"Have you ever tried mead?" Jim Vaughan, Brand Manager for Chaucer's Mead asked me. I'd called him to say I'd received the two bottles of mead he'd sent to taste -- Chaucer's traditional, and raspberry.
"No," I replied. Furled my brow as I realized that of all the wines I've tried over years loving wine and exploring wine, I indeed had not tasted mead.
Last spring I'd decided to cover mead for my A Romantic's Perspective.com "Wine Notes" section. I'd contacted Chaucer's, and Mr. Vaughan sent the bottles. Now they stood on my kitchen countertop, yet to be opened, and I had the phone to my ear.
"You being a romantic," Mr. Vaughan said, "I'm surprised mead isn't in your regular wine supply." He was being facetious, I recognized, yet half serious.
I felt intrigued, to realize that not only was I preparing to try mead for the first time, I was about to embark on a wine that might be a romantic's necessity.
That night I sipped mead, by a few lit candles throughout the room as I tapped at a Romantic's article.
Find a link to that article below. It celebrates mead folklore, and includes personal tasting notes.
Since then, I'd learned more about mead's prolific history in our culture, and where to find it today.
Savoring the history
According to a Wikipedia article regarding mead, Claude Lévi-Strauss, a noted French anthropologist and ethnologist, asserted that the invention of mead marks the passage from nature to culture.
The Wikipedia article also quotes Maguelonne Toussaint-Sama, author of "History of Food" (Wiley-Blackwell- $32.95), saying mead is the "ancestor of all fermented drinks" starting before humans cultivated soil.
This because basic mead is made by fermenting honey with water. So, people loved it before taking on plant beds or crops.
After people started cultivating fruits, they added them to their beloved mead-making processes. My guess, 'twas around this time that humans' "passage from nature to culture" gained traction.
The first glasses ever raised to a toast had to be filled with mead. Potables were honey-based for centuries.
Honey was used a sweetening agent instead of cane sugar until the 18th century, Mr. Vaughan told me.
Loving mead today
Honey-based beers are available as Braggot (Irish origin) or Bragawd (Welsh), using hops or malt. These are, by roots, considered a form of mead.
Yet prevailing mead categories are honey-based wines or liqueurs -- traditional, or made with fruits indigenous to regions.
There are over 150 mead producers in the United States, Mr. Vaughan says, and over 100 throughout Europe primarily Great Britain, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.
Finding mead today
---Shopping. Meads are found in the wine shop or store section "dessert wines" area, Mr. Vaughan says.
Some stores stock mead in craft beer and ciders sections, he says, as it seems beer aficionados understand mead more than wine aficionados do.
---Visit a meadery.
If there's a meadery near you or near a place you travel, make a point to visit it.
Check ahead for availability. For example Chaucer's meads are made at the Bargetto Winery. Winery tours are available by appointment. Yet Bargetto has two tasting rooms open daily with wine tasting menus that include one or more Chaucer's mead.
---The A Romantic's Perspective.com Chaucer's Mead feature
---The Wikipedia article featuring Mead
---Chaucer's Mead winery and tasting rooms.