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Cru on the Longship? Evidence Suggests Vikings Also Crushed Grapes

Also in Unfiltered, we meet the Jackson Pollock of wine, and designer Karim Rashid creates a bottle with edge
Photo by: PBimages / Alamy
A real vintage Viking celebration.

Posted: May 11, 2017

After a long day of marauding, how did the Vikings unwind? Unfiltered always imagined the horde got together at the alehouse to knock back a few skull-chalices of beer and mead, or even just a tall horn of fjordwater. But research from excavations in Denmark suggests the Norsemen went beyond brewing: Yep, the Vikings may have terroirized the Scandinavian countryside.

Archaeologists excavating royal residences at the site of Tissø turned up two grape seeds, dating them to the Iron and Viking Ages (spanning AD 400 to 1066)—the oldest grape pips ever found in Denmark. Archaeologist and curator of Denmark's National Museum Peter Steen Henriksen sent the samples to the museum for isotope analysis, and one of them showed evidence of nearby provenance, suggesting that your average Erik the Red adhered to a "pillage global, drink local" lifestyle. “This is the first discovery and evidence of viticulture in Denmark, and all that it entails in terms of status and power. We do not know how they have used them—it [could have been just] a great bunch of grapes on a table for example—but it is reasonable to believe that they made the wine,” Henriksen told videnskab.dk, a Danish science news source. (His findings have been published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology.)

Denmark has generally been considered too cold for extensive viticulture, but now that it’s climate change that's ransacking Europe's vineyards, could "Viking" wine make a comeback? Best to keep your sabrage skills nimble, just in case.


Jackson Pollock of Wine Discovered in Brooklyn

We've all ruined the odd napkin or white shirt with red wine at some point throughout our lives/weekend. But maybe we've been thinking about it all wrong. Are Monet's water lilies just so many brush "stains" on a canvas? Did Rothko merely "smear" paint? Is not a blotch of Zin art, too? David Sawyer, for one, sees the beauty.

Now the wine director at popular Brooklyn restaurant Lilia, Sawyer paid his rent as a still-life photographer before he caught the wine bug. He's now marrying his two passions, by training a lens on every wine-soiled napkin from the end of a shift at the restaurant.

"I am always looking at things in the restaurant with a photographic eye," Sawyer told Unfiltered in an email. He noticed the patterns on his first night working at Lilia and felt compelled to document them. "Every night is unique, with new guests and interactions," he mused. "Photographing the napkins would be a unique form of capturing that specific night: busy, slow, messy …"

David Sawyer
"On the left we have Just Your Average Tuesday, and on the right you'll see Girls' Night Out."

Sawyer recalls the many wines he has uncorked at Lilia that would decorate his napkins, including Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric dël Fiasc, La Colombina Brunello and La Kiuva Nebbiolo Valle d'Aosta. "But you never know which stain is which!" he said. And Sawyer isn't alone in his celebration of the stain. In 2008, Daniel Boulud's Bar Boulud opened with wine-stained wall décor: artist Vik Muniz' high-resolution photos of soiled tablecloths.


Karim Rashid's Edgy Bottle

At Canada's Stratus Vineyards, things are a little on edge. Stratus—the eco-design–savvy winery owned by Teknion furniture CEO David Feldberg—has partnered with industrial designer Karim Rashid to create the 2014 Stratus "Decant," a "deconstructed" wine bottle filled with, ahem, unfiltered Cabernet Franc.

"Usually, you see stuff done with the label, but for the bottle, we wanted to push the envelope and do something creative. And that's when I came to Karim," Feldberg said at the launch of the wine/bottle in New York this week. Inspired by the complex geological formations under the soils of Stratus' Niagara Lakeshore vineyard, Rashid chopped up a wine bottle and stacked the pieces back together, not unlike how Stratus' clay is interspersed with limestone and granite.

Stratus Vineyards
Pictured: disruption.

Funky, sure, but Feldberg soon found a practical reason to love the jagged little bottle: The edges naturally trap sediment as the wine is poured, making the bottle act as its own decanter. So Stratus' winemaker figured he'd let the bottle take care of the filtration stage of vinifying the 2014 Cabernet Franc, corking it sur lie. A happy accident all around: "Design can have two agendas. Most of my work is about making a better experience; the other side is to show alternatives" to conventional design, Rashid told Unfiltered. "We got some really nice functional aspects out of this, but it also gets you to rethink why a wine bottle is the way it is."


With Donation, Maynard Amerine's Label Collection Keeps on Giving

Although Prof. Maynard Amerine, one of the sharpest minds in American wine, died two decades ago, his legacy continues to flow. Winemaker Ron Rubin of Ron Rubin Winery has made a substantial donation to the U.C. Davis Foundation to fund one of Amerine’s hobbies: collecting wine labels and restaurant menus. During his life, Amerine stacked up more than 5,000 labels—some dating back to the late 1800s—and ultimately donated them to U.C. Davis’ library (he taught there). The Ron Rubin/Maynard Amerine Wine Label and Menu Collection Fund provides money for efforts to digitize the labels for public access and study.

Amerine came to renown in the 1940s and '50s for his studies of California climatic zones and the publication of an authoritative guide to wine tasting, among many other endeavors; he received Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award in 1985. The great educator personally inspired Rubin's path to wine: “Upon meeting Maynard Amerine, the summer before my senior year of college, I immediately enrolled in U.C. Davis to learn about viticulture and enology. That year at U.C. Davis left me with a life-long dream—to own a vineyard and winery in wine country,” said Rubin in a press release.


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