History of Wine: The Medieval

The Medieval or Middle Ages was the middle period in the three traditional divisions of European history between the collapse of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD) in the 5th century and the beginning of the Renaissance and Age of Discovery in the 15th century. The Medieval is also divided into 3 periods: Early, High and Late Middle Ages.

The Early Middle Ages is known as the period of the so-called barbarian invasions, depopulation and movement of people. From 19th century, people often referred to the whole Medieval period as ‘The Dark Ages’, but this refers only to the Early Middle Ages among historians.

With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, viticulture fell into deep crisis.

Wine production faced difficulties in the turmoil of the time, as viticulture and wine making are a very time consuming process.

As a result of the barbarian invasions and the migration of people, new nutritional habits and traditions were introduced. These also affected wine drinking, as the consumption of beer and honey beer became more common.

However, as the celebration of the Catholic Mass required wine, a continuous supply of wine was essential, which helped and promoted wine production. In fact, it could be argued that usage in mass saved wine production.

Many monastic orders began serious, high quality wine production, such as the Benedictines (established in 529 AD), Cistercians (established in 1098 AD), Carthusians (established in 1084 AD), Knights Templar (established 1119 AD) and Carmelites (late 12th century).

Benedictine and Cistercian monks became the largest producers of wine in France and Germany.

The Benedictine order owned many vineyards in France (Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux) in Germany (Rheingau and Franconia).

An interesting fact is that Dom Perignon was a Benedictine monk (Dom Pierre Perignon, 1638-1715) who promoted the production and quality of champagne wine. The famous Dom Perignon champagne is named after him, but it is a myth to credit him with the invention of sparking champagne, as this only became the dominant style in Champagne in the 19th century.

Dom Perignon

In the Middle Ages, the usage of wine also had an important and necessary role, as it has antiseptic properties. As the water in the cities was not clean, it was consumed by mixing it with wine.

In the development of viticulture in Middle Ages, Charlemagne (Charles the Great), who was King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor, also deserves credit, as he significantly promoted wine production and trading around 800 AD.



But a real rebirth in viticulture and wine production truly began around the 11th century, when new vineyards areas started to develop, and new commercial roads opened.

The transport of wine also developed, as regions, cities or towns next to rivers or the sea were in favourable locations. From this period, Dutch traders began to have a greater role in the wine trade, which after the Hundred Years’ War make them the dominant force in the trading of wine.

The subsequent decades brought economic crisis, but what followed was one of the most exciting and rich eras in culture and science: the Renaissance, and the Age of Discovery. Let’s see in our next post what this thrilling period brought to the world of wine…..




Phillips, A Short History of Wine

Johnson, Vintage: The Story of Wine



The statue ot Dom Perignon, outside the Moet & Chandon champagne house, Flickr, Photo: Dan Dickinson

Statue of Charlemagne, Hamburg’s Town Hall, Flickr, photo: ptwo



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