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The Fée Verte Absinthe Forum - The Oldest, Largest, Most Authoritative Absinthe Forum. > The Monkey Hole > The Cellar
An interesting little article in the Independent about Empress Josephine and her wine cellar.

The Emperor drank only Chambertin and apparently the custom of the day was to add iced water to it. Could it be more than coincidence that a certain green beverage have adopted such a method of preparation?

And I'm curious, in that listing of the contents of her cellar, was there any absinthe?

And also, absinthe seems to be a child of the French Revolution. Certainly arising in the same time period. The impact of contemporaneous events doesn't seem to have been explored before.
Everybody knows absinthe made people lose their heads.
I thought it was ears.
What did ya say? I didn't hear.
Reservoir Dog!
Jaded Prole
Watering one's wine was a common practice among 18th century nobility. The creation of brandy added to that tradition as brandy was considered condensed wine - more stable for shipping.

I think absinthe was still considered a medicine at the time for the French Revolution.
But because absinthe was a medicine, does that mean it was consumed like a shot, or take a teaspoon of it or just a nip out of the old flask? That's kind of why I asked.

We know that the soldiers in the 1840's were wanting to disinfect the water (or at least that's what Figowitz wanted Vermin P. Crock to believe).

According to the info Oxy has here, only states that there's evidence of using water and sugar since the 1850's. It'd be interesting to know the evidence for how absinthe was prepared prior to this, especially around the time of it's origin.
Absent a time machine, I don't think anyone is ever going to know. Thus, we fall back upon smartass remarks.
Jaded Prole
I'm sure that then, as now, there was a range of opinion but if it was above 60%, no doubt water made it more palatable. Sugar probably came later.

I sincerely doubt that anyone lit it on fire though.
Wild Bill Turkey
I'd be curious to re-open the discussion Dakini and I started to have a year or so ago elsewhere. I mentioned something from what I took to be generally accepted dogma about absinthe's popularity having the chance to increase during the phylloxera wine disaster, and she asserted that it was hogwash, and that there were no statistics that supported the notion that there was a connection between the sudden rarity of table wine and the rise of absinthe.

I couldn't immediately find any sources for such statistics (I'm not great at that kind of search) and the conversation was quickly buried by "Happy Birthday", "Phallus" and "Yes! Well done! Welcome to the forum!" Maybe people here know better than I how to pour through froggy pre-ban minutia and find substantive answers to this?
The connection is not a direct one between absinthe alone and phylloxera alone. People took to high proof alcohol in general in the absence of wine, and blight in the vineyards was one of the reasons for the absence of wine. The wine trade wanted absinthe gone, of that there can be no doubt.

The Late Vineyard War in France

James Westfall Thompson

Hearst's International Volume 13 (1907)

Increased Consumption of Cognac

But there are other enemies to the wine trade besides adulterators and the manufacturers of chemically made wines. The statistical history of France shows that wine and cognac*

(* This term is here used for convenience, not merely to mean what is known as cognac, but other sorts of highly alcoholized liquors as well, especially eau-de-vie. See a remarkable article by Dr. Jacques Bertillon in the Matin, to which I acknowledge my indebtedness.)

are deadly enemies, and in the conflict the latter has proved the stronger. Before the Franco-Prussian War the average consumption of cognac was three and one-half liters, not counting more than a liter of fraudulent commodity. It always holds the ground it has gained. A people that drinks wine does not drink alcohol, and vice versa. The Italians and Spaniards drink almost no cognac. In France in departments where wine is the ordinary drink, cognac is not greatly used. On the contrary, in departments where the vine is not cultivated and where the ordinary drink is cider or beer, and cognac does not have to feel the competition of wine, it finds many consumers. Thus in the Aude, a wine country, but a liter and a half of eau-de-vie is consumed per capita. In the Seine-Inferieure, a cider country, the average consumption of cognac is more than twelve liters. It is the same in other departments.

