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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In October 1999, plans for a state visit to France by the president of Iran were disrupted because of a dispute over wine. The president of Iran, a Muslim, said he could not even sit at a table where wine would be served. The French declared that a state dinner without wine on the table was unthinkable. And so, the visit had to be changed to a "state visit" without an official dinner.
This incident, points out Rod Phillips, demonstrates the power of wine in divergent societies. Muhammad banned wine for the Muslims in the early seventh century, because he saw that excess wine made his followers destructive. The French have long regarded wine as an emblem of national identity and a facilitator of social relationships and alliances, thus mandatory for every important occasion.
Wine has long been considered something more than a simple beverage -- whether it is seen as a sacred drink, an inebriant, or the work of the Devil. Phillips, a Canadian history professor who teaches a course in the history of alcohol, reminds us that Bacchus presided over wine-friendly Rome and that Christ's first miracle at the wedding of Cana involved turning water into wine.
Phillips examines the flow of wine through history, from the earliest days in the Fertile Crescent to ancient Greece and Rome and through the Middle Ages and the Napoleonic wars to the early days of viticulture in the so-called New World -- California, South Africa, and Australia. He devotes a chapter to the Time of Troubles, which began with the phylloxera crisis of the late 1880s and continued with the advent of Prohibition in America. Phillips peppers his history with lively anecdotes even as he traces the advances in viticulture (where and how to plant the vines) and viniculture (how to extract juice from the grapes, age it, store it, and deliver it to the public). His somewhat scholarly history will be welcomed by any avid wine lover. (Ginger Curwen)