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Sack (wine)

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Sack (wine)

Falstaff: "If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack."

Sack is an antiquated wine term referring to white fortified wine imported from mainland Spain or the Canary Islands.[1] There was sack of different origins such as:

The term Sherris sack later gave way to sherry as the English term for fortified wine from Jerez. Since sherry is practically the only one of these wines still widely exported and consumed, "sack" (by itself, without qualifier) is commonly but not quite correctly quoted as an old synonym for sherry.

Most sack was probably sweet, and matured in wooden barrels for a limited time. In modern terms, typical sack may have resembled cheaper versions of medium Oloroso sherry.[1]

Today, sack is sometimes seen included in the name of some sherries, perhaps most commonly on dry sherries as "dry sack".[2]


  • Origin of the term 1
    • Historical background 1.1
  • Literary references 2
  • References 3

Origin of the term

The Collins English Dictionary, the Chambers Dictionary, and the Oxford English Dictionary all derive the word "sack" from the French sec, "dry". However, the OED cannot explain the change in the vowel, and it has been suggested by others that the term is actually from the Spanish word sacar, meaning "to draw out", which led to sacas.[1] The word "sack" is not attested before 1530.[3]

Julian Jeffs writes "The word sack (there are several spellings) probably originated at the end of the fifteenth century, and is almost certainly derived from the Spanish verb sacar ("to draw out"). In the minutes of the Jerez town council for 1435 exports of wine were referred to as sacas. The term is still used for the withdrawal of wine from a solera."[4]

Historical background

The Duke of Medina Sidonia abolished taxes on export of wine from Sanlúcar de Barrameda in 1491, allowing both Spanish and foreign ships. English merchants were given preferential treatment in 1517, and distinction was upheld between second-rate wines, so-called "Bastards", and first-rate wines which were known as "Rumneys" and "Sacks". This period in time coincides with the planting of vines in the Canaries, after the Spanish all but exterminated the indigenous Guanches in the 1490s. Málaga, formerly in the Kingdom of Granada, also took to using the name sack for its wines, which were previously sold as “Garnacha”.[3]

This wine was similar to another wine known as 'malmsey', made from Malvasia grapes.

Literary references

William Shakespeare's character Sir John Falstaff, introduced in 1597, was fond of sack, and sometimes refers specifically to Sherris sack.[5]

William Shakespeare's minor character Sly, a drunkard and an object of a jest, declares that has "ne'er drunk sack in his life."[6]

Robert Herrick wrote two comic poems in praise of sack, "His Farewell to Sack" and "The Welcome to Sack."

Ben Jonson's Inviting a Friend to Supper refers to "A pure cup of rich Canary wine, / Which is the Mermaid's now, but shall be mine".

The early Poets Laureate of England and the U.K., such as Jonson and Dryden, received their salary, in part or in whole, in sack. Later Laureates, including Pye and Tennyson, took cash in lieu of sack.


  1. ^ a b c Oxford Companion to Wine: Sack
  2. ^ Williams & Humbert - Bodega de Jerez - Xerez - Dry Sack Medium Sherry
  3. ^ a b Hugh Johnson, The Story of wine, p. 92-93; 1989/2005 “new illustrated edition” ISBN 1-84000-972-1
  4. ^ Julian Jeffs, Sherry, p. 24; 1961/2004 (5th edition) ISBN 1-84000-923-3
  5. ^ The Second part of King Henry the Fourth, Act 4, Scene III at
  6. ^ The Taming of the Shrew, Act 1, Scene II at
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