Nine silly wine facts you probably didn’t know — or didn’t know you needed to know:
1. Two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk has as many calories as one glass of wine, around 125. Knowing this, I expect the federal Centers for Disease Control to propose higher taxes and more regulation for sweetened condensed milk, as well as strategies to wean us off the stuff.
2. The Romans, the world’s second great wine culture, had wine writers (which no doubt hastened the collapse of the empire). Pliny the Elder, one of the most famous, wrote that second-rate wines “cannot properly be termed wines.” It’s a good thing he didn’t know about scores.
3. That no one but the super-rich can afford the best French wine is nothing new. In 1845, Fraser’s Magazine quoted a Bordeaux wine merchant, who complained that the leading French wines were not only too expensive, but that he wasn’t able find any to buy.
4. The French, whose wine industry was almost destroyed by the phylloxera pest at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, probably discovered phylloxera — though they didn’t know it. French colonists in 16th century Florida were never able to grow grapes; the vines always died, and the descriptions of what happened seem to have indicated phylloxera.
5. The U.S. attitude toward regional wine — “I don’t need to drink it to know it isn’t any good” — may have its roots in 19th century English wine. Wrote Punch, a popular humor magazine: English wine needed four people to drink it: One victim, two to hold him down, and one other to pour the wine down his throat.
6. It sounds like an urban myth, but there does seem to be something called oenophobia — a fear of wine. Symptoms include anxiety, nervousness, embarrassment, or slight perspiration. In other words, everyone who drinks wine has probably suffered from it at one time or another.
7. The Code of Hammurabi, generally acknowledged as the first written set of civil law (around 1800 BC), included penalties for shady wine retailers: they were to be drowned. Maybe the three-tier system isn’t so bad after all.
8. The Greek philosopher Plato seems to have had the Wine Curmudgeon in mind: He said wine in moderation was important until 40; after that, you can drink as much as you want to cure the “crabbiness of old age” and “soften the hard cast of mind.”
9. The most important fruit crop in Napa Valley after World War II was prunes, and its cash value was higher than grapes as late as 1960. You may make of that what you will, given Napa’s standing as the epicenter of U.S. wine snobbery.