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The Italians taught the English how to make wine.
You can’t eat them but you can make a lovely wine out of elderberries though, if you know how. You certainly would not fancy eating a raw English elderberry, sloe, quintz or indeed many of the other multifarious ingredients English wine makers transform into their “wine”. To be quite honest nor would I, but many people do drink the wine.
Not even 20% of home made wines in England are even “just about drinkable” to someone who has grown up in the lands of the grapevines; some, around 10% don’t give you a massive chemical hangover; some are quite nice but too new; but around 5% are really very pleasantly wine-like. The Romans used to do the same.
Many people nowadays get a taste for the chemicals (if they drink a lot of home-made wine) and so don’t notice them, whilst if one is not used to the taste it’s horrid. Some, but very few, wine-makers at home never use chemicals or clearing mediums. They just wait until it’s ready. The Romans used to do the same.
The chemical user will go to the supermarket and get his Pack of “home made wine”, with all the instructions as to how to carry out this chemical process in the least possible time and to gain the maximum alcohol advantage out of the finished item (I hesitate to call it wine). It will taste disgusting but will certainly pack a punch. Many Romans used to do similar.
Romans far from home in England had to improvise their wine. No grapes? We will have to make some wine out of local fruit, and at the same time plant some vineyards. So the noble art of wine-making was taken to England. Well, actually, that’s entirely wrong. The locals had been making wine for a few thousand years, although they, as today, were considered a Nation of beer drinkers, “wine” was made from berries.
When you put a bit of honey or sugar into a pot of fruit it will ferment from the natural yeast in the fruit. If the fruit has a high sugar (fructose) content then it will ferment itself, but if like elderberries the fruit is bitter and with a low fructose content it will need a bit of a helping hand from sugar and yeast. The Romans, when they invaded Britain, brought with them the ability to make much better wine than the English.
However, even the best Roman wine made without grapes was not as good as the “real thing”, so English vineyards were started and the Romans taught the English how to make wine properly. Decent grapes really don’t need sugar or yeast, as these are in the fruit itself.
Of course English wine, even 2000years ago, was not as good as Italian wine, but it certainly cheered up many a Roman soldier consigned to the freezing wastes of Hadrian’s Wall. However, when they returned to Rome after a few years service they didn’t bother to take any elderberry wine with them. They were going home to the real thing.
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