by Fred McMillin
for June 24, 1999
Dumas on Wine
Alexandre Dumas, Born June 24, 1803
"Wine is the intellectual part of a meal."
...Alexandre Dumas, Le Grand Dictionnaire de
Cuisine (originally, 303 volumes), published 1873
For 4,000 years in China, writers and poets
were gourmets. They developed a vast, serious
gastronomical literature. In the West, a work on
cuisine by a literary master would not
be considered a serious endeavor. An exception
is Alexandre Dumas's Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine.
...Jean-Francois Revel, Culture & Cuisine
Alexandre Dumas, the enormous half-Negro literary
genius [Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Muscateers,
etc.] Wednesday dinners were the talk of Paris.
There were always 15 places, for the leading wits
and artists of the period. While Dumas chef
prepared most of the dishes, the salad was always
prepared by the master himself. They were so
renown that some who might miss a dinner would
send their servant to pick up their share of the
salad...Though Dumas produced 300 novels and
made much of his wealth from his plays, he
considered his cuisine dictionary his most important
work. Its 600,000 words were published three
years after his death in 1870.
...Alan Davidson, Betty Wason
The Rest of the Story
Let's skim the history of wine as seen by this
"The arts of eating and drinking are not learned
overnight. When Alexander the Great wanted to add
the title of Gastronome to his name, he took his
degree at Persepolis [Persia] and Babylon to be
named Doctor of Eating and Drinking. The fame of
his orgies has echoed down two thousand years."
"When civilization disappeared with the barbarian
invasion, wine, The Measure of Civilization,
"Today [c.1865] nothing is rarer in Paris than
a Bordeaux of the first cru and a good year, because
the English buy them all up."
"Really excellent are the Persian wines harvested
in the environs of Shiraz [alias, Syrah] and named
after that city."
About Champagne, Dumas says gourmands were not
aware of it in the 13th century. Then Wenceslaus,
King of Bohemia, came to Rheims in May of 1397
to negotiate a treaty. He found the wine so good
that he would drink it daily from three to six.
It was all so pleasant that he dragged the talks
out for two years, and Dumas says, spent a
"third year resting from the fatigue of all this
diplomatic labor." Upon his departure, he revealed
the real reason for the length of his stay, and
"the reputation of champagne dates from this time."
So, tonight we toast Dumas with champagne. King
Wenceslaus' champagne was still; our will be
sparkling. The best my panel has tasted in some
time is Pol Roger Brut, Epernay, France, $34.
For outlets, contact Odila Galer-Noel of Frederick
Wildman, (212) 355-0700, Fax (212) 355-4719.
See the March 24,1998 WineDay "Churchill's Choice", about Pol Roger.
About the Writer
Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history
for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine
courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College.
In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred
with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded
to American wine writers.
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