The Wine of Lepe


In Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale, there is an interesting reference to the wine of Lepe:

Now keep ye from the white and from the red,
And namely from the white wine of Lepe,
That is to sell in Fish Street or in Chepe.
This wine of Spain creepeth subtilly
In other wines, growing fast by,
Of which there riseth such fumositee,
That when a man hath drunken draughtes three,
And weneth that he be at home in Chepe,
He is in Spain, right at the town of Lepe,
Not at the Rochelle, nor at Bordeaux town.

“Fumositee” is a beautiful word; its meaning is so clear that no lexicographer would dare define it. Chaucer (1340-1400) was the son of a vintner and was notoriously accurate in everything he mentioned, so it appears that wines from southern Spain were already fortified when he wrote his Tales, and this is borne out by the knowledge that the Moors distilled alcohol and used it for medicinal purposes. Elizabethan “sack” was certainly fortified.

Lepe is a village between Ayamonte and Huelva, a few miles from the coast, and white wines from that district have been imported into Jerez for blending with sherry even during living memory. They are rather light but of a similar style. When Ford wrote his Handbook to Spain during the last century, he visited Lepe and found that “much bad wine is made, which is sent to San Lucar, and converted for the English market into fine sherry…”

In fact the wine is not at all bad, judged purely as a local ordinary. It was probably sent to Jerez and Puerto de Santa Maria in greater quantities than to Sanlucar and could only be used for blending with mediocre sherry, but at least he was right in principle. Chaucer was writing of a wine very similar to sherry, if not of sherry itself.


Source by Kyle Y Widner