Another proof of the rivalry between wine and cognac is furnished by the fact that each time that the consumption of wine has suffered for one reason or another, the consumption of eau-de-vie has increased. Thus during the last fifty years the vineyards have been subjected to two formidable crises. The first was in 1854, when the oidium, a microscopic parasitic fungus, attacked the vines, and would certainly have almost ruined the vineyards if the means had not been found of destroying the disease by flowers of sulphur. Then came the phylloxera. Each time the same phenomenon has been produced. When wine failed, cognac profited by the situation to extend its conquest. When the vineyards recovered, the eau-de-vie ceased to make such rapid progress. Nevertheless it has clung to the ground gained.

Parenthetically it might be added at this point that any temperance or total abstinence movement that may exist in France has no bearing upon the present situation. The French are a people far more temperate than those of Anglo‑Saxon blood, and the statistics of drunkenness are much below those of England or the United States. The temperance agitation merely applies to the excessive use of cognac, eau-de-vie and absinthe. There is no question of the discontinuance of wine. Vin blanc and vin rouge have been for hundreds of years part of the national diet. It is true that the French use much mineral water, especially in the dilution of fruit syrups, of which they are very fond. But those who are fond of such beverages also drink wine, I venture to say, universally.

Absinthe has invaded the South, and is now sold in the cafes of Montpelier, Nimes, Cette, Marseilles, Toulouse, and other places. The "green dragon" has replaced the flask of red wine in the cafes. It is claimed that the South of France is now consuming 100,000 hectoliters of absinthe. The total consumption of absinthe in France is 300,000 hectoliters, or 30,000,000 liters, which makes about 480,000,000 drinks. Estimating each drink of absinthe at twenty centimes, and assuming that the man might as well have consumed wine, we have a total of nearly 100,000,000 that the grape of the South is suffering from absinthe alone. The agitation against the use of absinthe is increasing in France. The Societe Nationale d'Agriculture on July 18,1906, passed a resolution demanding the prohibition of absinthe in the interest of wine. The Union des Syndicats Agricoles du Sud-Est, which has ninety thousand members, of whom three-fourths are wine men, on November 26, 1906, passed a similar resolution. The Union of Provence followed, with forty-five thousand members; the Burgundy, with forty thousand, and finally the Central Union of the United Syndicates, on January 30, 1907, in the name of the federation demanded the suppression of absinthe.

The Crusade Against Absinthe

The Paris Matin organized a crusade against the use of absinthe, and on June 14 an enormous meeting was held in the Trocadero. Among the speakers were MM. D'Arsonval, a member of the Academy of Sciences; Charles Dupuy, former president of the council of ministers and a senator; A. Rivot of the French Academy, a deputy and former president of the council of ministers; General Des Garets, former member of the superior council of war, who represented the army, and Vice-Admiral Bayle. One of the features of the occasion was temperance songs by an "anti-alcoholic choir." Whether the absinthe trade will ever be restrained much may be doubted. That its use will be suppressed in France it is impossible to believe. Absinthe is a fascinating drink — as fascinating as the use of opium — and the movement to suppress its manufacture has not only the opposition of the manufacturers but great popular opposition as well.

But sugar distillation, adulteration, the competition of eau-de-vie and absinthe are not all the enemies of the legitimate wine trade. The South has to endure the competition of the Algerian wine, both as an ingredient of '' doctored'' wines and in its pure capacity, because of the peculiar way in which the freight tariffs are applied. The Midi can not understand why a hectoliter of wine, shipped from Oran, pays less to reach Paris than the same amount shipped from Cette: but it does, because the subsidized Mediterranean steamers cut the freight rates. Economically Algiers is approximated to France as if the sea did not exist.

