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It goes back to the Bronze Age, wine and beer were considered the gifts of the gods, and the Greeks were quick to ascribe wine to the grape-garlanded hedonist, Dionysus, with his own exclusively indulgent festival, Dionysia. As gradually the influence of Greek culture infused westwards into southern Italy, he was rebranded into his Roman alter-ego – Bacchus. The Festival of Dionysia after that became the Bacchanalia.


At first, the Roman version was a rendezvous for the ladies only, and the men didn’t know much about it, but then when men got involved in the game the staunch moralists in the Roman Senate suddenly blurted out Daily Mail levels of outrage and banned it in 186 BCE. According to them, it was a sort of sinister cult that practiced human sacrifice, murder, and various disgusting sexual sins, and it was clear to all that the initiates of Bacchus were plainly conspiring to undermine the virtuous spirit of the Roman people.


Today Bordeaux and Champagne have gone down in the pages of history of alcohol as being synonymous with good wines, but this wasn’t the thing with the Celtic tribes of ancient France. The ‘Barbarians’ of Western Europe were, totally, pretty much amicable about viticulture. The Southern Gauls of France were exalted to drink the stuff but rather opted for importing their plonk from Italy rather than making their own.


The virtually infinite quantity of available alcohol didn’t necessarily represent a general choice of drunkards. Yes, beers and ales came out with a range of flavours – with hops now adding that classic bitter taste – and the well-bred wine buff could reel off a plethora of subtle differentiations between their grape varieties, but ultimately the Middle Ages were a era of rather predictable booze oligarchy. It was wine, or beer, or mead, or water, and the fact goes that, nobody wanted water.

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