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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
Joined: 11 Jul 2010

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PostPosted: Sat 25 Feb, 2012 7:09 pm    Post subject: lead sweetened wine.         Reply with quote

this might sound wierd but does anyone know if anyone has ever been 'game' (feel free to replace this word, in your head with stupid, foolish/ foolhardy or whatever other word you like) enough to try taste wine that has been sweetened with lead, my understanding is that this addition of lead was deliberately done to make wine sweeter.
either using an experimental home made batch, or maybe getting their hands on an original bottle which had lead added to it when it was made, or is this one of those things no one has attempted to answer ( to be honest im not THAT confident someone would actually try something like that., since it does mean knowingly ingesting lead compounds...)

im asking since im curious if there's any record of how that 'sweetness' caused by lead acetate, might differ from the taste of sugar or other sweet tasting things such as fruits. either via a modern experiment, or historical record.

the purpose of asking, is partly a question as to why people would use lead to sweeten wine, as opposed to sugar.

and partly me just wondering 'OK, supposedly lead acetate has a sweet taste, but surely not the same sort of sweetness one would get from consuming sugar, if not, then what DOES it taste like, is it any different to sugar, or other sweet tasting things.


Last edited by William P on Thu 01 Mar, 2012 11:55 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Doug Lester




Location: Decatur, IL
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PostPosted: Sun 26 Feb, 2012 11:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes, William, I think that I could see people being a little reluctant to try something like drinking wine mulled in a lead pot seeing as how it can lead to neurological damage. Not too keen at having to go into hospital to have the lead removed from my body. Sort of like eating fugu fish to see if I can get that little bit of a buzz without ending up in a pine box. I think that I'd have to pass on both of them. Probably everyone else should too.
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Sun 26 Feb, 2012 12:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Seems like I once read that Romans drank wine from cups made of lead, which helped to hasten the demise of the empire. That could just be fantasy but what is not fantasy are the harmful effects of injesting any form of lead. I would not do it.
Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

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PostPosted: Sun 26 Feb, 2012 1:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lin Robinson wrote:
Seems like I once read that Romans drank wine from cups made of lead, which helped to hasten the demise of the empire. That could just be fantasy but what is not fantasy are the harmful effects of injesting any form of lead. I would not do it.


Complete fantasy, I'm afraid! I have yet to see any Roman lead drinking or eating vessels--ceramic, glass, bronze, silver, or gold were used, and I believe wood and horn as well. Water pipes were certainly lead, and the insides were so quickly coated in mineral deposits that very little lead actually contacted the water. Lead was also used in cosmetics and medicines. Was lead a factor in bringing down the Roman Empire? Maybe, but since that Empire lasted about 10 times as long as any other ancient empire...

It should also be noted that Washington DC still has a surprising amount of lead water pipes in use. Actually, I'm not sure which side of the argument that might help...

Can't help you with lead-flavored wine! I have heard of such things but don't know how common they might have been. Mountain Dew is poisonous enough for me.

Valete,

Matthew
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D. Phillip Caron




Location: Arcadia, FL
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PostPosted: Sun 26 Feb, 2012 2:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pewter was once common enough. The Romans probably had the stuff too. You might look there for something on the subject.
The first casualty of battle is bravado, the second is macho.
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Dan P




Location: Massachusetts, USA
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PostPosted: Sun 26 Feb, 2012 6:09 pm    Post subject: Re: lead sweetened wine.         Reply with quote

William P wrote:
does anyone know if people have been game enough to taste wine that has been sweetened with lead acetate, either an experimental home made batch, or maybe getting their hands on an original bottle


For the record this is stupidly dangerous and I hope that no one here would ever think of ingesting a large amount of lead acetate. I also hope no one would ever cast doubt on someone's manliness for refusing to try homemade heavy metal brew.

It's not really equivalent to fugu, because fugu is safe under proper conditions. Drinking lead in any form is not safe, but an acetate is especially bad. This is because the acetate is a thing your body can metabolize, thus ensuring you retain more of the lead rather than passing it out. The story of Karen Wetterhahn's death to a few drops of dimethyl mercury is a great example of how making a heavy metal bioavailable greatly increases its toxicity risk, potentially tens of thousands of times more than the parent metal.

In the olden days, people sometimes used antimony metal to treat diseases, which on a practical level worked by giving the patient enough antimony to kill parasites. This was done by storing wine in an antimony container, where the acid of the wine dissolved some of the metal, making it bioavailable. The process was unreliable and sometimes killed the patient through antimony poisoning.

Lead acetate as a sweetener was probably discovered through the same mechanism, the storage, heating, or distillation of wine in a lead container. If anyone crazy was trying to make this stuff at home, realize it would be just as unreliable as the antimony process above. Anyone who drank it might be getting a massive dose of lead.

I like chemistry. It's what I do. But its also why I see a thread like this and think, "Why would someone suggest something like this? What if someone actually tried it?"
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GG Osborne





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PostPosted: Sun 26 Feb, 2012 8:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Unless you are insanely suicidal, DO NOT TRY THIS as an experiment....unless you have a handy extra set of kidkeys, liver, brain and heart laying around!