The signs of the times are hopeful. The Midi's agitation has profoundly shaken France. Political economy has had a less exciting history than politics in France. While the political progress of France has been largely associated with violence, it is interesting to observe that progress in economic legislation has been through the law of pacific propaganda. Universal suffrage and a republic at once democratic and parliamentary have been the instruments of French progress and are the guarantees of the future. It remains for the Midi now to remain quiet until the new measures can be fairly tried, and for the government honestly to enforce the new law. To that spirit of egoism whose detestable pretension in part explains the anarchic utterances which have occasionally found expression, must be opposed a spirit of honest reform.

quintessence d'absinthe (ca. 1817) was said to be served a 30ml per stomach ailments, no waer™, no sugar.

Whereas Fritz Duval mentions that "my absinthe was sold in small bottles and served in small quantities, diluted with white wine":

Donnie Darko
That was a great source Artemis.
That its use will be suppressed in France it is impossible to believe.

It's tragic, really. I get depressed when I see the optimism of intelligent people crushed by the reality of what stupid people are capable of doing.
sudden rarity of table wine

There was no sudden rarity of table wine as you suggest.

Beginning in the 1850's the French wine industry was subjected to numerous shocks. The mildew epidemic of the 1850's did much more damage to the vines than phylloxera did. During the mildew epidemic the price of wine doubled (so this is over the course of the 1850's) while the price increases due to phylloxera was more on the order of 30%. The overall production of wine in the 1866-1875 (during the phylloxera epidemic) was 57,000,000 hectoliters, while by the end in the period 1886-1895 it was a "mere" 30,500,000 hectoliters. However, the importation of wines from Italy, Spain and Portugal during that period accounted for 9,500,000 hectoliters. (Prior to this time France did not import much wine at all.) It did not make up for this difference in loss of production, but clearly there was no sudden rarity of table wine as you suggest.

One thing that did develop was the production of artificial wines. These were wines made from raisins, or supplemented by neutral spirit made from sugar, or neutral spirit made from industrial sugars such as beets. This has a major impact on the price of wine in the early 1900's. In fact, the price collapsed, leading to demonstrations in the Midi of nearly half a million in Montpellier on June 9th, 1907. They were demonstrating not against absinthe or spirits, but against the low prices they were receiving for their wine [due to competition from artificial wines]. This wasn't fully understood in 1907 as production had fully recovered from the effect of phylloxera by this time.

I know that in the beginning of the absinthe revival it seemed like phylloxera must have wiped out the french vines, and therefore the populace took to absinthe (and perhaps other spirits). But the reality is quite different. Certainly phylloxera had an impact, but I suspect that cheap production of sugar, and spirits from from this low cost sugar, allowed the production of cheap absinthe as well as cheap wine. I don't know if the data actually exists describing how much absinthe was produced by which means (herbs from distillation, or produced from essences).

And as a counterpoint, from the 1840's in the US, the Temperance and Prohibitionist movements began developing and built powerful political alliances. I think of this as the first Women's Movement, though it had very strong social and clerical support. How effective they were in actually getting people to quit drinking, I don't know. But their political impact if felt to this day in the laws regulating production and distribution of alcohol and especially spirits.

Just so you don't assume that I know what I'm talking about, here's a link to several papers and books on the topic.

This paper by James Simpson is very good. Implicates phylloxera, but identifies many other factors. Decent bibliography (though sadly a page is missing)

If you want to know the history of the phylloxera, a place to start is here:…cNo=19921161667
which lists the monograph:
Pouget, R., 1990: Histoire de la lutte contre le phylloxera de la vigne en France 1868-1895: x + 157 pp.
If you can find it.

An interesting paper (in French) is here, discussing the various international symposiums on phylloxera and other foreign pests.

