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  • Writer's pictureSanto Vino


While writing about wine symbolism in a 2018 article published on this blog (, I have observed how wine was perceived, in ancient times, as a religious symbol. I would now add that wine, its vessel and its red color are to be considered among the most powerful symbols of all.

Red wine had already been associated with blood by the Egyptians as early as 3,000 B.C. and as such ceremonially offered to their Renenutet Goddess of Harvests, Osiris God of After-Life and Shezmu, God of Wine-Press, also known as Lord-of-Blood... Wine played a prominent role in the Ancient Greek and Roman cultures as well, where it was seen as a mark of civilization and a status symbol.

The Greek God of Wine Dionysus and his homologue Roman God Bacchus were both honored, during their respective Mysteries and Bacchanalia secret night rituals, by crushing red grapes, drinking and spilling red wine as it was blood while the ensuing collective intoxication served to release repressed inhibitions through trance-like dances, with the purpose of liberating their primal natures ecstasy.

A couple of centuries later, in Jesus’ Last Supper, red wine became a more compelling symbol when He took the cup, gave it to His disciples and said: “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

Central to the Eucharist liturgy – the celebration of bread and wine in remembrance of Christ’s body and blood – the Cup (or Chalice) became a strong symbol itself epitomizing the vessel of Jesus’ holy essence, that is, the blood He shed by sacrificing Himself for the sake of the humanity. The Eucharist imbued with Blood, Wine and Cup's symbols is one of the most complex religious ritual.

In the late 12th Century French author Robert de Boron wrote Joseph d’Arimathie, a work in verse where Jesus' cup from the Last Supper was called Holy Graal, the same cup with which Joseph of Arimathea, according to apocryphal accounts, collected Christ's blood right after His crucifixion.

The word Graal - Grail as it was later spelled in English - comes from old French graal or greal, meaning a cup, chalice or pot made of clay, wood or metal.

What did the cup from which Jesus drank look like? We can just speculate: at the time the poor mainly used ceramic bowls for drinking, Jesus probably had to use a flat cup made of clay as pictured in Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" mural painting at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milano.

There are different versions of the Holy Grail myth conferring the sacred chalice spiritual and supernatural powers: as a Christian symbol, the Grail which contained the red wine Jesus drank during the Last Supper and His blood collected by Joseph of Arimathea is a divine, holy object, it signifies the forgiveness of sin and the attainment of immortality.

Red wine, red blood. Again, the symbolism linked to the color red is plentiful. Red has always been the archetypal color, the first color humans fabricated, reproduced, and broke down into different shades, first in cave painting and later in cloth dyeing. Red color in wine comes from a flavonoid pigment called anthocyanin found in the skin of the red grapes.

Having been linked with Jesus’ blood, red symbolizes in the Christian world sacrifice and redemption. As a consequence, red is also the color representing love as in the love of Jesus for us and, through the centuries, romantic love. Likewise, red represents the fire that purges and purifies, as well as blinding passion, lust, rage and violence. In classical times one of the early red pigments used, red ochre, was obtained from clay and hematite while other red pigments such as cinnabar, vermillion and crimson were so difficult and expensive to produce that were worn, as status symbol, only by the aristocrats and the clergy.

Furthermore, red is the color of good luck in Asia and the most popular color in China where brides wear red, temples, towers and palaces’ gates are painted in red, gifts are wrapped in red. Not surprisingly, the dominance of red wine in China, where 80% of wine consumed is red regardless of personal tastes, can be attributed to the cultural symbolism of auspiciousness and prosperity associated with the color.

On a related note, the red color of Little Red Riding Hood is an invention of French author Charles Perrault, who published the first version of his tale “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge” in 1697.

The old tale that Perrault most likely took inspiration from is known as “The Grandmother’s Tale” a gory version found both in Southeastern France and North Italy in which the little girl unknowingly eats her own grandmother because the wolf, disguised as granny, invites her to enjoy some meat and… wine.

The first English version appeared in Europe only in 1729, translated as “Little Red Riding Hood”. A red hooded cape was commonly worn as a riding or traveling cloak in rural England, however in the 18th Century, a decent metropolitan English lady would never wear a red hood because it was considered the color of sin, worn by women of questionable reputation.

The story of Little Red Riding Hood we all know is the original 1812 publication by the Grimm Brothers which was titled “Little Red Cap”. Little Red Cap is sent to visit her grandmother with a cake and a bottle of wine in her basket. Why is that she was given wine to take to her ailing grandmother?

The symbolism in Little Red Riding Hood's story has been studied by different European and American authors in different times. The focus, however, was always on her red hood, the wolf and the bottle of wine.

Erich Fromm, German Psychoanalyst and Psychologist, suggested that since Little Red Riding Hood's basket can be considered as a symbol of virginity the wine bottle’s meaning is obvious, with its shape and bloody content... As the mother warns Little Red Cap "not to leave the path, not to break the bottle and beware of the wolf”, in dream analysis a bottle could also represent repressed feelings. The only way to release the feelings is to open the bottle and free the trapped consciousness as in the Bacchanalia. Last, the color of (red) wine Little (red) Riding Hood takes to her grandmother could also symbolize passion and lust as the wolf eating the young girl is definitely symbolic for sex.

No matter what, “The grandmother drank some of the wine and after a while she felt quite strong and healthy”, as Grimm Brothers’ book goes on endorsing once more the beneficial effects of red wine… In one of the original illustrations of the book, Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s face is flush as she sits at a table holding a glass of wine, the bottle half empty.

We can never know for sure what were the Grimm Brothers’ conscious or hidden intentions when they decided to place wine in a children's fairy tale. Perhaps we shouldn’t over-analyze it because sometimes, to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, Austrian Neurologist and the founder of Psychoanalysis, "a wine bottle is only a wine bottle".

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