Who, do you suppose, was the first to eat a raw oyster? Was a crowd standing around the raw oyster-eater, waiting for him - or her - to drop dead? There's a little verse that says this pioneer was sufficiently emboldened by a glass (maybe a bottle, even) of chablis, a white burgundy wine.
Then there's the person who bit joyously into a glorious red, ripe tomato at a time when everyone thought tomatoes were poisonous.
The mysteries linger about these bold culinary firsts - and others, such as when our forebears discovered the pleasure and health of a glass of wine with a cut of meat or a loaf of fresh bread.
Most likely, wine's mildly antiseptic characteristic was recognized early. In the Gospel account, the good Samaritan treated the victim's wounds with oil - an emollient - and with wine. In ancient cities, wine was a relatively healthy beverage, often safer than water or milk for people to drink and use in cereals.
Further back, choice vineyards and especially fruitful grape varieties became objects of political and physical contests. Wine was a more pleasurable beverage than the apparently equally ancient drink, beer.
Today, while many of us speculate about what meals will be set before us on a family dinner table, wine is a constant - a golden thread that extends back through the ages.
On this long thread, for many reasons, wine was a sacred component of worship in the unity of the family. It may have had a ritual function in other cultures as well, but Jewish history especially is kept alive century after century with detailed celebrations that include wine.
For many years in large parts of Western Europe and North America, price, as much as anything, led to the service of sickeningly sweet, heavy wines - the name Manischewitz, among others, comes to mind - that overwhelmed some of the western world's best cooking. The tag that leads to such a choice is kosher, or ritually purified.
As Jewish people prepare to celebrate the autumn festivals, Rosh Hashanah at sundown on Oct. 3 followed by Yom Kippur at sundown on Oct. 12, those who want fine wines have more choices than ever. From the Herzog winery are four top-shelf kosher red wines, all vintage '02: two cabernet wines, a special reserve ($34) and "special edition" single vineyard ($70); a special reserve merlot ($30), and special reserve syrah ($30).
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