This time of year conjures up an interest in lore and legends, and it’s no wonder – these stories are a part of our heritage, and great to tell around an autumn bonfire.
But some folk tales aren’t about ghosts, monsters and strange lights; there are superstitions and omens about wine and other libations.
Toasting and drinking to one’s health has always been fraught with meaning. Today, when we drink a toast, we are making a wish for someone’s happiness and good health. But in ancient Greece, the host was expected to take the first drink of wine to show guests that it had not been poisoned – literally “drinking to one’s health.”
It’s considered bad luck to avoid eye contact with others when toasting. It’s also a bad omen to toast (clink glasses) using any beverage other than wine, and don’t pour the wine in a plastic or metal cup for a toast. (OK, maybe make an exception for a pool party.)
And, please, when you’ve lifted your glass for a toast, drink from it before setting it down. It’s not only bad luck; it’s also considered bad form.
Spilling wine in most cultures is unlucky. Ancient Roman’s thought that when someone overturned their wine it foretold of a disaster to come. In Italy, if you spill wine, you must dab a bit of it behind each ear to ward off bad luck.
However, if you intentionally pour the wine out, that results in good luck. Through the ages, fishermen have poured wine into the sea to calm the waters during a storm, and Romanians dump a small amount of wine on the ground as a way of sharing a drink with departed friends.
The Greeks were rumored to be the first culture that crafted the wine glass shape from the breast of a woman – their beauty icon, Helen of Troy. Since the ancient Greeks believed that wine was a sensual beverage, it needed to be contained in a glass that depicted sensuality.
But centuries later, Marie Antoinette decided to re-shape the glass to the size of her breast. No complaints were heard since Marie sported a glass 3-cup-sizes larger than Helen’s.
Breaking a wine glass is said to ensure a happy marriage, which is why the groom steps on a wine glass during a Jewish wedding unleashing undying love and affection. Mazel tov!
But “back in the day” if a single woman in Italy drank the last drop of wine from the bottle, she was cursed to never marry.
In France, you should not talk about the harvest or the coming vintage in front of the grapes for fear it will ruin them.
German’s believed that when a man died, all of the wine in his cellar had to be shaken vigorously right after his death. (No reason as to why; maybe a chance to check out what he drank?)
Ancient Royal Egyptians were buried with five jars of wine to bring the deceased good luck in the afterlife. (It was also believed that they could then entertain their deceased royal friends in the manner they were accustomed.)
But vino isn’t the only adult beverage that comes with lores and legends.
Whiskey has always been a key player in libation lore. Since the mid-1800s, it’s been a common old wives tale that if whiskey is applied to a baby’s gums, it relieves teething pain. Similarly, a shot of whiskey was said to relieve an adult’s toothache, or help in fighting a cold. (I’ve been told it’s true, but not advisable for children.)
There is a southern tradition that in order to ensure a rain-free wedding, a couple must bury a full bottle of Bourbon upside down exactly one month before their wedding day at the site of the planned nuptials. After the ceremony, the bride and groom dig up the bottle and share with those who attended their wedding. (And the Bourbon gets even better after spending 30 days underground.)
The Angel’s Share
The Angel’s Share refers to both wine and whiskey. Legend says that angels, guarding the wine from ruin, take a small quantity from each barrel as payment for guaranteeing another prosperous vintage. (A delightful way to explain where the evaporated alcohol has gone.)
Although not a superstition, we can thank Englishman John Haywood who advised that the best way to get over a hangover was with “the haire of the dog that bit us last night.” Of course, this is also the same man who said, “The moone is made of greene cheese,” so “take that with a grain of salt.” Cheers!
Joy Neighbors, from eastern Illinois, knows the wine industry well. She writes a weekly wine blog, has judged national wine competitions, and speaks nationally and internationally. Follow her blog at http://joysjoyofwine.blogspot.com.
By Joy Neighbors