Gwŷr antur a gâr yntau.
Whether red or white, dry or sweet, wine was one of the main drinks of the court. Wine was kept in the cellars of the courts and a special officer was in charge of serving it, possibly in an elegant vessel such as this jug from Cydweli castle; further, see Tableware.
It is impossible to know just how many wines were drunk, and since the poets are fond of exaggerating, their references in this respect are not entirely reliable. Wines did not last as long as they do today - the wine had to be drunk within fifteen months of harvesting the grapes - so praising the gallons of wine in the patron’s cellar meant that it was there to be drunk, not to be stored. According to research into how much wine was consumed at Durham Cathedral Priory in the second half of the fifteenth century, one monk drank up to 3.9 pints of wine a day during the great feasts, the rough equivalent of three bottles of wine today.
It appears that growing grapes in Wales was quite common. Guto’r Glyn mentions receiving perwaith gwenyn and ffrwyth gwinwydd from Dafydd ap Tomas ap Dafydd of Blaen-tren (perwaith gwenyn a ffrwyth gwinwydd ‘sweet produce of bees and the fruit of vines’, poem 12.58) and refers to garddau - gwenyn, / Gwinwydd a pherllannau ‘bee gardens, vines and orchards’ when describing Valle Crucis abbey (poem 113.25-6). It is likely that vines were particularly popular in the monasteries.
Foreign wines are mentioned to emphasize the wealth of the patron and his ability to import the latest produce to his court. The wine trade was developed mainly from the end of the fourteenth century onwards in Wales. Most of the wines reached Wales first from France, Gascony and Brittany in particular, and by the 1380s wines were being imported from Spain too. Chepstow, Milford Haven, Carmarthen, Haverford West, Caernarfon and Beaumaris were all ports that imported wine. Bristol and Chester, too, were busy ports and near to Wales.
French wines were the most popular among the poets. One of Guto’r Glyn’s most memorable poems is the imaginary battle between the poets and the wine of Thomas ap Watkin of Llanddewi Rhydderch, where the French wines represent the leaders of the French army:
Gwŷr antur a gâr yntau.
Milwyr a fu’i wŷr efô,
Main gwns tir Maen ac Aensio,
and adventurous men also love him.
His men were soldiers,
cannonballs of the lands of Maine and Anjou,
The wines named by Guto are Osai, Rasbi, Malsai, Rhwmnai, and Clared. He also received wines from Paitio (‘Poitou’), Baiwn (‘Bayonne’), Bwlaen (‘Bayonne’), Bwrdiaws (‘Bordeaux’), Gasgwin (‘Gwasgwyn’), and from the vale of Rhin (‘Rhein’). The first five are specific names for wines or drinks which were a mixture of wine and other ingredients.
Osai was a kind of sweet wine from Portugal, possibly from the region of Lisbon originally, but it was also associated with the regions of Auxois and Alsace in France. Guto’r Glyn received nefawl osai ‘heavenly osey wine’ from Syr Wiliam Herbert I at Raglan (poem 20.17) and described his son, Wiliam Herbert II, as Mastr Wiliam osai dreuliaw (‘Master William who dispenses osey wine’, poem 28.13). The osai is also associated with France when praising Sieffrai Cyffin: Sieffrai, a ŷf osai Ffrainc (‘Sieffrai, who drinks osey from France’, poem 99.1).
Rasbi was a sweet red wine. It comes from English raspis but is of uncertain derivation. Guto’r Glyn implies that it is good for the limbs in his praise of Abbot Tomas of Shrewsbury:
Aml oedd i’m cymalau i
Win o’r Ysbaen neu rasbi.
Frequently there was in my limbs
wine from Spain or raspis.
Malsai or malmsai was produced originally in the region of Monemvasia (Napoli di Malvasia) in the Peloponnese in Greece, and later in other parts of the Mediterranean and beyond. The Welsh word comes from Middle English malmsey, a kind of strong red wine. Guto’r Glyn had this particular wine at the feast at Oswestry castle from Sieffrai Cyffin and his wife Siân. He states:
Heb Sieffrai a’i falsai fo,
Heb f’annedd, ni bwyf yno.
without Sieffrai and his malmsey,
without my home, may I not be there.
Rwmnai was a kind of sweet wine. It comes from English ‘rumney’ and is perhaps related to the place-name Romany since it came from Greece originally. It is by now a forgotten wine but was very popular in the fifteenth century. When praising the feast of Henry Griffith of Newcourt, Guto lists the rwmnai among other drinks:
Eich gwledd a roddech i glêr,
A’ch rwmnai, a chau’r amner;
A’ch clared âi i’ch clerwyr,
A’ch medd, a gomedd y gwŷr.
You would be happy to give a feast to poets
and your rumney – and shut your purse tight;
your claret, too, would head in the poets’ direction,
and your mead, yet men are refused.
The same passage also mentions clared, a wine which was yellow or light red in colour during this period (it comes from Old French claret) and differed from white or red wines. Like the hippocras, the medieval clared contained a mixture of added spices. Guto described the hall of Phylib ap Gwilym Llwyd at Tregunter as Trwydded trefn clared trafn clêr (‘The hospitality of the claret hall of the lord of poets’, poem 30.47).
Gwresogwin was rather like clared, a warmed-up mixture of any wine and spices, like the ‘mulled-wine’ of today.
Although a number of these wines originated from countries beyond France, a number of them were imported to France first before coming to Britain. It is this, apparently, which explains the constant references in the poetry to the wine trade between France and Wales as the poets mention Bwrdiaws, Gasgwyn (which became ‘Gwasgwin’ because of the influence of the word gwin) and the Rhine valley. Raglan in particular was famous for taking advantage of this popular wine trade, and the fact is observed by Guto’r Glyn and Hywel Dafi. Hywel Dafi describes in detail the various wines in the cellar there:
Naw seler nis cymerwn
Islaw’r haul am seler hwn,
Bwrdiaws Nudd yr Herbardiaid,
Baiwn chwaer heb win ni chaid,
Gasgwin, gynefin yfed;
Glyn Rhin, drwy Raglan y rhed!
I wouldn’t take any nine cellars
under the sun in exchange for this man’s cellar,
the Bordeaux of the Nudd of the Herberts,
the sister of Bayonne which would never be found without wine,
a Gascony, an abode of drinking;
the Rhine Valley, it runs through Raglan!
Bibliography: D.H. Williams, The Welsh Cistercians (Leominster, 2001), 244.
: M.W. Adamson, Food In Medieval Times (Westport, 2004), 40.
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