Wayward Tendrils

Wayward Tendrils describes both the way of the grapevine and a wonderful little group of wine bibliophiles—yours truly included.

Most members of Wayward Tendrils are serious collectors of wine and food books and other writings on the subjects. As I am with all my interests, I don’t get too geeky about it: collecting books isn’t as much fun to me as reading them, and so I can live without owning an out-of-print book that I know is available at my local library.

Still, some things are unapproachable and because of that, they are more intriguing. Such is the case with Inaugural Medical Address About Wines, by John Michael Schosulan; Vienna, 1767.

Until the 19th century, especially in Europe, but also in the U.S., the custom was to study and write about medicine in Latin. To gain a doctorate in medicine in Europe required a thesis written in Latin. That is what Schosulan’s medical address was, a 55-page thesis concerning the properties of wine.

A Danish physician, Erik Sklovenborg, introduced 22 paragraphs of the dissertation in the latest Wayward Tendril’s Quarterly, a publication for members. Piero Perron, an Italian nuclear engineer with a “Jones” for Latin studies, translated the thesis.

Much of the medical benefits of wine that come to us today as news, were already believed in ancient times. Certainly, Schosulan believed much of it in 1767. Perron is also president of an Italian beer brewer’s association, but he admits that after translating Schosulan’s thesis, he developed a respect for, and began moderate consumption of wine.

In the translated thesis are wonderful passages about wine’s workings through our digestive and circulatory systems. Not to mention the marvelous things that wine can do for us (there is, however, mention of the downside of over imbibing). One of the many insights that caught my eye was Schosulan’s mention of the use of sulphur (we know it as sulfur dioxide, SO2).

Schosulan talks about protecting wine from the degradations of oxidation, which he quaintly refers to as “air.” He talks about topping up casks and adding olive oil as a film on top, of aromatic spices sprinkled on a cloth and then lit, or of lighting distilled alcohol, presumably to use up the air around the wine. Of all the methods, however, he points out that sulfur dioxide alone makes all other methods needless. Where have I heard that before?

I suggest anyone with an interest in wine books and wine history sign up for membership in Wayward Tendrils—it costs no more than a bottle of wine for a one-year subscription to the quarterly.

Being made up of a bunch of bibliophiliacs, Wayward Tendrils doesn’t seem to have a Web site. But there is an email address: tendrils@jps.net.

On another note connected to writing, Mike Steinberger has a fine piece of writing in Fine Wine Magazine, a truly expensive but well executed wine-centric periodical from Britain that, sadly, for me, I have yet to infiltrate as a writer.

Steinberger’s piece is about the wine critic/writing world of today. My only beef with the piece is that, like most, he seems to equate wine criticism with wine writing. I view them as separate functions.

The article has stirred a lot of online talk. Take a look at it for yourself, at:


PS: I’ll be traveling next week. Will post my next entry the following week. I hope to have something to say after a few days in New York City.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
April 2008. All rights reserved.

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