wine writer Oz Clarke captures the history of wine through the stories of 100 bottles, including a couple from the Pacific Northwest.

Can one tell the history of wine in 100 bottles? British wine author Oz Clarke certainly makes the case for it in The History of Wine in 100 Bottles, which began appearing on store shelves this summer.

Clarke uses brief chapters to tell the story of wine, going back to 6000 B.C. Each feature reveals the importance of various points in the history of wine, including the advent of the glass bottle, the development of bottle shapes, the importance of the British trade in the development of various Old World wine regions (particularly France).

For those of us who dwell in the New World, 100 Bottles reveals how we got here in enjoyable, approachable bites of information, including:

  • The birth of claret.
  • The rise of Haut-Brion.
  • Madeira and Port.
  • The development of corkscrews (and the comeback of screwcaps)
  • Barolo.
  • How Louis Pasteur changed winemaking.
  • The legend of Dom Perignon.

Arriving in the New World

Winemakers, wine collectors and philanthropists gathered Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 in Woodinville at Chateau Ste. Michelle for The Wine Gala, the finale for the Auction of Washington Wines. The three-day event has raised more than $30 million since its inception in 1988 for Seattle Children’s Hospital and wine research at Washington State University.

Chateau Ste. Michelle was built in 1976 in Woodinville, Wash., and the label began in 1967, a year that Oz Clarke marks as the beginning of the modern Washington wine industry. (Great Northwest Wine file photo)

One might believe that a London-based wine writer (and former West End actor) would focus heavily on European wine. And while that’s true in the first half of the book, Clarke does delve into the New World as appropriate.

He lands in North America in 1857 with the launch of Buena Vista Winery in California, following up with stories about Prohibition (1920-1933) and Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley (1936). Inclusion of Gallo and Mondavi help unfold the history of California wine, and the Judgment of Paris is rightly put in historical perspective with the rise of California to global prominence.

Considering the scope of this book, the Pacific Northwest enjoys a fair bit of the limelight.

Washington’s story begins in 1967, when American Wine Growers launched a new premium label called Ste. Michelle (it turned into something fairly significant).

The Eyrie Vineyards‘ 1975 South Block Reserve Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Dundee Hills earns its own chapter (the only one involving Oregon), thanks to how well it showed at a Paris tasting in 1979 – a moment that led to the rise of Oregon and the arrival of Burgundians in the Pacific Northwest.

British Columbia gets a peripheral mention on the chapter on Canadian icewines. Clarke dates this as 1991 because that’s the year an Inniskillin Vidal Icewine won the top prize at Vinexpo, although Walter Hainle and his son Tilman began producing icewine in the Okanagan Valley two decades earlier.

‘100 Bottles’ perfect for wine lovers

Repeal of Prohibition took place 80 years ago.

Alcohol is destroyed during the last years of federal Prohibition in the early 1930s.

Looking for a gift for the wine lover on your holiday list? The History of Wine in 100 Bottles might just be perfect. It is easy to digest in the two-page chapters. The writing is marvelous (expect no less from Clarke). And it’s beautifully illustrated with modern and historical photos.

And best of all, it’s more thoughtful than giving the latest bottle opener or aerator, which your wine lover probably wants no part of.

Here’s my guarantee: If this lands in the hands of your wine-loving spouse or sibling on Christmas morning, they will spend a good chunk of the rest of the day thumbing through it.

  • The History of Wine in 100 Bottles: From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond by Oz Clarke, $24.95. Published by Sterling Epicure. 223 pages, hardback.

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.

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