If you think the preference for heavily oaked wines, otherwise known as ‘toasted’ wines, is something particular from the late 20th century, I have to disappoint you. It seems that already in the Middle Ages, the taste of toasted bread in wine was appreciated. It was realized by adding a piece of bread browned at the fire to a jug of wine or any other beverage of the time (beer, water), thereby giving the wine the taste of a well-oaked Chardonnay or Tempranillo.
I was reminded of this interesting custom by the comments on my recent blog post on toasting on New Year’s Eve. The origin of the word ‘toast’, as in drinking to one’s health, lies in this custom of adding toasted bread to wine. Later on, the meaning of ‘toast’ broadened, and I found the following explanation online, which looks convincing: “As to the phrase ‘the toast of the town’, this came about at the exclusively male drinking clubs of the early 18th century. The ‘toast’ was the woman who was regarded as the reigning belle of the season. The chaps were invited to flavour and heat their wine with hot spiced toasts and drink to ‘the toast of the town’. The English Poet Laureate Colley Cibber wrote about ‘toasting’ in the comic play Careless Husband, 1705: “Ay, Madam, it has been your Life’s whole Pride of late to be the Common Toast of every Publick Table.” Later in the 1700s it became the norm for any celebrated person, male or female, to be applauded by a toast.’ Here, we see the transition from ‘toast’ as a piece of bread in wine to ‘toast’ as the gesture of raising your glass and drinking to the health of someone.
That this custom of adding toast to wine really existed I discovered this weekend by chance: one of the recipes I recently transcribed (ms V.b.399, Folger Library) actually mentions that a black cherry wine is ‘good with a tost to drink’. You could argue that another interpretation is possible and that the recipe writer recommends eating a piece of toast with the wine. But luckily, there’s also this passage from Shakespeare that explicitly describes bread ín wine:
‘Go, fetch me a quart of Sacke, put a tost in’t’ (Merry Wives of Windsor, III v. 3, 1623).
The original recipe I found is from c. 1680.
To make black cherry wine
Take a quantity of black cherries and Stamp them and put them into a strong canvas Bagg and Squeeze out the Juice with a Sweete Almond Press then Straine it into a deepe earthen pott and Stir it and putt two pound of good Sugar So let it Stand three or fower dayes while it hath don work and then bottle it up with a Lump of Sugar it will be fitt to drink in three weekes monthes time Some breake the cherries in the Baggs with their hands and stone them. and lets it Stand five dayes bottled and then Straine it and to every pint of Juice Six ounces of Sugar it will keepe all the yeare it is good with a tost to drink. It is good for the Stone Splene and sharp humour.
(In a new series, I will regularly share some of the interesting finds I make while transcribing. This will be short informative articles, not heavily researched, but hopefully informative and interesting to read. I will also write in English more, to broaden my audience.)