WW Norton £20

Review: Inventiny Wine: A New History of One of the World's Most Ancient Pleasures, By Paul Lukacs

What are you having?

As this thoughtful history reminds us, wine wasn't always a pleasure. Back when plain water was deadlier than even the foulest rotgut, it was a bare necessity, sunk by the gallon. Truly, life was nasty, brutish and pissed.

Wine started as a god pleaser, its consumption tied to religious ceremonies and Bacchanalian ecstasies. But monks secularised it, most notably in Burgundy where the taxonomically minded brothers defined vineyard borders that remain in use today. Most wine was drunk young, before its inevitable decline – "sour" and "shrill" are Paul Lukacs's most oft-used flavour descriptors.

Fine wine as we know it didn't appear until the invention of a reliable glass container. Monsieur Pontac, the owner of a Bordelais vineyard called Haut-Brion, was the first vintner to sell his estate's wine individually. The early wine critic Samuel Pepys tried "Ho Bryan" in London and loved it. But it still came in leaky casks.

Louis Pasteur nailed the causes of spoilage – oxygen and bacteria – and the 19th century saw the first true vins de garde: bottles that improved with long storage. Then phylloxera, an unwelcome US aphid, killed non-resistant vines across Europe, and the multiple blows of war, depression, prohibition and cocktails almost destroyed the wine industry.

The New World revolutionised wine. Australia democratised the market with cheap, identifiable facsimiles of the classics; California devised the "varietal". But this self-invention was not new. France's Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée system was instigated by a Great War hero eager to promote quality in an obscure, stony terroir called Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It worked: CNdP has long has been the priciest of all Southern Rhône crus.

Lukacs contends that we live in a golden vinous age, with provisos. Although actively bad wine is no longer widely available, predictable, market-led wine abounds. The tastes of superstar critics such as Robert Parker have been so second-guessed that one US consultancy guarantees an excellent, hence profitable, review for winemakers following their method. For all the mystical communion and misty history, this myth-busting volume reminds us that wine is an agricultural product, made and sold for profit.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ed Miliband interview: 'There is only one party standing up for the integrity of the UK'

    'There is only one party standing up for the integrity of the UK'

    Ed Miliband talks zero hours contracts, non-doms and the NHS
    Libya's criminals undermine attempts to prop up a collapsing state

    Libya's criminals undermine attempts to prop up a collapsing state

    It's not just people-smuggling rackets, but also black markets in weapons, drugs and any other goods that need to avoid government supervision and taxation, says Patrick Cockburn
    General Election 2015: On the campaign trail in Rochdale – the town globalisation left behind

    On the campaign trail in Rochdale

    The town globalisation left behind
    Ivor Novello awards 2015: Meet James Napier, the backroom hitmaker for Sam Smith and Clean Bandit

    Meet James Napier

    The backroom hitmaker for Sam Smith and Clean Bandit is the hottest name in pop you've never heard of
    Should we be drinking milk? Arguments for and against dairy

    Should we be drinking milk?

    Arguments for and against dairy
    14 best girls' summer dresses

    14 best girls' summer dresses

    Whether they're on the beach in the south of France or in the garden at nan's house, there's a dress to keep them cool, comfortable and looking fabulous
    David Haye interview: Thought of Las Vegas lures Haye back to the ring

    Thought of Las Vegas lures Haye back to the ring

    Having overcome an injury that seemed to have ended his career, the heavyweight realised there were things left undone – a fight at the spiritual home of boxing
    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned