by Fred McMillin
for June 25, 1998

A Honey of a Wine


In ancient times there was no mead. An old man tried to make it by mixing honey with water and leaving the mixture overnight. The next day he found it to be good but the people would not taste, fearing the beverage was poisonous. So the old man said, "I will drink much of the mixture, because I am very old and if I died it would not matter." He drank and fell down as though dead. But he awoke later, praised the mead, and it became the people's favorite.

...Myth of the stone-age Matako tribe, Amazon

The child of honey, the drink of the gods, mead can be regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks, antedating the cultivation of the soil.

...Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, A History of Food

Some Mead Milestones

c.950 B.C.—The Ethiopian Queen of Sheba gets the attention of Irael's King Solomon by bringing him gifts of gold and gems that would be worth over $5,000,000 today. She may also have brought her favorite beverage, MEAD!

c.400 B.C.—Plato reports the ancient Greeks drank mead before they had wine.

43 A.D.—Romans invade Britain and find they produce mead. In fact, the 11th highest ranking official in one town, above the physician, is the mead-maker.

10th Century, A.D.—Mead is very popular in areas too cold for growing wine grapes. At one festival in Russia, honey used for mead totaled 120,000 pounds. Meantime, it had fallen out of favor in Muslim Egypt, where 5,000 jars of honey were dumped into the Nile River.

1253 A.D.—Mogul prince Mangu Khan has a gold fountain with four spouts, dispensing grape wine, rice wine, fermented mare's milk and MEAD.

1340 A.D.—A London wine merchant's newborn will be the first to praise mead extensively in English literature. His name is Geoffrey Chaucer, and his Canterbury Tales, includes passages like, "Her mouth was sweet as Mead."

So, if you want a sip of history, buy Chaucer's Mead, produced in Soquel, CA, phone (800) 4-BARGETTO, under $10. My panel has found it the USA's best; the Wine Enthusiast gave it a rousing 92 rating. Serve with chilled ripe pears and assorted cookies..or over vanilla ice cream. Great conversation piece.

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 and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. 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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