We hear a lot about natural wine these days—just turn to the internet and you can easily find numerous discussions both pro and con the subject, as well as long lists of disgusting-sounding “approved wine additives” meant to turn the stomach and enrage the mind.
As for the “natural wine movement” – however satisfying it might be to claim generational credit for reviving the cry for traditionalism, apologists for all things natural are nothing new. As a matter of fact, one of the loudest cries for authentic, non-spoofulated wine was first heard in 1876, as written by the pen of a London-based wine merchant.
The merchant in question was writing under the name “Don Pedro Verdad.” Translated loosely to “Sir Peter Truth,” the nom de plume belonged to a London wine merchant named William McGee. Beginning in 1876, McGee published four editions of a short (115-page) book entitled “From Vineyard to Decanter: A Book about Sherry with a Map of the Jerez District.” The book is dedicated to the President of the London Co-operative Wine Association
In his book, McGee starts by attacking the “crass ignorance” of British public by declaring that “the remarks one overhears show how little is known about Sherry.” He then goes on to blame the British wine merchants, stating that all that is known about Sherry is that which can be seen in England, and the merchants (and therefore, their customers) known nothing about how Sherry is produced in Spain—they are instead content to think of the wine as a “mysterious compound.”
McGee’s book then begins a surprisingly detailed discussion of the different styles of Sherry and their production methods—from the harvest to foot trodding to aging in soleras. McGee is obviously a big fan of authentic Spanish Sherry.
However, the truth—as in Verdad—is not far behind, and starting on page 50 the author describes how cheap, imposter wines can show up in England labeled as “Sherry” and—much to their discredit—the wine merchants get duped. In regards to outrageously inauthentic “Hamburgh Sherry” (which would make modern wine aficionados reel at the very mention) McGee uses some very colorful and memorable language to describe how at night “boats glide over the Rhine freighted with a soapy substance manufactured from potatoes, and called by its owners sugar.” This potato-based substance, it seems, was fermented and made into something deemed “Hamburgh Sherry.”
After this stomach-turning discussion of inauthentic wine, McGee goes on to discuss—in rather technical terms—how wine can be analyzed for authenticity. At the beginning of the section he pointedly asks, “What guarantee is given to the public that the wine consequently sold is similar to the sample analyzed?”
It seems that at the time, much of what was being sold as “Sherry” was actually a (hopefully) wine-based concoction blended in the merchant’s office—in London. It could quite possibly have contained small amounts of actual wine, large amounts of sugar, large amounts of Aguardiente and, at least according to the book, a long list of other additives—some which might have been fermented or distilled from German potatoes.
Near the end of his book, after quite a bit of ranting about the shenanigans of certain British wine merchants and naming quite a few names, McGee states that wrote the book solely because, in his words, “I love truth and for her own sake I will fight for her.” If you’d like to read the book yourself—which I indeed recommend—it may be found in the public domain on Google Books.
I for one, wish that William McGee had still been alive in 1933 to witness the declaration of the official DO for Jerez-Xérès-Sherry. However, I am sure that in the hearts of many, Don Pedro Verdad lives on.
post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator
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