Madeira and the 4th of July revisited: More about America’s “First and Most Patriotic Wine”

July 3, 2015

written by Michael Oudyn

“I should prefer to an ordinary death, being immersed with a few friends in a cask of Madeira.”
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography



The 4th of July is here and so I once again suggest that we patriotic Americans celebrate our birthday with a glass of Madeira, “America’s first” and ” greatest patriotic” wine. Last 4th of July I wrote about Madeira‘s relation to Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock,  the Constitutional Convention, the Louisiana Purchase, etc.

Since then more curious Founding Fathers/Madeira lore has come my way. Here is some of it.

This post’s lead quote comes notorious Madeira lover Benjamin Franklin who was said to have had more than a thousand bottles of Madeira in his private stash. In his Autobiography Franklin relates how “three common flies…that had been drowned in the Madeira bottle…fell into the first glass (of Madeira)” that was being poured at a friend’s house. Having heard that “drowned flies were capable of being revived by the sun” world-renowned scientist Franklin set up an impromptu experiment. When Read the rest of this entry »

Saint Bibiana: The patron saint of hangovers

February 13, 2015

written by Michael Oudyn


It turns out there is a patron saint of hangovers. Santa Bibiana is her name,  preventing hangovers is her game.  Why such an obviously useful saint is virtually unknown is one of the great mysteries of our times.

Saint Bibiana with her magic herbs

Her hagiography goes something like this. Bibiana lived in 4th century Rome with her pious Christian family all of whom were persecuted and/or martyred by the Romans. Our Bibiana, a real looker, steadfastly refused to renounce Christianity so she was handed over to a vicious lesbian called Ruffina who first tried to seduce her and then tried to force her into prostitution. But our Bibiana held firm. So a totally frustrated Ruffina fell into rage and had Bibiana tortured in various hideous ways, including the drinking of molten lead. But Bibiana “endured the torments with joy” and died a martyrs death. “Her body was then left for the dogs, but none would touch her.”  Two days later she was buried.

All this is well and good but how did this teetotaling prodigy of chastity and Christian zealousness become the patron saint of hangovers? Read the rest of this entry »

“You can’t tell a wine by its label. Or can you?”

October 18, 2014

written by Michael Oudyn

Glasses at Buellton tasting

Hundreds of wines await, so let’s grab a glass and… check out those labels!

After Paso Robles (see previous post) I was a little wined out. So I grabbed a glass and set out to savor… the labels. Here are four I found intriguing.  Some because of their catchy and original graphics.  Some because they were in some way true to the winery’s story and essence.  Some just tickled my fancy.   Here are excerpts from interviews with the winery´s representatives.

urban legend

URBAN LEGENDS CELLARS: Oakland, California

“I’m Marilee Shaffer. I’m part of the winemaking team at Urban Legends Cellars Winery in Oakland.” Read the rest of this entry »

Absinthe, part 2: paintings, literature, and lore

October 1, 2014

Written by Michael Oudyn


Picasso’s absinthe drinker

Well,  after our fine tasting and distillery tour (see last post) I couldn’t wait to start playing around with absinthe. It turns out I like it with less water and sugar than the usual.  And with a lady jazz singer in the background.  I’ve always had a taste for the bittersweet.

Between nips I’ve been doing a little research.

Absinthe was of course the drink of choice for the bohemian writers, artists, and poets of Parisian belle époque. For them muse extraordinaire absinthe stimulated the imagination with a “lucid drunkenness.” Unlike other alcoholic drinks it sharpened the mind, rather than dulling it; the herbs, especially wormwood, got the credit.  Poet maudit Rimbaud combined it with hashish; Baudelaire ranked it even above opium and wine; Oscar Wilde described a sensation of having tulips brush against his legs while walking with an absinthe buzz. Frequent user Picasso painted its more mystical side, lucid side.  Degas and notorious absinthe drinker Toulouse-Lautrec painted its Read the rest of this entry »

Absinthe, part 1: Alive, well, and legal in Maine, a visit to Tree Spirits Distillery

September 30, 2014

Written by Michael Oudyn

While vacationing this summer in Maine I came across an add in the local paper. Just up the road in Oakland someone was making

The "decadent muse" is back.

The “decadent muse” is back.

absinthe, “the decadent goddess.” Yes, “the green fairy,” the drink of choice of Parisian fin-de-siècle bohemia was back, alive and kicking, and once again legal. The notorious “muse extraordinaire” could be got at Tree Spirit Winery and Distillery. So off we went to check it out.  The place which housed the tasting room and the distillery was very small, not much bigger than a garage. We sniffed the herbs used in absinthe which it turns out don’t smell like much of anything until soaked in alcohol.

