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following day, is somewhat distressing. Somehow, notwithstanding the
import duties, champagne—I am alluding now to the superior brands—is
almost as cheap in London as in the best hotels in Rheims; but the
experiment of drinking it in the land of its birth is not as risky
as on alien shores. At least so say the natives of the district, who
maintain that although work in the cellars is not the pleasantest in
the world—the strong smell, which is even intoxicating, giving the
workmen a distaste for the sparkling wine—it is quite possible for an
outsider to drink a quantity of champagne of undoubted quality without
feeling any bad after-effects.

“You may, in fact,” it was told me on the spot, “drink four bottles of
Pommery ’84, and feel all the better for it next day.”

Possibly; but how about the inferior stuff which we used to sample,
occasionally, in our salad days, when our green judgment led us to pass
our early mornings in riotous junketings in the now staid and peaceful
region of the Haymarket, S.W.? Much later than those days I have
sampled alleged champagne—“extra _sec_,” it was called, though “extra
sick” would have been more appropriate—on a race-course, in order to
fitly celebrate some famous victory. But in my riper years, the victory
(when it occurs) is honoured in more staid and seemly fashion. I was
never nearer death by poison than one Friday morning in the ancient
city of York, {129} after indulging somewhat freely in the “sparkling”
proffered me on the previous day in a booth on Knavesmire. Do what I
would—and I walked ten miles, went for a scull on the river Ouse, and
then swallowed hot mustard-and-water—the distressing sensations, the
great wave of depression which seemed to have swamped the heart, would
not quit the body, until—and the idea came as a bolt from the blue—I
had summoned up sufficient strength of mind to enter the coffee-room of
the principal hotel, and demand a pint of Pommery. It was _not_ a hair
of the dog which had bitten me; the mangy brute from the attention of
whose fangs I was suffering was no sort of relation to the highly-bred
terrier who rooted out the anguish from my soul. And that small pint
was so successful that another went the same way. And by that time I
had been inspired with nerve enough to face a charging tiger, unarmed.

Many learned people, including one section of the medical profession,
incline to the belief that consumption of champagne offers direct
encouragement to gout. But there is no such idea amongst those employed
in the cellars of Moet et Chandon, Geisler, Mum, Pommery, and other
large firms. Not that these workmen are allowed to drink as much of
their own foaming productions as they have a mind to. As a matter of
fact the wine supplied to the _ouvriers_ is the thin red stuff of the
district, resembling inferior Burgundy, and not of a very elevating
nature. It is not particularly attractive, this life of labour, for
nine or ten hours a day, in a damp, cold {130} cellar some fifty yards
below the level of the street pavements, with occasionally bottles
bursting to right and left of you. These cellars are cut out of the
calcareous rock, and were, many of them, inherited from the Romans;
and champagne is such a sensitive, exacting sort of wine that it must
be stored in the very bowels of the earth, where all is peace and
quietude, and where neither motion nor vibration can reach the maturing
vintages.

At least that is what they tell visitors; although the only time I have
visited champagne cellars could hardly be called a peaceful experience,
owing to the almost continuous bombardment of bursting bottles. And
it is said that as a rule at least 10 per cent of the stored wine is
wasted in this way; whilst in seasons of early and unusual heat the
percentage may rise to as much as 20, and even 25.

Sparkling champagne—and we are not concerned with the still wine—is the
result of a peculiar treatment during fermentation. During the winter
months the wine is racked-off, and fined with isinglass; and in the
early spring it is bottled and tightly corked. In order to collect the
sediment in the necks of the bottles these are placed at first in a
sloping condition, with the corks downward, for a term. In the second
year this sediment requires to be disgorged, or _dégagé_-ed. This feat
can only be learnt by long practice, and even then there be workmen
who cannot be safely trusted to shift the sediment, without shifting a
too-large proportion of the wine itself. {131}

May I confess to the belief that I should never make a good, reliable,
valuable disgorger?

Of course there is art, or knack, in it. The _degager_ takes a
bottle, cuts the string of the cork, expels the sediment—occasionally
without spilling more than a drop or two—and passes the bottle to his
neighbour, who fills it up with a liqueur, composed of sugar-candy
dissolved in cognac, and flavoured, and with some bright, clarified
wine. The bottle is then recorked, by machinery, wired, labelled, and
sent about its business.

