What Adam Smith Ate (& Drank!): Claret, Part 2

what adam smith ate wine what adam smith drank claret

Renee Wilmeth for AdamSmithWorks

Adam Smith knew first-hand about the Bordeaux wine growing region and he factored his knowledge of wine and agriculture into An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 
This is our second AdamSmithWorks post on claret. You can read the first here.

In 1725, the government and wine growers in Bordeaux drew up specific appellation boundaries, known as the Vignoble de Bordeaux. Clarets—or wines from Bordeaux—were only increasing in popularity, and wine merchants were beginning to understand that wines from some appellations of Bordeaux were higher in value than others. 
As wine growers became more skilled at cultivation, customers from England, France, and other countries, began to appreciate and discuss at length the characteristics of wines from their favorite appellations. These consumers were beginning to understand that wines from different communes featured different characteristics and that the wine’s price could reflect the quality or scarcity of wine from a particular area, producer, or vintage. 
Adam Smith knew first-hand about the Bordeaux wine growing region and he factored his knowledge of wine and agriculture into An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (WN). In book I, chapter XI, Of the Rent of Land, he advocates that each plot of land should be used to produce its best crop. Land in Bordeaux, Burgundy and other areas of France was especially conducive to growing grapes for profitable wine, making it inherently more valuable than if those same farmers grew, say, lower-priced corn or wheat. 
But some governments wanted to intervene. In 1731, perceiving there to be a glut of wine (and rising bread prices), the French tried to pass a decree prohibiting the planting of vineyards to ensure farmers grew as many grain crops as possible. 
Smith feels these sorts of controls were unnecessary since markets will correct themselves without intervention. As he wrote: 
The pretence of this order was the scarcity of corn and pasture and the super-abundance of wine. But had this superabundance been real, it would, without any order of council have effectually prevented the plantation of new vineyards, by reducing the profits of this species of cultivation below their natural proposition to those of corn and pasture. 
In other words, Smith believed in trusting the farmer to make the best economic choice. If his land was truly over-producing wine, then wine wouldn’t be as profitable as corn. The problem would take care of itself without government intervention. (David Hume also addresses the French government’s shortsightedness in his essay “Of the Balance of Trade.”)
Smith also describes another very specific aspect of wine production and wine sales, one still very much true today – that wines from certain regions are in high demand and can demand higher prices. As any true wine-lover will appreciate, he begins with a discussion in WN of what today we call terroir or the flavors the grapes and wine take from the soil in which it’s grown. 
As Smith says 
From some [soil], it derives a flavour which no culture or management can equal, … This flavour, real or imaginary, is sometimes peculiar to the produce of a few vineyards; sometimes it extends through the greater part of a small district, and sometimes through a considerable part of a large province. 
From a wine lovers’ perspective, he describes it perfectly. 
However, he also understands how wine pricing still works today reflecting the scarcity of some wines as well as the quality. The grower may set the price, but if there is a lot of wine on the market that is similar, the price must come down. But, if the wine is from a high-quality and high-demand region, then 
the whole quantity, therefore, can be disposed of to those who are willing to pay more, which necessarily raises the price above that of common wine.
Today, it would be wonderful to show Smith the vineyards of Bordeaux so he might appreciate the work modern vigneron – or wine growers – are doing. He might see some similarities – and some new techniques. Even better, one would get to share a glass (or two) of claret with him celebrating the modern vintages of today. 
To eat with claret, Smith might have enjoyed a Coq au Vin, a simple chicken stewed in a thick red wine sauce. This recipe, loosely adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking features bacon, mushrooms, and onions to pair perfectly with a fine bottle of Bordeaux.
Coq Au Vin
·         ½ lb bacon, cut crossways into ¼ inch pieces
·         2 tbsp butter (optional)
·         3 lbs chicken breasts, legs, and thighs, if frozen, thawed
·         Salt and cracked black pepper
·         2 medium onions, sliced thinly
·         ¼ cup cognac or brandy
·         1 bottle (750ml) Bordeaux or Languedoc red wine
·         2 cups beef stock
·         2 tbsp tomato paste
·         4 cloves garlic, smashed or minced
·         1 ½ tsp herbs de Provence
·         3 tbsp flour
·         2 tbsp butter
·         1 lb button mushrooms, sauteed
·         1 lb baby potatoes, cooked (optional)
1.       Put the bacon in a large casserole or Dutch oven over medium heat. Fry until crisp, breaking up the pieces. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside.
2.       In the same skillet, heat the remaining bacon fat, and 1-2 tbsp butter if needed, over medium heat. Pat the chicken pieces dry, and add to the skillet. Season with salt and cracked black pepper. Add the sliced onions around the chicken pieces. Reduce the temperature to medium-low, then cover and cook the chicken for 10 minutes, turning once. Remove the lid, and add the cognac or brandy. Bring to a simmer, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
3.       Add the stock, tomato paste, garlic, and dried herbs. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer on the stove top for 30 minutes (or until the chicken is just cooked through. Don’t overcook your chicken.)  
4.       Remove the chicken to a separate plate and cover to keep warm. 
5.       In the casserole, bring the sauce to a boil, reducing the liquid by half. Taste and re-season adding salt as needed. 
6.       In a small bowl, make a smooth paste from the flour and butter, similar to a roux. With a whisk, incorporate this mixture into the sauce, ensuring there are no lumps.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and whisk as needed to ensure it is smooth. Once the sauce thickens up, add the chicken back into the pot as well as the bacon, sauteed mushrooms, and/or cooked baby potatoes. Bring to a simmer and serve with the vegetables and sauce.