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The Bee’s Wing


“I don’t see the bee’s wing in this port, Mr. Blackstrap, that you are bouncing about,” said a London traveller to a timber-merchant. “No, sir,” said the humorist, “it is not to be seen until you are a deal higher in spirits”.
Charles Molley Westmacott. The English Spy, Volume 2. 1826.

The Bee's Wing. 1824. [1]

The Bee’s Wing. 1824. [1]

The image in this post is most likely familiar to those who own wine books that pre-date the digital age.  The detail of the corkscrew and decanter are fantastic but of interest is the gentlemen intently staring up and into his glass of wine.  The answer to why he is doing so lies with the title of the picture , “The Bee’s Wing”.  This title informs us he is drinking Port for the bee’s wing is a light film that forms on top of the poured wine as a result of considerable sediment from long-aged bottles.  It was, then, a sign of a fine old bottle of port.  Or at least that is what was commonly believed.  Cyrus Redding writes in Every Man His Own Butler (1839) that it stems from potash in the wine and may be induced by warming young port to near boiling then cooling it in a cellar.


[1] The Bee’s Wing. Henry Dawe after Michael William Sharp. 1824. #2010,7081.4817. The British Museum.

  1. winslowllc
    November 9, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    Lovely picture and delightful information!

    >

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