The fermentation being incomplete at the first bottling of the wine,
the carbonic acid gas generated in a confined space—this part comes
unadorned, out of a book—exerts pressure on itself, and it thus remains
as a liquid in the wine. When this pressure is removed it expands into
gas, and thus communicates the sparkling property to champagne. Hence
the bombardments.

How do I know all this? I once paid a visit to the cellars of Pommery
et C^{ie.}; and my dearest friend asked subsequently what sort of
writ of ejectment had to be drawn up to rid them of my presence
and thirst. But all joking apart the time was well spent, and the
industry is deserving of all the encouragement which it receives. The
head cellarman is, literally a host in himself, an old gentleman of
aristocratic mien, and portly—or, rather, champagne-ly—presence; and
one of the _formulae_ to be gone through before quitting the premises
is to drink a glass of the very best with that charming old gentleman,
who I hope still flourishes amid his bottles and his {132} disgorgers.
And when it is added that there are usually upwards of 15,000,000
bottles in the cellars at one time, the old heresy as to the district
being unable to supply sufficient wine save for Russian consumption is
at once exploded.

In fact some twenty-five millions of gallons of champagne are produced,
annually, in the district. Of course not all of it is of the finest
growth, and some of it a connoisseur would reject with scorn. In order
to smash another old fallacy it is, perhaps, hardly necessary to
add that champagne is _not_ made from gooseberries—at all events in
countries where grapes grow. And the reason for this is that gooseberry
juice is far scarcer, and therefore more expensive than grape juice.
Some few dozens may be made in England, but to make sufficient
gooseberry champagne to be profitable would require more berries than
are grown in the country. It would, in fact, require hundreds of tons
of the fruit to pay the manufacturer.

Lest my readers should be wearied of the subject of French wines, I
shall not particularize as to the burgundies, but confine myself to
the clarets of the country which are by far the more popular wines in
England—even when they are artificially manufactured, in Spain, and
elsewhere.

“The wines that be made in Bordeaux,” wrote Gervase Markham, in the
middle of the seventeenth century, “are called Gascoyne wines, and you
shall know them by their hazel hoopes, and the most be full gadge, and
sound wines.”

Evidently adulteration’s artful aid was but little employed in those
days. {133}

“See that in your choice of Gascoine wines,” continues Gervase, in his
minute direction to the overwrought “housewife,” “that your Clarret
wines be faire coloured, and bright as a Rubie, not deepe as an
Ametist; for though it may shew strength, yet it wants neatnesse. If
your Clarret wine be faint, and have lost his color, then take a fresh
hogshead with his fresh lees which was very good wine, and draw your
wine into the same, then stop it close and tight, and lay it a foretake
for two or three daies that the lees may run through it, then lay it up
till it be fine, and if the colour be not perfit, draw it into a red
wine hogshead . . . and if your Clarret wine have lost his colour, take
a pennyworth of Damsens⸺” ha! what is this?

“Or else blacke Bullesses, as you see cause, and stew them with some
red wine of the deepest colour, and make thereof a pound or more of
sirrup, and put it into a cleane glasse, and after into the hogshead of
Clarret wine; and the same you may likewise doe unto red wine if you
please.”

Ahem! Evidently they did know something about adulteration in the
seventeenth century.

It is a common idea that only a very few clarets are entitled to the
prefix “Château.” The truth is very different. The district on the
south bank of the Gironde simply teems with châteaux, of a kind. For
miles you cannot go a few hundred yards in any direction without
seeing or passing two or three; each with its vineyards and cellars
and special labels, and more or less unblemished reputation. There is
Château {134} Latour, and there is (or may be) the Château Smith. Did
I choose to buy a cottage in that district, grow my own grapes, and
make my own wines, I should be fully entitled to label them “Château
Gubbins,” and incur no penalty by so doing.

