By Jimmy Quaile, Certified Sommelier
The perception is that France’s love of wine goes back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. That is actually not the case. Before World War I, people from different regions of France drank different things. Some drank beer and others drank wine, and EVERYONE drank Absinthe, the highly-alcoholic and Anise-flavored spirit. Absinthe was the drink of choice for the so-called “Lost Generation” of authors and artists like Hemingway, Baudelaire, Van Gogh, Lord Byron and Edgar Allan Poe.
Soldiers in the war began to take a liking to it as well. In fact, there was an effort to replace Absinthe as the troops’ go-to drink with something that has a lower alcohol content. That’s when wine became a part of their daily rations. Huge production and distribution networks sprang up to get supplies to the troops. When the war was over, wine continued to be consumed in the same way and became France’s national drink.
Soldiers in America weren’t exposed to Absinthe as it was banned in the United States; however, a large number of soldiers did taste wine quite possibly for the first time during World War II. Sixteen million men and women served as members of the Armed Forces in the ‘war to end all wars,’ and two million of those were stationed In Europe. That number is staggering when you consider that the total population in 1945 was 140 million, which equates to 11% of all Americans going to war.
When they returned home, soldiers wanted the wines they drank overseas, which they only knew by region, since that is how wines in Europe are labeled. Winemakers like Ernest and Julio Gallo were able to fill the troops’ needs easily by naming their own wine after the region it belonged to. To this day, wine such as Burgundy, Chablis, and Champagne are still named after their respective regions. These names have since been streamlined as generic titles for wine instead of region-based identifiers.
I’ll think of that history and remember the sacrifices of those 16 million soldiers this weekend when I open a bottle of wine and toast the greatest generation.
I hope you’ll do the same.
Happy Memorial Day
FUN FACT: The Phrase “ROGER WILCO”
Although there are disagreements on its origin and use, the Mariam-Webster dictionary dates the phrase ROGER WILCO to 1938 and the earliest days of wireless communication. The Morse code letter R (dit-dah-dit) was used to indicate ‘O.K. — understood.’ ‘Roger’ was the logical voice/phone equivalent. ‘WILCO’ meant “will comply” meaning the instructions had been heard and would be carried out.