Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.
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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I have heard several different versions of how the tradition of clinking wineglasses got started. Do you have any insight on that?
—Manfred S., Oakland, Calif.
There are two main schools of thought on this one. The first (and most popular) is that when wine had its heyday in medieval times as a beverage generally safer to drink than water, apparently it was common to poison an enemy's wine. A good host would pour you a glass of wine, then pour himself a bit of the wine in his own cup to drink first (or simultaneously), to prove it wasn't poisoned. But if you had faith in your host, you'd just clink your cup against his in a "Hey, man, I totally trust you're not gonna poison me" gesture. It also seems to have been customary to make a sarcastic joke about staying healthy; the thought is that this is how toasts most commonly became a gesture to one's good health.
Of course, there was more thudding and clunking of wood and metal drinking vessels than clinking of glass back then. As glass became more common, it was thought that the clinking, chiming noise was a festive, happy sound, reminiscent of church bells, which would come in handy if you were trying to scare the Devil away, which is the other theory. The Devil was believed to lurk around festive occasions, and bells and clinks were a way to drive him off.
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