In 1994 FINE + RARE began trading, and 21 years on we’re proud to have become a key feature of the fine wine marketplace. After starting with just two friends with a bright idea and a passion for wine, we’ve grown to a diverse, vibrant company with over 80 employees.
In that time, we’ve learnt a thing or two about wine, and to celebrate our 21st birthday here are 21 of our favourite facts about wine – from the weird to the downright wonderful.
The French don’t drink the most wine per capita.
- First things first, who drinks the most wine per capita? Well the answer might surprise you, for it’s not France or Italy, but Vatican City, where a staggering 74 litres are consumed per person per year. That’s around 99 bottles! Salutaria!
Wine tastings aren’t about taste at all
- Wine ‘tastings’ are somewhat inaccurately named – top sommeliers agree that smell is by far the most important sense when it comes to drinking wine. This is because while our tastebuds might be limited to distinguishing only a few tastes (sweet, sour, bitter and so on), scientists have shown that we can smell over 100,000 different things.
Port must be passed to the left!
- Any fan of Port knows that it is always passed to the left around a table, but do you know why? Some say that it is a naval tradition – the port side of the boat is on your left if you are facing the bows. Others claim that it allows the more cautious drinkers of old to pass the bottle while keeping their sword-hand free. Whatever the origin one thing is for certain – no self-respecting port enthusiast would allow the decanter to be passed any way other than clockwise.
Wine made of bricks
- Although the world of boxed wine is hardly something we dabble in at F+R, if we’d been alive during the US Prohibition era, we wouldn’t have been so selective. When alcohol was banned from 1919-1930, inventive vintners sold bricks of grape concentrate, labelled with the conscientious warning that, on no accounts, should customers dissolve the bricks in water and place them in a dark cupboard for twenty days “because then it would turn into wine.”
Catching a different sort of “bouquet”
- Confirmed bachelors, take note; in some cultures, finishing the bottle of wine indicates that you will be the next person at the table to get married.
Game, set, champers.
- What does Wimbledon have to do with wine? Well, while most of us are familiar with the tennis tournament’s legendary consumption of strawberries and cream or glasses of Pimms, it turns out that Champagne is hardly in short supply. With popular brand Lanson as a sponsor for over 25 years and an official supplier since 2001, over 28,000 sparkling bottles are served at the championships every year.
Shaken not stirred
- James Bond is also well known for his champagne consumption. Aside from his penchant for martinis, Bond is notably partial to Champagne, having been spotted with a flute in hand more than 35 times in his films. Big named brands Dom Perignon and Bollinger have also been linked to the spy, with the latter releasing various special edition 007 bottles to celebrate Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and, released this year, Spectre.
- Another fan of the bubbly stuff was Marilyn Monroe. The starlet notoriously once took a bath of Champagne which, according to her biographer, required an incredible 350 bottles. Outrageous as this may seem, it seems she’s not the only one to have a taste for fermented bubble baths; in 2012 London hotel The Cadogan caused an outcry by offering guests the chance to indulge in their own Champagne baths, using 120 bottles and with prices ranging from a cool £4000 (for Louis de Custine Brut) to a tingling £25000 (for Dom Perignon Vintage).
- If a bath is too constricting for your style, never fear: a spa in Hakone, Japan allows patrons to swim in a dedicated wine pool. With regular top ups occurring throughout the day from the 3.6m tall wine bottle at the poolside, this spa is one of a kind.
Brave New World
- A lot can happen in 21 years. Since F+R began, the wine industry has become increasingly diverse, with many New World vineyards creating excellent wine. However what of the new New World? As of 2015, wine is now produced in a variety of increasingly surprising locations. Did you know that The Netherlands, Cape Verde, Burma, Sweden, Latvia, Venezuela, India and Hawaii all boast their own vineyards? Perhaps ones to watch in the future…
Not so fun in the sun
- For wine, unlike the British summer, there can be such a thing as too much sun. If grapes get too many rays, their skins can burn, causing a bitter flavour which tarnishes the wine they produce. In fact, bad vintages are just as likely to spring from sunshine as they are from frost.
Quantity means quality
- Generally, one vine can yield enough grapes to produce up to 10 bottles of wine. However this can depend hugely on the vineyard and type of wine. When it comes to Yquem, a very sweet and top-quality wine, an entire vine equals just one glass….
- … and their strategy must work – in 1787 Thomas Jefferson was famously so impressed with Yquem’s wine that he chartered a special shipment back to the US to stock up his private cellars.
- From one U.S. president to another; while most of us remember U.S. President Nixon for his attempt to cover up the Watergate scandal, it appears that he was also a fan of concealing things closer to home. It has been claimed that while the former 37th President of the Free World would drink nothing else but Chateau Margaux, he was far less discerning with the wine he served his guests. He would order the waiter to wrap the Margaux’s bottle in a tea towel to hide the label, thus concealing that he was drinking far superior wine.
- It’s a claim that would turn many Frenchmen in their grave, but some people believe that the English actually pioneered the creation of Sparkling Wine long before their rivals in Champagne. Various sources state that Christopher Merrett, a 17th century cider maker from Gloucester, stumbled across the method of secondary fermentation in his day job, putting the sparkle in to wine six whole years before the French father of Champagne Dom Perignon was even born. A contentious claim, but one that is sure to delight English producers of sparkling wine such as Gusborne Estate.
- Speaking of English ingenuity, it has been suggested that the corkscrew is also an English invention, again from the cider industry. In any case, the first corkscrew patent was granted in 1759 to Oxford based Reverend Samuel Henshall.
Plate and Palate
- Any wine drinker knows that choosing what to drink for dinner depends largely on the food. The effect of perfectly pairing food and wine is known as ‘synergy’, which refers to a third flavour that is different than when the food and drink are consumed separately.
- The world’s oldest bottle of wine is nearly 1700 years old. Dating back to approximately 325 CE, and was unearthed by archaeologists in 1867. It is on display to this day at the Pfalz Historical Museum in Germany and (probably with good reason) it has never been opened.
Under the sea
- Not so cautious were the group of 2010 divers who, after discovering 168 bottles in a shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, popped one open in celebration. Upon tasting the wine, the divers realised that it must be more than a century old, preserved in near perfect conditions deep under water. Interestingly, a handful of producers have taken this experience as inspiration to experiment with their own wines under water, drawing upon the cold temperatures, constant pressure, darkness and motion to replicate ideal conditions for aging.
On doctor’s orders
- We’ve all heard of the health benefits of drinking red wine, but did you know that it is considered by some to be the oldest man-made medicine? Records of Ancient Egyptian Papyri show documents mentioning its healing value that date back more than 4000 years.
Fit for kings
- To round off our 21 Facts, let us discuss Champagne Bottle sizes. While ‘Magnum’ (indicating 1.5 litres as opposed to 75cl) is common parlance amongst wine lovers, larger sizes are generally unknown. In fact, there are a whopping ten more, increasingly larger, bottle sizes after the standard Magnum, ranging from a 3 litre Jeroboam, past a 16 litre Balthazar to a mind-boggling 30 litre Melchizedek. For the full list, which is named after various Israeli kings, click here.
So there you have it: FINE+RARE’s definitive pick to 21 of the oddest and most fascinating wine facts around. Happy 21st to us!