Dr Glenn Osborne, DSc. (Gerontology)

"Those who live by the sword...will usually die with a huge, unpaid credit card balance!"
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Jean Thibodeau




Location: Montreal,Quebec,Canada
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PostPosted: Mon 27 Feb, 2012 7:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

GG Osborne wrote:
Unless you are insanely suicidal, DO NOT TRY THIS as an experiment....unless you have a handy extra set of kidkeys, liver, brain and heart laying around!

Dr Glenn Osborne, DSc. (Gerontology)


I agree and as a bad idea as pouring molten steel on your foot to see if it's hot and what effect it would have. ( Deliberate over the top joke ..... but not fooling with leaded wine is certainly not a joke ).

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
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PostPosted: Fri 02 Mar, 2012 12:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

ok, ive edited the opening post to, i think better explain what i wanted to ask.

the central question is based of the premise that lead was deliberately added, on a regular basis, to wine in order to make it sweeter, and, whether this was added because there was some reason winemakers either didnt want to, or or couldn't, use sugar, for whatever reason...

by the way this assumes the sweetness provided by lead was at least tolerated, if not prefered compared to other methods
and not that the lead was only added by dodgy makers who couldnt be bothered using fruit extract or normal sugars etc.

if the central premise is true. did lead taste the same as ordinary sugar. or did it have a different kind of 'sweetness' in the same way that splenda , and other modern sugar free sweeteners taste different to sugar.



the reason i asked the question at all was that.
if anyone HAS been crazy enough to try and answer that question i felt that someone on myArmoury would quite likely have heard about it.

and jean, while i would do neither drink a cup of heavily adulterated wine or pour molten steel on my foot, in a sense my question about lead is in someways that kind of random thinking, along the lines of ' what would it be like to experience X sensation', what sensations would you experience as it happened.

im just that sort of person who wonders about that kind of stuff.

it also begs the question about how much lead was actually added to wine, if indeed it was added as a seperate compound, and not just added by distilling the wine, or storing it in a lead container.
which is a lot less predictable.

though at the least, this question can be answered through the use of chemical analysis, and looking at historical documents.
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Mick Jarvis




Location: Australia
Joined: 18 Jul 2010

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PostPosted: Fri 02 Mar, 2012 3:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

the sweetness of lead is completely different that that of suger and suger substituts. i cannot not explane the taste but it is sweet but a kind of sweetness i have never experienced before.


and no i did not go and drink some lead drink, i am a painter and whilst doing some lead paint removal, if you dont wet it down correctly if lingers in the air for a bit and if you take your mask off while still in there (to scratch or something) you can taste it
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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
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PostPosted: Fri 02 Mar, 2012 7:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

excellent. thats what i wanted to know.

now for the next bit, figurng out how much, and y what method, the lead was added to wine, probably from the medieval period onwards
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

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PostPosted: Fri 02 Mar, 2012 9:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Fascinating insight, Mick, thanks! William, I'm with you, I get bizarre questions in my head sometimes, too! "What did THAT feel like??" Not a strong enough urge to experiment personally, but yeah, "Hey, I'll bet SOMEone on myArmoury will know!" Hey, it worked!

Wasn't honeyed wine pretty well known? Seems a tad more appealing than lead, bleg...

Matthew
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Joel Minturn





Joined: 10 Dec 2007

Posts: 232

PostPosted: Fri 02 Mar, 2012 2:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Found some references to some Roman sweeteners: Defrutum, carenum, and sapa. Basically all made the same way, boiling down fresh grape juice. The different names are for the amount of water boiled out. Most places that talk about Sapa as a sweetener mention that it was made in lead pots and the that the sweet lead acetate would leach into the liquid.

That said, I'm not sure I trust most of the places I have seen the reference to Sapa being made in lead pots. Seems that while lead may have been used copper was more common. Unless Lead cookware doesn't exist at all at Wikipedia is just wrong again. Eek!

And that is just a Roman sweetener but once again more hearsay, but this may have been used into the middle ages as the rumor is Pope Clement II dies from lead poisoning from drinking wine sweetened in this manor or it was poisoning or it was from medicine. But like I said just rumors and hearsay.

another source for lead in wine. The foil cover the cork of wine used to be made of a thin lead sheet. It would keep the mice from chewing on the corks. It seems that on wine that was stored for a length of time lead could leach in to the wine. http://www.springerlink.com/content/n752208692847450/ a hopefully more reputable source than wikipedia, But that wasn't done to sweeten the wine and the lead that leached in may not have been lead acetate.

And one last source of lead, Lead crystal. Seem that wine left in a lead crystal decanter for a length of time will get some lead leached in to it. Lead crystal drinking glasses are safe as the wine should be in there long enough, We're talking days or weeks. But since Lead Crystal wasn't invented till after the middle ages (1640?) it wouldn't be a source.


Why was it used to sweeten wine? Not sure. Honey and sugar could be expensive and hard to get in large quantities.
Lead Acetate wouldn't restart fermentation on wine.
Just some ideas.

