by Fred McMillin
for February 23, 1999


Happy Birthday Mr. Pepys


Samuel Pepys (peeps) was born Feb. 23, 1633. The Londoner, the first Englishman to name the claret he drank ("Ho Bryan"), savored the newest in gastronomy:

In 1660 he had his first drink brewed from very expensive leaves. One pound of them cost the equivalent of 30 meals at a tavern. The leaves came via Dutch ships from China, and were called tea.

In 1664, though some clergymen felt it sacrilegious, Pepys introduced the use of forks (with only two prongs), while most Londoners ate with their fingers.

In 1667 the great diarist wrote that he bought 100 spears of an exciting vegetable called "sparrowgrass" (asparagus).

The Rest of the Story

However, Christopher Driver in Pepys At Table tells us of an innovation the Englishman just missed. It seems that as Pepys was writing his diary "the invention of the cork, permitting long-term storge in bottles, was a technical development that lay just over the horizon. Wine therefore was drunk young, and the excellence of particular [vintages] could hardly be appreciated."

Our Toast To Pepys

Certainly the greatest aged wine that lay just over the horizon was Port. Corked Port bottles appeared by about 1700; Pepys died in 1703. So here's our birthday wine.

Sandeman 20-Year-Old Tawny Port
Panel's Rating—EXCELLENT
Comments—This is a wine to savor with guests in mid-afternoon, or after the evening meal, with assorted strong cheeses and water crackers.
Contact—Angela Freire, (707) 255-7667
Price—$34 range


Being on the cutting edge of gastronomy had its price. Samuel married a 15-year-old Huguenot refugee, who tried valiantly, but on Nov. 13, 1660 he wrote... "Home to dinner. Where I find my wife making of pyes and tarts to try her oven with (which she hath never yet done); but not knowing the nature of it, did heat it too hot and so did a little overbake her things, but knows how to do better another time."

Note about the spelling: Pepys was not consistent, but as his countryman, Ben Jonson said, "It's a dull man who can spell a word only one way."

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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