Thursday, January 26, 2023

Wine Tip: The Guinness Book of Wine Records

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from author John Hailman’s book ‘The Search for Good Wine’ which will be available for purchase October 2014 from the University of Mississippi Press. This particular chapter was written on May 17, 1992.

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of
Some people take wine very seriously. One who does not is Robert Joseph, editor of the Guinness book of frivolous wine records. Of course his book is not entitled “frivolous.” If it were, no one would buy it. Its official name is The Wine Lists, and it gives wine facts found nowhere else. For example, the longest champagne cork-shot of all time was 105 feet 9 inches, accomplished at Reno, Nevada on July 4, 1981.
Champagne connoisseurs might consider such an event undignified for an elegant wine like Champagne, but at least Guinness has standards: challenges to the record will be considered only if the bottle is unheated and held exactly four feet above the ground. The angle of the bottle and how much you shake it beforehand are apparently optional.
Cork-popping seems only natural in Reno, where there are so many divorces to celebrate, but even in more staid Massachusetts a similar record was recently established when a local resident caught a grape in his mouth after it was thrown 270 feet 4 inches nearly the length of a football field. The same man, in balmier Fort Lauderdale, spared his teeth and caught a grape in his hand after it had been dropped 321 feet from the top of a 31-story building.
To justify its title the Guinness book does have a lot of lists, some of them quite useful. One list tells which wines make the best investments. Another gives the “second” or cheaper bottlings of 98 of the best Bordeaux chateaux. Less useful but equally interesting is a list of folk-wine health aids, including a Russian cure for bad breath: 100-proof vodka mixed with myrrh and red wine. Discretion is advised since it sounds as if it would kill more than just bad breath.
Another list tells the favorite wines of famous people, allowing that Pitt liked port, Bismarck liked Pottelsdorf, and Napoleon preferred Moet champagne when he could find it. He also liked Chambertin from Burgundy, but usually added water to it. Queen Victoria, being of a different mindset, never watered her wines, perhaps not wanting to look like an American tourist. But she die add whiskey to liven up her claret.
To tell the truth, the reason I bought the book in the first place was because of a lurid statement in gold letters on the cover that promised to tell which wine was Queen Victoria’s favorite aphrodisiac. After pretending to walk by without interest, I went back to the shelf and glanced through the book, hoping the aphrodisiac part could be readily located in large type on the table of contents or index. It was not, and after pawing it for a while without success, I finally had to buy the book to satisfy my curiosity.
Even after taking the book home, it was hours before I found the name of wine, which was deviously located on page 121 under the misleading heading “Personality Choices.” If it is of interest to anyone, the wine was a white Somlo from Hungary, which I did not recall ever seeing in the United States. Might a Tokay be close enough?
My disappointment over the aphrodisiac was partly assuaged by discovery of a list of the silliest and most inappropriate wine names, which included Migraine from Chablis, a Bordeaux called Chateau Le Crock, one called Le Clape, the red champagne named Bouzy (pronounced ‘boozy”) and concluding with the unforgettable Le Pie (pronounced “pee”) from Beaujolais. France, naturally, had the most absurd wine names. A close runner-up Yugoslavia, having not only Grk and Sipon, but Ptuj, which sounds like what Garfield might say if someone severed him a wine cooler with his lasagna.
Wine Lists covers the wines of every country from Albania to Zimbabwe (it recommends neither of those) in 175 pages of squinty-small print. Although written in England, it has a lot of good information on American wines and wineries. The author’s origins do show through now and then, as when he asserts that Pennsylvania is a “neighboring” state to Indiana, which will no doubt come as a surprise to people in both states.
Some lists are egregiously unique, particularly the editor’s alleged favorite list of German wines, which he punningly entitles The Brahms Wine list. The publisher who should be ashamed, is Guinness Superlatives.
JOHN-HAILMAN-PHOTO-2-150x150John Hailman of Oxford is a regular contributor to on two subjects: Law and Wine. Now retired from both his “day job” as a federal prosecutor in Oxford after 33 years and his “night job” of 25 years as a nationally syndicated daily columnist in more than 100 daily papers on wine, food and travel for Gannett News Service and the Washington Post, Hailman will cover both topics under the titles of The Legal Eagle and Wine Tips of the Week. will also run periodic excerpts from Hailman’s upcoming book of humorous legal stories, From Midnight to Guntown: True Crime Stories From A Federal Prosecutor in Mississippi. Hailman now teaches Federal Trial Practice and Law and Literature at the University of Mississippi.