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A little lipstick on your chardonnay: a good idea since way back

Posted by Stephen Meuse  February 3, 2012 12:02 PM

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Capture14.JPGThe first edition of Oliver de Serrres' manual on agricultural practice, Le Theatre d'Agriculture et Mesnage des Champs, was published in March of 1600. Dedicated to King Henry IV of France (of chicken-in-every-pot fame) it was reprinted many times throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and qualified the ex-soldier from the Ardeche for the title he eventually assumed: father of French agriculture.

I haven't yet been able to find a free to view English translation of this work on Google Books, but you can access a complete French version  from 1623 (in all its funky renaissance orthography; title page at right) and another from 1804 that's quite a bit easier going.

There's lots on vineyard management and winemaking that's of real interest - including a striking reference to the use of wood chips that appears to anticipate what I have long thought to be a thoroughly modern (and perhaps slightly dubious) technique for getting oak flavor and aromas into cheaper California and Australia chardonnays.

In Book 3 of his treatise, de Serres describes how to add wood chips from the carpenter's plane as a means of clarifying murky wine - then adds this side note: By these means, not only will the new wine be clarified, but will acquire, in quite a short time, a very agreeable smell. 

He notes slyly that the tavern keepers of Paris were all too familiar with the technique - meaning, I suppose, that they may have practiced it themselves on barrels of wine stored in their cellars to make cheap wine a bit more agreeable to their customers.  

Those of you with an itch to try this at home can start right here.   

Stephen Meuse can be reached at

Ellen Bhang

About By the Glass

Ellen Bhang writes about food and wine and reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe. Wine is the focus of her degree in the Gastronomy master's program at Boston University. She can be reached at


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