The Civilizing Effect of Wine on Humanity

A ban on alcohol is one sign among many that a culture is retreating from commonly accepted notions of enlightened society.

Deep inside a cave outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, Dr. Lee Berger, a prominent paleoanthropologist and author of several books, described the process by which his team of scientists were excavating fossils which would unravel the deepest mysteries of early man. The darkness and silence of the cave was the perfect, timeless setting to contemplate the questions Berger was attempting to answer: What was the point in time when man separated from the ape and charted his own course for the establishment of civilization as we know it today?

After the dig, our group adjourned to a local restaurant, where we enjoyed a fine meal and a number of stunning South African wines. Our conversation continued over a rich Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir, and Berger mentioned that he was giving a lecture that very night in this same restaurant to a group hosted by Hamilton Russell. The lecture concerned the influence that alcohol in fermented fruit may have had on civilizing early man. I confess I grew rather excited as I explained to him about Wine Enthusiast magazine, what a fortunate coincidence it was to have met him on the day when he was to give this lecture for the first time and how our readers would also enjoy hearing about his theories.

But it wasn’t only the distant past that Berger’s words illuminated for me. I am writing this on September 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The very nature of civilization, the fragility of what mankind has achieved in 7,000 years, is being called into question. The barbaric attacks that took place a year ago stemmed from Islamic fundamentalist thinking (admittedly a twisted and bastardized version), which forbids the consumption of alcohol in all forms, including wine. If wine enjoyment helped create civilization, could its ban help bring about its downfall? I exaggerate, of course, but countries where this sort of fundamentalist thinking has taken root are also countries where women are denied opportunities, where the media is rigidly controlled and where the common man has very little say in government and social affairs. It’s all of a piece.

This issue of Wine Enthusiast, a globe-trotting spectacular if ever we produced one, is solid refutation of backward, fundamentalist thinking. For a taste of Old World charm and serenity, Roger Voss takes you on a tour of Chambolle-Musigny, the Burgundy village that produces some of the most delicious wines in the region. And Robin Lynam, who is based in Hong Kong, takes a look at the wine scene in Asia—the increasing sophistication among consumers in regards to wine as well as the increasing production taking place in those forward-thinking countries.

The primitive hunter-gatherer theme of our cover story is continued in this month’s Pairings article. Editor at large Jeff Morgan followed some Napa Valley winemakers who also hunt wild game. Their recipes are on display, paired with some of their own delicious wines. Also in this issue, Paul Gregutt samples 21 vintages of Woodward Canyon’s Dedication Series Cabernet Sauvignons, and finds that these Washington wines are aging quite gracefully. Gary Regan examines the glittery explosion of brandy cocktails—bartenders across the country are using brandies, Cognacs and Armagnacs as components in cocktails, with great success.

This issue also coincides with the first VinExpo Americas, which is being held in New York City, the site of the most devastating of those cowardly, barbaric attacks a year ago. Let the VinExpo event remind everyone that hatred, greed, jealousy and contempt never last long in a room where wine is being poured.


Published on November 1, 2002