Nowadays we associate wine mainly with the weekend or in the evenings, after work. Wine serves as an accompaniment to a good meal or a drink with friends. However, if you ever thought “this bacon and egg toast would go perfect with wine”, great news: you’re right. Not so long ago, wine was a breakfast favorite in Europe. If you like the thought of drinking wine for breakfast, read on and discover a bit of history about this custom, how to choose a good breakfast wine, and some excellent recommendations.
The history of wine as a breakfast companion
The consumption of wine every day and at any time was widespread until well into the 18th century. It did not have the same consideration it had today but was seen as just another foodstuff, even recommended by doctors. Wine in southern Europe was an integral part of the diet, due to its caloric value, a substantial complement to the diet, especially for the poorest diets. And it was considered that having breakfast with wine gave courage and energy. The same was true of beer in northern and central Europe.
Already in the Middle Ages, “alcohol had the reputation of a saint. There was neither a medical prescription nor a complete meal without it”. In its right measure, wine was considered to be suitable for every age, every time, and every region. It was believed that getting drunk from time to time could be healthy, helping to purge the body of harmful humors. But no more than twice a month.
How did people drink wine for breakfast?
To begin with, wine was often watered down. Even sometimes -whoever could and when they could- refreshed it with snow, as the Greeks already did. Its consumption was spaced throughout the day so that people did not stumble along the street. In addition, it was often drunk by dipping bread in it, for example, for breakfast. This was another custom also from classical Greece: their typical breakfast was barley bread dipped in wine.
The wine was sometimes spiced and flavored. The best valued wine was red and it was preferred young, especially because the aging techniques of the Greeks and Romans had been forgotten, and the drink was poorly preserved and soon became stale and sour.
Of course, although it was considered a food and often eaten with bread, it was also drunk in taverns and used as an excuse to socialize. These venues had a bad reputation, as they were where people wasted time, gambled, and drank to drunkenness. The fact that wine was looked upon favorably did not mean that excesses were approved, nor that temperance and moderation were no longer seen as a virtue. Not to mention that taverns were open on Sunday mornings and many missed mass to order another round.
A healthy reason to drink wine in the morning
The wine was not only drunk daily because it was considered food. It also had to do with the bad reputation of water: this drink was not always in good condition and could transmit diseases. And when it was safe to drink, its taste was not always pleasant. Of course, water was drunk every day, and there were teetotalers and critics of wine. But sometimes it was safer to drink some wine, which was also valued for its energetic, hygienic, and euphoric qualities. What was rarely drunk was milk: it was easier to preserve it, transport it, and sell it in the form of cheese or butter.
The end of the custom
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the wealthy classes in Europe began to drink chocolate brought from America. At that time it was a luxury, but some could afford it as a snack or for breakfast. Coffee also began to become popular, first as an after-dinner drink and, later, at all hours in the first cafés. Coffee with milk for breakfast was not common until the 19th century.
In a large part of Europe coffee also began to be drunk from the XVII century onwards. It quickly gained a good reputation among intellectuals, merchants, and office workers. Until then it was still common to have beer or wine for breakfast. But those who drank coffee in the mornings reported that “they began the day alert and stimulated, and not relaxed and a little drunk, and the quality and quantity of their work improved”. All this was already known to the Arabs, where coffee came from and where (in principle) alcohol could not be drunk.
From the 18th and 19th centuries onwards, the consideration of wine began to change, as the negative effects of alcohol became better known and living conditions gradually improved, including increasing access to running water. This was a “gradual, very slow, and asymmetrical” process. It was faster and easier in the upper classes and the urban environment, for example. Moreover, it was a process that lasted well into the 20th century.
What makes a wine a good breakfast wine?
- Mindset. If you want to taste wine at breakfast time, you should leave behind the issue of “you drink” after such and such time” and especially “if you drink before such and such other time you are an alcoholic”. It is simply a time at the table, and if there is a table there can be wine.
- Common sense. There are wines that are not a good idea for the first meal of the day. For example, drinking a powerful cabernet after fasting hours. In general, strong reds and reserve or grand reserve wines are not a good idea.
- When in doubt, white wine. Especially chardonnay and torrontés, the former for its buttery notes, the latter because its floral nose is a pleasant aroma to wake up to. Even a rosé wine is a great choice.
- Bubbles. Sparkling wines are an ideal choice for breakfasts. Prosecco, Cava, and Champagne served chilled alone or with cocktails will be the highlight of the meal.
- Mimosa. If the orange juice is freshly squeezed and you have triple sec or some other orange liqueur, you can think about drinking a mimosa– or any low-alcohol cocktail that contains wine– along with your breakfast.
- Menu. Croissants in taste and texture, cheeses and charcuterie, scrambled eggs with prawns, toast with bacon, etc.: if the breakfast is substantial, wine can help.
Some excellent breakfast wines to consider
Sauvignon Blanc originates from the Bordeaux region of France, where its maritime climate is perfect for this variety. Sauvignon Blanc is a wine with remarkable acidity and flavors of green grass, green peppers and tropical fruits, as well as floral notes. It is the ideal wine to eat with eggs, as it cleanses your palate and helps you fight bad breath.
Lambrusco di Grasparossa
If the lambrusco is known for being that option for those who are starting in the world of wine for being delicate to the palate and fruity, the type of grape Grasparossa differs from the others for being the one that gives more tannic wines. This variety can be a little drier than the other lambruscos, without drying the mouth like a red wine, on the contrary, it is remarkably fresh.
The Shiraz or Syrah is a tannic grape, with a marked density and intense pigmentation, which gives rise to notable fruity and floral touches or smokier wines, depending on the climatic conditions of the growing region.
Shiraz wines are characterized by their great flavor and body, as well as their intense red color. In its sparkling variant, it is a perfect wine for a breakfast with meats.
Champagne is commonly mistaken for any variant of sparkling wine. However, it is a designation of origin for the wines made with the champenoise method in Champagne, France. Champagne could arguably be the best breakfast wine, either white or rosé.
Barbera is the third most grown grape variety in Italy. In medieval times, Barbera wines were considered as the peasants’ tabletop wines, drunk in every meal. A strong point for those who would like to enjoy a young wine with fruity and flowery aromas for breakfast.
Cabernet Franc Rosé
Being a distant relative to a robust variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet Franc surprises by producing delicate, fruit-bearing, fresh wines. It has touches of pineapple, pear, and strawberry. An ideal companion for a breakfast with yogurt and fruit.
Moscato D’Asti is a variety rich in aromas. Expect sweet aromas of peaches, fresh grapes, orange blossoms and lemons. The taste tingles on the tongue from the acidity and slight carbonation. This wine gives the perception that it is slightly sweet. However, the typical bottle of Moscato d’Asti has about 90-100 g/L of residual sugar, so it is not recommended as a sweet breakfast companion.
Riesling is the emblematic variety of grape from Germany. Coming from the Rhine river, the acidity of the white wines made with Riesling makes them a perfect choice to break down deep-fried and fatty breakfasts.
Just like Champagne, when we talk about Prosecco we are talking about a family of sparkling wines with a protected designation of origin, in this case from Italy. They have a fairly wide range of flavors and aromas. However, when it comes to breakfast, especially hearty breakfasts, drier Proseccos are a better choice.
Chardonnay is an exquisite variety that produces white wines. These have notes of hazelnut, honey and caramel, with a distinctive buttery flavor. Its younger wines are more than suitable for any breakfast.