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Wine has been around for thousands of years and while we have drank it the same the alcohol percentage of the wine has changed drastically. During the late medieval period (1300-1600 AD) wine was quickly becoming the most popular drink across all of medieval Europe! However, one question remains; just how strong was this medieval wine when compared to the wine we drink today? Well, here I explain just how much stronger medieval wine was compared to our wine.
Generally speaking, medieval wine was extremely strong and contained almost double the percentage of alcohol saturation. If you were to drink a glass of pure medieval wine then chances are you would only need one full glass. However, it is important to remember that medieval wine was used to mix with other liquids to purify them from any waterborne illnesses. Because of this one bottle of medieval wine would last you several months as you only used a small percentage of it each time you drank wine.
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Without further ado here is just how strong medieval wine was.
The Alcohol Content of a 9 OZ Medieval Wine Glass
One of the hardest questions to answer when people ask me just how strong medieval wine was is how much alcohol was in a traditional 9 oz glass of medieval wine. This would have been the standard denomination of wine that a person would have received at a banquet during the high medieval period (1300-1600 AD).
The medieval cup that most wine drinkers would drink out of would be the medieval Mazer cup. This cup is a small bowl that has a very wide circumference and a shallow depth. It was the perfect drinking cup and is the one depicted in the image above. The monk is drinking out of it. These Mazer cups would have been readily available across medieval Europe and held between 6-10 oz worth of liquid.
Now the question remains how much alcohol did the average 9 oz pour of medieval wine contain? Well, as historians we have very little direct evidence of the strength of medieval wine but we do have reports of how much wine it took to get a person drunk.
We know that medieval wine was diluted to about 24-33% wine per water. However, even at this level of dilution after two or three glasses the average person would be pretty intoxicated. Assuming that human biology has not changed over the past 600 years that would mean that the average 9 oz pour of medieval wine was almost as strong as a weak whiskey or bourbon today! Simply put, medieval wine was around 26-34 % alcohol by volume (ABV).
Of course, this percentage of alcohol to wine ratio would depend on where in medieval Europe you got the wine. In Spain, it was customary to purposely make wine that had less alcohol while in England and Sweeden the wine was expected to be nearly pure alcohol.
Why Was Medieval Wine So Strong?
Medieval wine was strong but why was it so strong? Well, there are 3 reasons that historians have figured out as to why.
The first reason why medieval wine was strong was that wine-making in medieval Europe was designed to build a product that could be used to purify water. In large cities this was the most common reason why wine was so strong; it was designed to keep people healthy.
Drinking the strong wine itself did not make you healthy instead the wine would be mixed with water to kill off any germs and bacteria in the water. Monks in monasteries would add a whole bottle of pure wine to a cistern of water and over time the water would become purified.
This means that large populations could come to the monastery to receive fresh water and be able to socialize on their days off. Historians have theorized that this was one of the main reasons why monks became synonymous with wine production during the late medieval period.
The second reason why medieval wine was so strong was that a bottle of wine was designed to last for well over a year. You would never find a person in medieval Europe drinking wine directly out of the bottle; instead, they would pour a little bit of the wine into a glass of water to make a better-tasting drink.
Much like today, the people of medieval Europe wanted to have a choice for what to drink. Today we can go to the store and have a wide variety of drinks with different flavors. If you lived in medieval Europe your choice was to essentially drink either water, beer, or wine. Wine could be added to all other drinks to make a seltzer-like beverage.
The third reason why medieval wine was so strong was that it was used to cook. Just like today, chefs of medieval Europe used wine to make good-tasting meals for people. In fact, one of the most popular medieval ‘dishes’ was built using a reduced wine technique.
Today this ‘burnt’ medieval wine can be found all over Europe and comes from the medieval period. It is called Mulled wine and it is made by adding spices to wine and then boiling it until the liquid evaporates. After this, you add more wine and spices and then drink. The best way to explain the taste is to imagine hot chocolate and then instead of chocolate replace it with wine.
As such the third reason why medieval wine was so strong was that the chefs of medieval Europe used it to cook with. A strong wine is required in order to cook with or else you are simply just evaporating liquid.
These three reasons help to explain exactly why medieval wine was so strong. You simply got more wine for your money in medieval Europe.
There you have it; the answer to just how strong medieval wine was.
Simply put, medieval wine was strong. Historians have several examples of wine being so strong that only after a few glasses medieval people were too intoxicated to walk properly. By using this information we can summarize that medieval wine was around the ABV of 33% which is almost double what our modern wines are.
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