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T h e  V i r t u a l  A b b e y : A  M e d i e v a l  T o u r
Abbey Entrance | Herb Garden | Scriptorium | Wine Cellar

The Wine Cellar 1, 2, 3

A Virtual Taste
of Medieval Wine

    Aged for a couple of  months "in the wood," wine was then poured from barrels into jugs and made short work of by medieval monks.

     Bottled wine was only introduced in the late 1600's, when wax or oil- soaked wood plugs were used as stoppers.
It  soon turned the wine to vinegar.

Thus, medieval wine had to be consumed "young," and with a lower alcohol content. Monks prized a taste that was sweet, and a color that was clear, (claret) often obtained by mixing red and white.

    Further improvements were yet to come when an old Benedictine, Dom Perignon, made a startling discovery.


  Indeed, we read that wine is not a drink for monks, but since monks cannot be persuaded of this, let us at least agree to drink sparingly and not to take our fill, wrote St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine order, in his wise Rules.

Benedictines - or Black Monks for the color of their robes -   oversaw  vast numbers of monasteries that once numbered in the thousands. This huge organization was based on an earthy work ethic, combined with proper study and always fervent prayer.

In their libraries, Benedictine scribes emerged to become the foremost chroniclers of their time. In the field, their farmers became the agricultural experts. As anywhere, these hard working landowners also often held strong influence over local political life.

As a monastic order, The Benedictines had few equals; that is, until The Cistercians, or White Monks (more commonly known today as Trappists)
were founded in 1098 at Citeaux in France by St. Robert.

Cistercian expansion finally began in earnest in 1112 - when St. Bernard of Clairvaux made a convincing argument against what was often perceived as the wanton lifestyle of the wicked and decadent Black Monks.

Bernard's call for an immediate return to strict monasticism quickly attracted followers by way of pamphlets, speeches, and direct confrontation,  attacking the Benedictine's elaborate Gothic monasteries, the gold and silver chalices, and mon dieu! - too much singing. It was this practice, above all that brought dry mouths to the Benedictines - resulting in their great thirst!

St. Bernard of Clairvaux     And while the Benedictines produced the much-loved vintages of Burgundy such as Pommard, Clos de Beze, Cote de Dijon, and Pouilly-Fume, the White Monks were also at work in the vineyards.

In Burgundy, they also produced such wines as Clos Vougeot. From a 62-acre Cisterian vineyard on the Rhine in Germany also came Kloster Eberbach

However, the Cisterians' stern life under cross and plough eventually turned to a growing Benedictine-like thirst for the high life.

By the thirteenth century, having been bequeathed the impressive Beaulieu Abbey in England, the White Monks were competing for control of huge tracts of land and holding steady influence in matters political, both in Rome, and at the French court.

We leave the theologians to debate which of the two orders were the more influential in matters of the spirit.  As to the question of winemaking, that might have been settled in the late 1600's by a Black Monk who would bring a scientific spirit of discovery to the table - Dom Perignon....

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