But please do not pick the ripe grapes, although you may be sorely
tempted by the sight of dozens of bunches separated from the vines
by their sheer weight, and lying in the furrows. Plenty of people do
commit this sort of theft, for there be hundreds of the rough element
who visit the Médoc country. The “Hooligans” and _gamins_ of Bordeaux
drift here at picking-time just as the poor of London drift into the
county of Kent during the hopping season. They are not loved, but
they have to be endured. Somebody must pick the grapes, and after
all a few depredations will not ruin the grower any more than do the
strawberry-pickers in the south of England “break” the growers, by
adopting their usual plan: “three in the mouth, one in the basket.”

The claret-cellars are not nearly as far beneath the earth as are
those in the region about Rheims. Nor are they as amusing. There is no
“pop, pop” down here, no danger of wounds and lacerations from flying
splinters of glass. The principal objects of interest are the cobwebs
which are piled up all over the place like dusky curtains. It is not
well to sample too many glasses which may be offered you of the wine
of the country. For the samples are taken from the new, immature wine,
and are suggestive of {135} pains and disturbances below the belt.
The head cellarman, portly and urbane like his brother of Rheims,
will watch your face closely as you taste his novelties, and will
invariably ask your opinion of it. But the wise visitor will not be
too opinionative on the subject. I have noticed that the man who says
the least is accounted the most knowing, whether he be inspecting the
contents of a cellar, or of a stable. And believe me, there is as much
rubbish talked about wine as about horses. Still, in sampling new
champagne you may praise indiscriminately, without being accounted an
absolute dunce; whilst with claret it is altogether different. The
wine varies exceedingly with the vintage; and none but an expert and
accomplished palate may dare to say what is good, what is bad, and what
is mediocre.

Is it necessary to state that claret was not drunk, on ordinary
occasions, by the Ancient Britons? I trow not. And I fancy the wines
of the noble old Romans partook more of the nature of burgundies
than clarets. In England the wines of Médoc have never been fully
appreciated until during the latter half of the present century, when
the taste for port began to die out, with the good port itself. And
as I writhe, occasionally, in the throes of gout, I bethink me of the
merciless law delivered unto Moses, which provides that the sins of the
fathers shall be visited upon their descendants, even unto the third
and fourth generation. For the good old three-and-four-bottle men of
eighty years ago, and farther back than that, certainly laid {136}
the foundations for much of the trouble at this end of the century.
Still there be doctors who actually recommend port wine as a gout-fuge.
And it is certainly safer to drink a little good port—matured in the
wood, and innocent of beeswing—an you be a podagric subject, than some
of the clarets which, thanks to the enterprise of the late Mr. W. E.
Gladstone, are within the reach of the slenderest purse.

Do not smoke whilst drinking claret, or port, either. Nothing destroys
the flavour of red wine so effectually as the flavour of a cigar.

One of the greatest “sells” ever experienced by an expectant party
of claret judges—of whom I posed as one—was after this fashion. Our
host had inherited a pipe of Château Lafitte ’64, which had been duly
bottled off. We had enjoyed a nice plain little dinner—a bit of crimped
cod, a steak, and a bird—in order the better to taste the luscious
wine. After dinner bottle number one made its appearance; and as they
sipped, and prepared to sing hymns of praise, the jaws of the guests
fell. And a great cry uprose: “Pricked !”

{137}




CHAPTER: XIII

THE OLD WINES AND THE NEW


Decline and fall of port — Old topers — A youthful wine-bibber — The
whisky age succeeds the port age — “Jeropiga” — Landladies’ port —
A monopoly — Port _v._ gout — A quaint breakfast in Reading — About
nightcaps — Sherry an absolutely pure wine — Except when made within
the four miles’ radius — Treading the grapes — “Yeso” — Pliny pops up
again — “Lime in the sack” — What the _Lancet_ says — “Old Sherry” —
_Faux pas_ of a General — About vintages.

On the decline and fall of port wine volumes might be written. At
the same time I am not the man who is going to write them. According
to early recollections, the conversation of my elders was limited to
hunting, racing, and the wines of Oporto. The man who had “ ’20,” or
“Comet,” port in his cellars was a man to be cultivated, and dined
with; whilst “ ’34” and “ ’47” men were next in demand. And this was
after the era of the three-and-four-bottle heroes, of whose deeds I
have heard my father speak, almost with bated breath; how, after the
retirement of the ladies, to discuss tea and scandal by themselves,
the dining-room door would be locked by the host himself, who would
{138} pocket the key thereof. Many of the guests slept where they
fell, “repugnant to command,” like the sword of Pyrrhus, whilst others
would be fastened in the interior of their chariots at a later hour.
Even in the late fifties, the estimable divine with whom I was studying
the beauties of the classics, would on the frequent occasion of a
dinner-party provide one bottle of port per head, for his guests, in
addition to hock, champagne, and sherry; and the writer, then a boy of
fifteen, was included amongst the “heads.”

