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Ribera del Duero: Burgos, Spain

Our story this week begins as usual with the collapse of the Roman Empire. The Visigoths maintained loose control over Iberia for a short time until a former Berber slave from Algeria and a recent convert to Islam named Tariq-ibn Ziyad entered into a pact with an enraged nobleman named Julian. Julian controlled Ceuta, an unconquered Visigoth outpost on the African side of The Gates of Gibraltar. As was the custom during the time Julian sent his daughter to be educated in Court of King Roderic, who instead of educating the young girl, raped her. Julian was so angry that he entered into a pact with Tariq to secretly convey the Muslim armies into Spain using his merchant ships. With this secret pact began one of the swiftest and most decisive military campaigns in European History and 700 years of Muslim rule in Spain. The Moorish armies marched north and one by one, all the great cities of Spain fell. Within eight years of landing, the entire Iberian Peninsula was under Muslim rule. They marched north into the vacuum left by the vanished Roman Empire all the way into France without any real resistance until Charlemagne’s grandfather, Charles “The Hammer” Martel decisively stopped them just north of Bordeaux in the Battle of Tours. Before long The Moors discovered, just like the Romans before them, that The Basques were uncontrollable. Over the next century, the Moors were unable to hold onto the north and nominally lost control of Galicia, Catalonia and the Basque Country. Today there is much less Arab influence in the architecture and cuisine, unlike Granada and Toledo and other great cities of the south. It would be a stretch to say that the Visigoth rule was anything more than rudimentary. Soon after the fall of Rome, enlightened Muslim rule was a huge boon to locals, who benefited greatly from intelligent systems of the Arab world. No property was confiscated, taxes were reduced, serfdom abolished, and fair wages instituted. Any slave who accepted Islam was released from his bondage and religious minorities were granted protection. When you add in all the math and science that the Arabs brought with them, it could be argued that Moorish Spain became a model country for the west, except one thing…the wine.

Wine was certainly a large part of daily life in 6th Century Mecca and was included in an early verse of Koran that listed wine in a catalogue of good things of the earth along with milk and honey. We are told that the prohibition of wine is based on a single verse of the Koran, which describes Mohammad’s disciples feasting and drinking. Someone got a little loose and started talking trash, for which he got clobbered with a meat bone from the feast table. Mohammed was distressed and asked the Almighty for assistance and was told “wine and games of chance, idols and divining arrows are abominations devised by Satan. Avoid them so that you may prosper”. Within 10 years of the prophet’s death, wine was totally banned in all of Arabia and every country which listened to his words or that his armies had conquered. Arab physicians were thrown into a quandary by the prohibition of their favorite medicine. It is one thing to give up on fermented grape juice from the Nile, it is another thing all together to give up on the great wines of Rioja and the Navarra not to mention the rest of the Mediterranean. Islam is not a proselytizing religion and were content to allow the Christians and Jews within its boundaries to tend to the vineyards and make and sell wine that was subject to sanctions which produced a useful revenue in taxes. From time to time, public attitudes certainly hardened. 10th century Caliphs (highest rank of ruler) tried to prevent winemaking by pulling up vineyards, burning raisins and raising taxes on wine merchants. These taxes were incredibly important to the state and were therefore the winemaker’s insurance against their trade being eliminated altogether. There is an instance of winemakers offering to pay the Caliph twice as much tax for his protection because they were being threatened by the Muslim population—which he granted. The ruling class took huge liberties in both drinking and selling wine. There are paintings and stories of Caliphs throwing huge wine parties lasting for days, resembling a Greek Symposium, depicting the Promised Land of the Koran with flowing streams, soft cushions and of course plenty of houris. Often these parties got way out of hand as honey, spices and opium were often added to wine, in addition to snow and ice from high in the mountains if you really wanted to show off. Later converts, like the Turks arriving with the Monguls in the 13th century, were not attracted to the strict dogma and made a minimum fuss about prohibition. They got around it by discouraging wine, but not distilled spirits which the Koran never mentions. Arrack or Raki, alcohol flavored with anise seed, rapidly became the favorite drink of the Near East for centuries. The vineyards of Afghanistan only fell in the last century. Spain and Portugal never lost their vineyards because of Islam and the wines of the eastern Mediterranean, of Lebanon, Cyprus and Crete were much in demand in Europe throughout the Middle Ages.

Once again, thank you all so much for your continued support and patronage on our adventure around the continent!

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