Posts Tagged 'Wine'

Wine Not?

Since today is National Wine Day, we’ve created some lovely pairings with a few wine-themed objects in our collection. So, whether you are a fan of red or white, we have something for every palate.

The Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup, Momoyama period, Japan, Ink, Pigment On Gold, Pair Of Six-Fold Screens, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc. 1989.78.A-B.McD

The Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup, Momoyama period, c. 1600,  Japan, ink and pigment on gold; pair of six-fold screens, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc. 1989.78.a-b.McD

From Japan we have The Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup, created around 1600. Although this is a Japanese work, the screen depicts an 8th-century Chinese poem about a group of high-class revelers that included politicians, priests, calligraphers, and musicians. In both China and Japan during this period, wine would have been made from rice. Today, we know this wine as sake. So, grab a glass and read this excerpt from the poem, and maybe you, too, can feel like an immortal.

“Su Jin has made a vow to the Buddha embroidered on his vest
but for his drunkenness he takes care to forget all his rules.

Li Tai-bo drinks a gallon of wine, writes a hundred poems
then sleeps it off in the back of a wine shop in Chang-an
when the emperor asked him to board the royal barge
he shouted back, I am a drunken immortal.”

Black-Figure Krater, Attic, Greece, first half of 6th century B.C.E, ceramic, gift of The Jonsson Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick M. Mayer, 1972.22

Black-figure krater, Greece, Attic, first half of 6th century B.C.E, ceramic, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Jonsson Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick M. Mayer, 1972.22

You can’t talk about wine without talking about the Greeks. Even though they drank various alcoholic beverages like beer and honey mead, their main drink for a good time was wine. Here we have a black-figure krater made in the first half of the 6th century B.C.E. This piece of pottery would have been used to mix wine with water to dilute it for parties. The figures on the krater are Dionysus, the god of wine, and his followers, the maenads. The maenads were said to have been possessed by Dionysus and his drink, and they were therefore able to perform miracles, like having honey come from the ivy-covered staffs they carried. Dionysus and his maenads would want you to open a bottle of Agiorgitiko, which is a bit like a cabernet sauvignon, but please drink more responsibly than these krater characters.

“Embassy” Shape Wine Glass, Edwin W. Fuerst, Walter Dorwin Teague, Libbey Glass Company, 1939, glass, gift of The Dallas Antiques and Fine Arts Society, 1989.18.2

Embassy shape wine glass, Edwin W. Fuerst and Walter Dorwin Teague, designers; Libbey Glass Company, manufacturer; Toledo, Ohio, designed 1939, glass, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Dallas Antiques and Fine Arts Society, 1989.18.2

A wine pairing wouldn’t be complete without a glass to go with it. This is Embassy shape wine glass from 1939 was designed by Edwin W. Fuerst and Walter Dorwin Teague for the Libbey Glass Company. The company was not originally known for its blown glassware. Their beginnings were in lightbulbs and car windshield glass; however, throughout the 20th century they became known for their elegant glassware. In the 1970s, they created the first glass ever to be created through a patented “one piece and blow” technique. Today, this shape of glass with a wide mouth is used mainly to drink chardonnay. Even if you don’t have a glass quite like this one, open a bottle of chardonnay while you appreciate the beautiful Art Deco style of the Embassy shape wine glass .

Bacchic Concert, Pietro Paolini, c. 1625–1630, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Karl and Esther Hoblitzelle Collection, gift of the Hoblitzelle Foundation 1987.17

Pietro Paolini, Bacchic Concert, c. 1625–30, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Karl and Esther Hoblitzelle Collection, gift of the Hoblitzelle Foundation 1987.17

The Italian Renaissance was known for its art, music, and architectural genius. It was also a time of considerable wine consumption. In this painting by Pietro Paolini, we see a fairly mysterious scene with party goers, musicians, and someone dressed as the god Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. This scene is thought to have been from a marriage ceremony, where it was not unusual for the performers to dress as Bacchus and his followers. The image is unusual because the woman on the left has her back toward us and the woman with the lute stares directly at us. But, for today, we will just say that these performers are playing us a little tune to go along with a glass of chianti.

Katie Cooke is the McDermott Intern for Adult Programming and Arts & Letters Live at the DMA.

The Art (and Archaeology) of Good Cheer

Known as the “Indiana Jones of Ancient Ales, Wines, and Extreme Beverages,” Dr. Patrick McGovern is a world-renowned expert on the origins of ancient fermented drinks and a leader in the emerging field of biomolecular archaeology. On Thursday evening, he will present the history of wine in a lecture entitled Uncorking the Past, part of the Museum’s Boshell Family Lecture Series on Archaeology. Dr. McGovern tells us more about his unique archaeological research.

Dr. McGovern in his laboratory, examining a 3000-year-old millet wine, which was preserved inside a tightly lidded bronze vessel from a Chinese tomb. Photo: Penn Museum.

You oversee the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology – a leader in this cutting-edge field. What type of research do you conduct at the lab?

The Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory has been at the forefront of the revolution in uncovering the organic underpinnings of our species on this planet. We analyze ancient fermented beverages, foods, perfumes, dyes (such as Royal Purple), and other organics, which could only be imagined from ancient writings, using highly sensitive instruments in the laboratory (infrared spectrometry, gas and liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, etc.). Molecular archaeology promises to open up whole new chapters relating to our human ancestry and genetic development, cuisine, medical practice, and other crafts over the past two million or more years.

Where do you find evidence of ancient food and drink, and what tools and technologies do you use to analyze that evidence?

Pottery, which is virtually indestructible and goes back to between 5000 and 13,000 B.C. in various parts of the world, absorbs ancient organics and is crucial to our research. By using organic solvents, we “tease out” the ancient organics, and then go to work with our battery of scientific instruments. Sometimes we work directly from residues, either deposited inside vessels of various materials or deposited elsewhere (e.g., on bones, textiles, etc.).

Dr. McGovern peers into a wine jar dating to 5400 - 5000 B.C. Photo: courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

In the course of your work, what has been your most surprising discovery?

There have been many, but the discovery of Royal Purple and the earliest resinated wine from Iran (circa 5400 B.C.) are two highlights.

Your academic background is varied, and you have degrees in both chemistry and archaeology. How did you become interested in the history of fermented beverages?

It was very serendipitous. As I moved from inorganic to organic chemical analysis of archaeological materials, we were successful in first detecting Royal Purple, a highly stable compound that had been preserved for over 3,000 years. This gave us the confidence to move on to wine, beer, and other materials. Grape wine was first, and came about when an associate, Virginia Badler, showed us shards of large jars from an early Iranian site (Godin Tepe) with residues inside that she believed to be wine deposits. She proved to be right, and the rest is history.

After the lecture on Thursday, we will have the opportunity to sample wines from Burgundy, as well as an artisan beer called Midas Touch. Please tell us about the beer, which was inspired by analysis you did on objects found in the tomb of the legendary King Midas.

It all started over fifty years ago with a tomb, the Midas Tumulus, in central Turkey at the ancient site of Gordion, which was excavated by the Penn Museum in 1957. Within that tomb, buried deep down in the center of a large mound, excavators found the body of a 60- to 65-year-old male, who had died normally. He lay on a thick pile of blue- and purple-dyed textiles, the colors of royalty in the ancient Near East. The excavators had found what would become one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries of the 20th century – they had located what has since been identified as the tomb of Gordion’s most famous son, King Midas.

“King Midas” laid out in state on piles of purple- and blue-dyed textiles inside his coffin, from the northwest, with the large bronze drinking set in the background. Photo: courtesy of the Gordion Project, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Inside the tomb, surrounding the body, were 157 bronze vessels, including large vats, jugs, and drinking bowls that had been used in the final farewell dinner for the king outside the tomb. The body was then lowered into the tomb, along with the remains of the food and drink, to sustain him for eternity.

Surprising, none of the 157 drinking vessels were made of gold. Where then was the gold if this was the burial of Midas with the legendary golden touch? In fact, the bronze vessels, once the bronze corrosion was removed, gleamed just like the precious metal. The real gold, as far as I was concerned, was what these vessels contained – the remains of an ancient beverage, which was intensely yellow, just like gold. Chemical analyses of the residues – teasing out the ancient molecules – provided the answer: the beverage was a highly unusual mixture of grape wine, barley beer, and honey mead.

Jars filled with the spicy stew, served at the funerary feast of King Midas, can be seen inside one of the large vats. They were placed there after the fermented beverage, which they initially contained, had been served at the funerary banquet. These “left-overs” might have been intended for sustenance for the king in the afterlife. Photo: courtesy of the Gordion Project, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

You may cringe at the thought of mixing together wine, bee,r and mead, as I did originally. That’s when I got the idea to do some experimental archaeology. In essence, this means trying to replicate the ancient method by taking the clues we have and trying out various scenarios in the present. In the process, you hope to learn more about how the ancient beverage was made. To speed things up, I also decided to have a competition among microbrewers to try to reverse-engineer and see if it was even possible to make something drinkable from such a weird concoction of ingredients. Soon, experimental brews started arriving on my doorstep for me to taste – not a bad job, if you can get it, but not all the entries were that tasty.

Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery ultimately triumphed. The beverage has since gone from one triumph to the next. Dogfish is the fastest growing microbrewery in the country, and “Midas Touch” has become its most awarded beverage.

Original Dogfish Head Brewery label for Midas Touch beer. Photo: courtesy of Dogfish Head Brewery

Be sure to watch Dr. McGovern and the team from Dogfish Head Brewery on The Discovery Channel’s Brew Masters, which chronicles their travels around the world searching for exotic ingredients and discovering ancient techniques to produce their award-winning beers.

Patrick E. McGovern is Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. His books include Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture and Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages. His research on the origins of alcoholic beverages has been featured in Time, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Nature, and numerous other publications.


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