But as the stone age succeeded the ice age, as the iron age succeeded
the stone age, and as the gold age, and the railway age, and the
rotten company age succeeded the iron age, so have the whisky age, and
the “small bottle” age, and the gin-and-bitters age almost wiped out
the age when man drank, talked, and thought port. Our ancestors were
immoderate in their potations but, as far as wine went, these were
but rarely indulged in until after sundown, although the Briton would
frequently wash his breakfast down with ale of the strongest. And
it is difficult to believe that the evil habit of “nipping,” at all
hours of the day, which now prevails in some circles—a habit which is
mainly due to the break-neck pace at which life is pursued—is either
more conducive to health or intellectuality, or morality than the
after-dinner debauch of a century ago.

The “hot and heady” wine is (or, rather, was) produced chiefly in a
mountainous district of Portugal called Cima de Douro. The wine is
largely mixed with spirit even during {139} fermentation, the proper
colour being given by a mixture known as _jeropiga_, which is a
preparation of elder-berries, molasses, raisin juice, and spirit.

The wine which is made within the Metropolitan Police District, for
the special benefit of landladies, infirmaries, and she-choristers,
is also treated with a similar mixture, with the addition of a little
logwood-extract; but in fashionable quarters the mixture is not known
as _jeropiga_, a name which would probably affect the sale.

Port wine was known in England before the year 1700, but was not in
much demand. From the year mentioned till 1826 the export trade was a
monopoly in the hands of English merchants. The effect of this monopoly
was to increase the price in England, and to gradually deteriorate the
quality. Exports from Oporto have decreased in a marked way for the
last forty years or so; and although there is still some demand, and
some decent wine left, the “hot and heady” concoction whether dry or
fruity, a lady’s wine, or a military ditto, is gradually leaving us.

The pity of it! And simultaneously with its departure comes the
pronouncement of the medical profession that port (with the exception
of the “old crusted” brand) does _not_ encourage gout to abide within
the human frame. I may fairly claim to have been a “port man” all my
life, and never, when serving Her Majesty, overlooked my orthodox
allowance of the “black strap” purchased with the Prince Regent’s
allowance. Nevertheless I am not going to recommend this description of
wine as an ideal breakfast drink; although very early in {140} life I
once made trial of it at nine o’clock one morning.

This was in the good town of Reading, in company with a schoolmate or
two. We were on our way home for the holidays, and had been entrusted,
for the first part of the journey, to the care of the French master.
Him we had evaded for the time being—he was much interested in the
manufacture of sweet biscuits—and marching boldly into the best inn’s
best room, we demanded bread and cheese and a bottle of the most
expensive port on the wine-list. Schoolboy-like our fancy turned to
quaintness in the matter of meals; and I am bound to add that the state
of our health was not one whit improved by this weird breakfast. As for
the French master, no sooner had he run us to earth, than⸺ but that
part of the story is too painful to tell.

One of the oldest winter beverages known to civilization is


_Bishop_,

a composition of port wine and spices of which it has been written:—

Three cups of this a prudent man may take;
The first of these for constitution’s sake,
The second to the girl he loves the best,
The third and last to lull him to his rest.

And an effectual luller is this Bishop.

Make several incisions in the rind of a lemon, stick cloves in the
incisions, and roast the lemon at a slow fire. Put small but equal
quantities of {141} cinnamon, cloves, mace, and all-spice into
a saucepan, with half a pint of water; let it boil until reduced
one-half. Boil one bottle of port wine; burn a portion of the spirit
out of it by applying a lighted paper to the saucepan. Put the roasted
lemon and spice into the wine, stir it well, and let it stand near the
fire ten minutes. Rub a few lumps of sugar on the rind of a lemon, put
the sugar into a bowl with the juice of half a lemon (not roasted),
pour the wine into it, grate some nutmeg into it, sweeten to taste,
and serve with the lemon and spices floating on the surface.

