Category Archives: Wine History

Pope Francis: The Secret of Sacramental Wine


I’m not Catholic and to be honest, the only time I go to Church is for weddings and funerals, the last time being my nephew’s wedding in Italy. I know very little about the Church’s ceremonies or canons but I’ve observed the Eucharist (also referred to as the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion) and know there’s real wine in that Challis.

So as the world watched Pope Francis step onto the balcony in the Vatican, I wondered where the wine they serve comes from.  Does the Church have its own vineyards, is the Eucharist wine any good and could there be a secret cellar in the Vatican that houses wine just for the Pope?

According to the Catholic Church Canons, Sacramental wine, also referred to as Communion or Alter wine must be natural, made from grapes of the vine, and not corrupt meaning it must be naturally fermented with no additives. I was actually told by a Church historian that it would be sacrilegious to use anything but real wine.

Chateauneuf_du_Pape_2The Church actually has a long history with Old World vineyards and one of the best known is Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  In 1308, Pope Clement V moved the papacy to the city of  Avignon and it was said he was a great lover of wine.  He avidly promoted the wines of the area which came to be known as “Vin du Pape” (now known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape) during the 70 years the Papacy was located there.   But it was actually his successor John XXII who was responsible for the building of the famous castle that stands as a symbol for the appellation to this day.  0012286

Of course their wine now is not limited to supplying the Church and you can find a nice bottle of La Fiole du Pape a Chateauneuf-du-Pape red for $34.95.  It’s a smooth full-bodied red from the Rhone in France.

I’m certain there are others vineyards in the Old World that supply wines to the Church but there’s also some well-known ones in the New World.   In Australia Jesuits founded  Sevenhill Cellars in 1851 in the Clare Valley. They now produce over 90,000 litres of wine annually, providing sacramental wine for both Australia and Asia along with a variety of award-winning white, red and fortified wines.

Located in the Finger Lakes wine region of New York State you’ll find O-Neh-Da the oldest still-producing vineyard founded by Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid in 1872.  This is one of the last remaining wineries in the world dedicated to producing authentic sacramental wine from their original vineyard.  They created a second vineyard called Eagle Crest that offers wine to the public.

There are even several wineries in Sonoma County that managed to survive Prohibition by producing sacramental wines.  Among them was SIMI Winery founded in 1876 by two Italian brothers who immigrated to the US during the California gold rush. By continuing to produce wine they were one of the few wineries ready to sell wine again once Prohibition ended.

There are certainly others vineyards producing Sacramental wines around the world and generally the wines are known to be not too dry or sweet so as not to offend the palate. But how do they really taste? According to the Rev. E. Frank Henriques of Grass Valley, Calif., an Episcopal priest who is the author of The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine (New American Library, 1984) ”There’s very little sacramental wine that’s good”.  Which totally leads me to believe there’s a secret wine cellar at the Vatican even though no one will confirm it.

Pope Francis has already charmed the masses and today as millions of faithful watched the Papal inauguration ceremony at St. Peter’s Square I’m sure his fan base will only grow.  Considering that right out of the gate he mentioned words of wisdom I truly believe in “Like good wine we get better with age” I don’t think you even have to be Catholic to like this guy.





G’Day Australia

UnknownAs I sit here writing this the celebrations have already ended. Being fourteen hours ahead of us, it’s already tomorrow there.  But it’s not just in the land down under they celebrate Australia Day, here in Canada there are many places where Aussies practically out number the locals.

In Whistler often dubbed “Whistralia” there are so many young Australians working there they actually have the biggest Australia Day celebration anywhere in the world outside of their homeland.

imagesWith the recent release of Les Miserable starring Australian hunk, Hugh Jackman the historical story of hard-working convicts is once again of interest to people.  While the fictional story of Jean Valjean is set in early 19th century France, it could be compared quite easily to the real life stories of many convicts sent to Australia by the British government for petty crimes during that same period. Some Australians would like nothing better than for the world to forget this bit of history while others have used this unique story as an opportunity to market their product.  I don’t generally purchase wine based on the label but when I received this bottle I was totally intrigued.  19 Crimes is inspired by the actual list of crimes you could be transported to an Australian penal colony for (rather than being hung of course). Check out the list of punishable crimes here.

0Each label of the 19 Crimes brand has the photo of a different convict.  When you go to the 19 Crimes  website you can find out more about your particular convict.  Mine is named John Boyle O’Reilly, an Irish-born poet who was arrested for Mutiny in 1866.

The wine itself is from Victoria, Australia and produced by Baileys of Glenrowan which has a remarkable history of its own.  Started in the 1860s, when Richard Bailey and his family arrived in Australia.  They originally set up a store in Glenrowan to supply miners on nearby goldfields.  When the goldfields dried up and the miners moved on the Bailey’s turned to farming and became one of the first families to plant a vineyard. They produced their first vintage in 1870 and the business was passed on through the generations but is now owned by Treasury Wine Estates. With another connection to a true crime story Glenrowan was also the place where bushranger Ned Kelly was captured in 1880.

Made up of a blend of Shiraz Durif (otherwise known as Petite Sirah) the tasting notes state it is dark red in the glass with legs that cascade slowly due to its concentration and power. Sadly I’ve checked and it’s not available at the LCBO only out in BC liquor stores.

0Maybe some day soon we’ll get it here otherwise a visit to the land down under will give you a chance to try this wine and of course the many other fabulous Australian wines.

So Happy Australia Day to all those celebrating around the world.

What’s your favourite Aussie wine?