Hopefully that was interesting and not too much rambling or bad info. If any one has more/better info on the Roman Sapa would like to hear it.
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Mick Jarvis




Location: Australia
Joined: 18 Jul 2010

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PostPosted: Fri 02 Mar, 2012 4:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

just another thing i forgot to add

you are talking about Lead Acetate, in old paints Lead Oxide was used, so i do not know if the taste of the two would be about the same or different.


also Lead paint was good, had great colour, great durability and was perfect in everyway but the lead.

paints these days still have trouble standing up with the lead, but here in Australia is was banned in around 79. so we just take it that any house built prior to the 80's has lead.. better to be safe then sorry
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Doug Lester




Location: Decatur, IL
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Posts: 167

PostPosted: Sat 03 Mar, 2012 11:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just for clarification, the ancient Romans did not use lead cups for drinking wine. They heated the wine in lead lined pots to give it that sweet taste imparted from the lead. It led to chronic lead poisoning in the upper classes. This has been cited by historians and I believe it has also been confirmed by analysis of human remains from this period. It has also been used to help explain why so many of the Roman emperors were nut cases.

There was a similar situation noted with an ancient Chinese group that used a leaded bronze for drinking vessels. The acid in the wine, or any other acidic food, leached the lead out of the bronze and cause chronic lead poisoning.
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R. Kolick





Joined: 04 Feb 2012

Posts: 111

PostPosted: Sat 03 Mar, 2012 2:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Lin Robinson wrote:
Seems like I once read that Romans drank wine from cups made of lead, which helped to hasten the demise of the empire. That could just be fantasy but what is not fantasy are the harmful effects of injesting any form of lead. I would not do it.


Complete fantasy, I'm afraid! I have yet to see any Roman lead drinking or eating vessels--ceramic, glass, bronze, silver, or gold were used, and I believe wood and horn as well.
Matthew


dont quote me on this But Iíve heard that some of the glass cups they drank out of in Rome were made of a lead crystal glass but I havenít looked to deeply into the matter since I personally feel a gold cup would be a much nicer cup to drink from I also canít recall what period in the empire that this was but I think it was after Constantine
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

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PostPosted: Sat 03 Mar, 2012 7:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Doug Lester wrote:
Just for clarification, the ancient Romans did not use lead cups for drinking wine. They heated the wine in lead lined pots to give it that sweet taste imparted from the lead.


Agreed about the lack of lead cups! Still skeptical about heating wine in lead pots. Can anyone show us any surviving examples, with some good reason to believe they were used for heating wine? Because I've never seen any suggestion of any such lead vessel from any archeological site. And I'm not by any means well read on Roman eating and drinking habits, but how common was heated wine in the first place? I know wine was mixed with water regularly, but can't say I've heard much about it being heated.

Quote:
It led to chronic lead poisoning in the upper classes. This has been cited by historians and I believe it has also been confirmed by analysis of human remains from this period. It has also been used to help explain why so many of the Roman emperors were nut cases.


I'm afraid I'm still skeptical about this, too. I agree that lead poisoning has been trotted out by any number of modern writers! But they fail to explain why it took 500 years for this chronic lead poisoning to bring down even half the Empire! I'm also unaware of any significant number of skeletal remains of identifiable Roman aristocrats, since they regularly cremated their dead. A number of skeletons were found at Pompeii, of course, but only a couple of these could be identified as relatively wealthy (by jewelry, for example), and *if* lead was found in significantly high concentrations in those bones, there would be no way to tell how it got there. It could have come from cosmetics or medicines, for instance.


R. Kolick wrote:
dont quote me on this But Iíve heard that some of the glass cups they drank out of in Rome were made of a lead crystal glass...


I thought lead crystal was a 17th century development, but I don't have solid documentation on that. (Okay, I Googled it and found a Wikipedia article!) And, uh, I just quoted you, sorry!

Matthew
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Kurt Scholz





Joined: 09 Dec 2008

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PostPosted: Sun 04 Mar, 2012 12:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sugar was an expensive commodity that had to be imported from India and was not yet refined, so the sweetening factor was limited. Another available source of sweetness was honey, there are extensive writings on Roman honey production.
Lead as lead acetate was likely not used much in wine. The Romans lived in the ancient Mediterranean world and had guys like Mithridates who extensively studied poisoning people.
But the Romans considered themselves clever and when they had to smash some fruits they advised to use lead vessels because these would make things taste sweeter (written source).
The theory that lead killed the Roman empire must be refuted because for example in the New York cemetery from the colonial age and afterwards it's quite obvious that the well-to-do white settlers had higher lead concentrations than their (few) African slaves. This has to do with the decorations of tableware that were fashionable back than. So far the US did neither collapse nor does it have an African descendant majority.

Lead crystal/glass is a very difficult to dissolve chemical compound. I doubt that you can get much lead this way.
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Andrew W




Location: Florida, USA
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PostPosted: Sun 04 Mar, 2012 12:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What I've read about lead crystal suggests that it's only dangerous if you leave something in a crystal decanter for days on end.
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