white wine

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Why white? No wine, not the blandest Frascati or the stoniest Chablis, is totally devoid of colour, even if it is only a glint of green or a suggestion of yellow. But in fact the distinction in English, implied or explicit, between white wine and red goes back to the Middle Ages: the thirteenth-century Cursor mundi tells of cellars ‘filled with wine, white and red’, and William Langland in Piers Plowman (1377) mentions ‘white wine of Oseye [Alsace] and red wine of Gascoigne’. And indeed the Romans used the term vinum album, ‘white wine’. No doubt in the days before refrigerated vats and the rigorous avoidance of oxidation, most ‘white’ wine was decidedly straw-coloured, if not downright yellow. However, the use of white to confer the cachet of whiteness and purity on decidedly off-white objects has a long pedigree, by no means confined to white wine. Bread, for instance, has been termed ‘white’, in contrast with ‘brown,’ since at least the fourteenth century, although medieval white bread can scarcely have been as snowy as Mother's Pride; creamy-yellowish building bricks are commonly called white bricks; and white rum is of course transparent. Nowadays perhaps the only white wine to come completely clean about its colour is vin jaune, ‘yellow wine’, a wine of the Jura in France which somewhat resembles fino sherry.

Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.

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