Tag Archives: Wine Etymology

Hildegard is Dead

The internet has a marvelous way of simultaneously propagating and refuting misinformation.  This phenomenon came to Bacchanal Babble last week after my post titled Scouring The Central Coast hit the blogosphere.  In it I recounted how the vineyard Corton-Charlemagne earned its name.  As the story goes, Charlemagne’s favorite wine came from a vineyard in Burgundy called Corton, which exclusively produced red wine.  In his later years his beard turned gray, but for the area around his mouth which was stained red from all the Corton that he consumed.  His wife, Hildegard found this unsightly and had a portion of the vineyard replanted to white grapes so he may still enjoy the wine without the stains.  I do not recall where I heard this story in the first place, but I have told it many times since. 

Shortly after my post was published I received an email from Charles Hodgson who has just published History of Wine Words – An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology and Word Histories from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle.  He found some evidence to refute my favorite of wine tales.

According to Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine (the entry is actually written by Dr Hanneke Wilson author of Wine and Words in Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages) Corton-Charlemagne is named because it is produced on land Charlemagne gave to the Abbey of Saulieu in 775.

“It turns out that Hildegard was only 13 when she married Charlemagne in 771 and she was kept pretty busy having nine babies before she died in 783.  At the time she died she’d have been 25 and he’d have been 41.  He lived to be 72. So for the story to be true he’d have had to have his grey beard fairly early in life, though he is reported to have been fair haired.

“None of this proves that the stained beard story is false. But it tends to show that there isn’t solid documentary support for it either.”

So it goes.  

Thanks to Charles for the information.  

 

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