Tree Spirit's traditional absinthe maker

Tree Spirit’s traditional absinthe maker

We admired the traditional absinthe maker. We tasted the green fairy with the traditional four parts water, which reduces the alcohol level to 16%, and some sugar, which cuts the bitterness of the wormwood. Well I really liked the stuff, and the whole mystique.  Then we were treated to a fine, informative  tour of the place with the owner, Bruce Olson, who gave us a  little of the history of absinthe, a bit of his own personal story, and a peek into the workings of America’s alcohol and tobacco bureaucracy.   Here are some excerpts from that interview.

Read the rest of this entry »

Llamas in the Vineyards of Paso Robles: Wine Bloggers visit Wild Horse Winery

July 31, 2014

Written by Michael Oudyn


I share a snack with Floyd, head of the Wild Horse Winery clan of llamas

I share a snack with Floyd, head of the Wild Horse Winery clan of llamas

We from the Wine Bloggers Convention 2014 are at the Wild Horse Winery and Vineyards, in Paso Robles, California.We have sampled a few tasty high-octane Zinfandels at the neighboring Dusi Ranch.  We have had an excellent buffet lunch and  tasted a few more wines, some unique. Like their “Pink Floyd” a highly original rosé blend of pinot noir, cab franc, and sangiovese named in honor of Floyd, the godfather of Wild Horse Winery’s  hard-working llama clan. Unlike the brutish llama, I have done very little spitting today; I am ready to meet Floyd face-to-face.

“Llamas in the vineyards?”

“Of course. To protect the sheep.”

“To protect the sheep?”

“Yes, from the coyotes.”


The villain of the story, the  coyote

The villain of the story, the coyote

Let’s let the winery explain: “We actually have three llamas… Floyd, the Read the rest of this entry »

Madeira: “America’s First” and “Most Patriotic” Wine for July 4th

June 28, 2014
Toasting July the 4th  with Madeira and Tom

July the 4th with Madeira and Jefferson

written by Michael Oudyn

July the 4th is just around the corner. So what should we patriotic Americans be drinking to celebrate our birthday?

Well, Madeira, the fabulous fortified wine from off the coast of Africa, gets my vote. Called “America’s first wine” and “America’s great patriotic wine” Madeira was immensely popular during colonial times and keeps popping up at key points in our early formative years.

One reason for its popularity was a tax loophole. British law forbade the colonists from importing goods directly from Europe; they had to pass through England and pay taxes and shipping costs. But Madeira was conveniently located off the coast of Africa and therefore exempt. And we all love a tax break; this much hasn’t changed. Read the rest of this entry »

Mon docteur le vin: Wine, My Doctor, cures all disease

May 19, 2014

mon docteur cover.2

written by Michael Oudyn

“If you drink Chablis with your oysters, you will never get typhoid fever. All doctors know this.”    This is my personal favorite from Mon docteur le vin. A charming watercolor shows a sophisticated Parisian family heading out of town because “of an outbreak of typhoid fever.” Apparently some ignorant neighbors just don’t know that drinking wine is “the best prevention for typhoid” and are drinking too much water. Read the rest of this entry »

Santa Nino, the wine saint of Georgia

December 18, 2013

Santa Nino and her “living cross”

written by Michael Oudyn

I first heard the story of Santa Nino, the charming Georgian wine saint, over a nice glass of Georgian wine at a wine-tourism convention in Umbria .  Back in Barcelona my Georgian friend Nata Samushia enthusiastically confirmed the basic story and filled in a few details.

The consensus hagiography goes something like this.  Santa Nino was from Cappadoccia, in Turkey.  While in a religious trance the Virgin Mary  gave her a double mission: convert Georgia to Christianity and introduce the Georgians to wine.  She also gave her a cross made out of grapevines.  Once out of the trance the future santa secured the cross  with a lock of her own hair, forming “a living cross” of grapevine and human hair.  Once in Georgia she converted the Queen to Christianity.  But King Mirian III refused to give up his paganism and was on the point of persecuting the Christians until he was struck with blindness and “lost in  darkness ” while on a hunting trip.  He prayed to “Nino’s God” and “the light returned.”  He Read the rest of this entry »

Sideways: ten years old and still aging well

December 8, 2013


written by Michael Oudyn

2014 is the 10th anniversary of the release of Sideways, undisputed most influential wine movie ever.  Credited with singlehandedly changing American wine-drinking habits, causing “pinot noir to fly off the shelves while merlot sales plummeted,” Sideways was largely filmed on location in Santa Barbara County, around Buellton.  It seems altogether fitting then that the American Wine Bloggers will hold their 2014 convention in Buellton, Santa Barbara County.  What better time to visit Buellton and revisit “the best wine film ever made?” Read the rest of this entry »