An excellent popular account is The Botanist and the Vinter, mostly available at google books, but available for cheap through abebooks.…;q=&f=false
Well that's interesting.
Not to me, but someone asked for pre-ban minutia and I happened to be able to put my fingers on some without too much trouble, so I threw it out for what it's worth. To me, the growth of absinthe is easily explained. I tried it, I liked it, I wanted more. It doesn't seem unreasonable that (many thousands of) other people did the same a hundred or more years ago, blight or no blight.
All that research DP has done, it's fascinating. I am having trouble letting go of my long-held notion about the wine industry and the infestation, but certainly there is lots of evidence in her documentation there. Wow.
Donnie Darko
Phylloxera or not, absinthe was cheap booze, so it's not hard to comprehend Absinthe's popularity. Plus there was no wine "ritual", as drinking wine in France was about as much of an "event" as drinking water (it still is, in fact I'd guess drinking wine is much more routine than drinking water, given all the people who died of dehydration during the relatively mild 2003 heat wave). In contrast, absinthe was a flashy event (luminous green liquid in the glass, unmistakeable aroma, lots of accessories), so it becoming the alcohol of choice among a fairly alcoholic population and cutting into wine's market is no surprise.

Back then people with money and power tried to screw competitors, and today nothing has changed. If those people with money and power get a self-righteous movement on their side, watch out, because something you like is going to get taken away from you. Not that Pernod Fils didn't have dumptrucks full of cash. I'm sure they did. But what they didn't have was a self-righteous ill-informed hysteria to support their cause.

And so they lost.

But then they made Pastis, so they won anyway.

So actually absinthe lost.

But then it came back.

And now it costs $20 a glass at some restaurants/bars.

That would make a man from Paris in 1910 cry.
True, but I wonder what the relative worth of $20 today would have been in French francs in 1910.
QUOTE(Donnie Darko @ Dec 12 2009, 08:52 PM) *
And now it costs $20 a glass at some restaurants/bars.

That would make a man from Paris in 1910 cry.

Or laugh.
QUOTE(dakini_painter @ Dec 12 2009, 04:23 AM) *

I know that in the beginning of the absinthe revival it seemed like phylloxera must have wiped out the french vines, and therefore the populace took to absinthe (and perhaps other spirits). But the reality is quite different. Certainly phylloxera had an impact, but I suspect that cheap production of sugar, and spirits from from this low cost sugar, allowed the production of cheap absinthe as well as cheap wine. I don't know if the data actually exists describing how much absinthe was produced by which means (herbs from distillation, or produced from essences).

Phylloxera hit the cheapest wines hardest, because, keeping it at bay was expensive, and only the growers realizing higher prices for their grapes could afford to do so. Replanting on to American rootstocks, even once this was understood as the only permanent solution, took decades. The real importance of phylloxera to absinthe was not the marginal rise in the cost of vin ordinaire, it was the massive fall in the availability of wine alcohol and a concomitant rise in production and drastic drop in the cost of industrial alcohol. Production of alcools de vins went from 192 962 hectolitres in 1878 to 27 200 hectolitres in 1880, a fall of over 85%. It didn't exceed 100 000 hectolitres again until 1893. Industrial alcohols went from an average of 54% of total alcohol production in the late 1860's to 96.5% in the early 1880's. Average wholesale alcohol costs fell from 64fr/hectolitre in 1874 to 36fr/hectolitre in 1890.

These are drastic changes over the space of just over two decades. They resulted in a significant move away from wine and grape based drinks to those that could be made from industrial alcohols, chief amongst these being aperitifs in general, and absinthe in particular. The falling production costs experienced by absinthe producers in this era resulted in them lowering their selling prices, this increased demand which in turn created further economies of scale. As it became more affordable, absinthe moved down the social scale, and became an alternative (never a replacement) to wine and marc for the working classes.

This isn't the whole story by any means, but it's part of the story certainly. There's no doubt in my mind that phylloxera played a significant role in altering the underlying economic realities of absinthe production, which, at least indirectly, helped to increase its popularity.

The statistics quoted above are from the definitive contemporary statistical reference on the subject, L'Alcool, Etude Economique Generale, by Louis Jacquet, published 1912.
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