by Fred McMillin
for February 16, 1998

Galileo and Wine


"Wine is sunlight, held together by water."

...Galileo, 1564-1642, Italian scientist from Tuscany.

The Rest of the Story

When Galileo wasn't busy inventing the thermometer or discovering "the moon is not smooth, but rough like the earth," he enjoyed the wines of his native Tuscany, the home of Chianti. Since yesterday was his birthday, we thought we would examine how good they were around 1610 when his observations indicated the absurd idea that the sun was NOT revolving around the earth.

About that time the Pope's physician, Andrea Bacci, toured Tuscany and used such words to describe its wines as "exquisite, generous and ruby-red elixers." Also, Chinati reds were being exported successfully. In England, "Florence" wines were "well regarded, but need to be shipped promptly through the Straits of Gibralter before autumn winds hold them up, since they are inclined to go off quickly." (from R. George in "Chianti")

Now, for a toast to the scientist who had the nerve to say there were moving spots on the sun (celestial bodies were believed to suffer no alteration), I must use a grape from Tuscany converted to wine by an Italian family. My grape is the Sangiovese, and my family is the Peter Mondavis, owners of the Charles Krug Winery. The Sangiovese left Italy for the U.S.A. about 1885; Cesare Mondavi, Peter's father, did the same thing in 1908. Here's the wine:

The Wine

1995 Reserve Sagiovese, Napa Valley
Charles Krug Winery, St. Helena, Ca.
Composition—A Supertuscan, with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc added to the Sangiovese.
Tasting Notes—Greater intensity than many competitors; enjoy with robust pasta and beef dishes.
Price—$16 range.


Because of the abuse Galileo was receiving, the grand duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II, brought the scientific genius back to Florence as his personal scientist. Interestingly, it was Cosimo III, who issued the Edict of 1716 setting the boundaries of Chianti. He was so proud of his villa's wine, he sent some as a gift to the Queen of England.

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 and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. 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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