To sum up, the decline and fall of port in British estimation may be
said to be due, mainly, to the following causes: inferiority of most
of the modern vintages, the introduction of whisky, the present taste
for lighter wines, such as the cheaper clarets and burgundies, with
the wines of Germany and Italy, and a sort of “boom” in wines from
Australia and California. These last-named, however, are but seldom
seen at the tables of the wealthy; and thus far the demand for the
productions of gallant little Wales have not been in any great request,
although the demand is said to be equal to the supply.

Sherry, the “sack” which was said to cheer the heart of Sir John
Falstaff and other of Shakespeare’s heroes, is, like port, a light
of other days. Like the wine of Portugal, also, its exportation has
for many years been in the hands of English settlers. The following
startling statistics have been published about these exports, which
statistics speak for themselves: The output to England in 1891 was
2,135,969 gallons, or _sixty-four per cent_ {142} less than in 1873,
which was the “record” sherry year. And although many efforts have been
made to stem the ebb, the last seven years have shewn a steady decrease
in the exports.

Yet, according to the best authorities, sherry is not only the
purest, but the most wholesome of all wines. Of course, in making
this statement the wine of Spain, the _vino de Jerez_ is implied,
and not the home-made productions for the malefit of those who study
economy without due regard to digestion. Strictly speaking, sherry
means Jerez (pronounced “herreth”) wine. But Manzanilla, a wine which
is made at St. Lucas, and Montilla which comes from a town south of
Cordova, may come under the same category. And with a view of shewing
the wholesomeness of sherry it is stated, by no less an authority than
the _Lancet_, that it is the only wine enjoined in the preparations of
the wines of the British Pharmacopœia, with two exceptions—viz. _vinum
ferri citratis_, and _vinum quininae_, which are made with orange wine.
Therefore it is certain that the sufferer from gout, for whom _vinum
colchici_ is prescribed, may swallow a proportion of the juice of the
grape, and, possibly, a hair of the dog which bit him. This naturally
recalls the old story of the sherry which was sent to a former Lord
Chesterfield as a _panacea_ for his ailment, and the curt reply sent:
“Sir, I have tried your sherry, and prefer the gout.”

There are several types of sherries, according to the different
characters developed. These are known by several distinguishing
terms {143} comprehending the characters and specific qualities of
the wine from one end to the other of a scale ranging from delicate
and light wines to rich, generous, and dark-coloured wines. Between
a straw-coloured _Vino de Pasto_ and the very fine Old East India
Brown—the sherry which two decades ago was in enormous demand at
such old-fashioned hostelries as the “Rainbow” in Fleet Street, ere
the reign of gin-and-bitters—there is a vast difference, both in
colour and flavour. Broadly, however, sherry may be divided into
two classes—_fino_, a light-coloured, delicate light wine of the
Amontillado type, and the _oloroso_, a full-bodied, highly-developed
wine.

The sherry grapes are collected and placed in large panniers on the
backs of mules and conveyed to the press-houses. The press is of very
primitive construction, and is identical with those used in ancient
history. It consists simply of a wooden trough about ten feet square,
provided in the centre with a screw press, which is used after the
treading by foot power is done, to get the last drop of juice out of
the crushed mass. Rather less than a ton of grapes serves for one
pressing, and the idea that this is done with the naked feet of the
Spanish peasantry is a popular error. Sherry is not kneaded like German
bread. Men clad in light clothing and shod with wooden clogs, with
nails on the soles and heels, pointing in a slanting direction, proceed
to tread the grapes in a most methodical manner, proceeding row by row,
each row being of the width of the nailed sole of the clog.

After the grapes have been trodden over for {144} the first time,
_i.e._ partly crushed and bruised, a measured quantity of sulphate of
lime (_Yeso_) is sprinkled over the sticky mass—now I have gone so
far perhaps ’twould be as well to complete the narrative, although it
is not always wise to enquire too closely into the interior economy
of wine presses, or kitchens. This sulphate of lime is a pure native
earth, found in the neighbourhood of Jerez, and is burnt before being
mixed with the grapes. How many sherry drinkers, I wonder, know how


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