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The Song of Roland

White Wine with Honey and Sage

By Tim Hazell


Roland, or Hruodland in the original Old Franconian language, was a celebrated Frankish military leader (died August 15, 778) under Charlemagne who is mentioned historically as military governor of the Breton March, responsible for defending France’s frontier. He was killed in a stunning military defeat at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and immortalized in one of the greatest examples of Old French literature, The Song of Roland. The original epic poem, composed between AD 1040 and 1115, is the oldest surviving manuscript of its genre and a memorable example of chanson de geste, an oral and written form that became immensely popular during the tenth to fifteenth centuries, when troubadours celebrated the deeds of legendary heroes.

By the eighth century, the Muslims had gained a strong foothold in Europe on the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain), with their Umayyad capital at Córdoba. The anti-Umayyad governor of Barcelona and Girona, Sulayman al-Arabi, requested military help from Charlemagne in 777 in return for his own submission to the Franks and surrender of his holdings, as well as that of the governors of Zaragoza and Huesca. Frankish king Charlemagne (Charles the Great, 742–814) saw a chance to expand his power and expand Christendom into Spain. He marched across the Pyrenees with a formidable army—one division going south through Catalonia and another going north through Gascony and the Basque Country.

On the homeward journey, the Franks entered the Pyrenees for a second time, proceeding through the narrow and heavily wooded Roncevaux Pass. It was here, on the evening of August 15, 778, that Charlemagne’s army was attacked from behind by a force composed mainly of Basques. Their heavy weapons and armor put them at a disadvantage. Roland was among the important military commanders killed in the ambush.

Intensive use of spices and herbs was characteristic of medieval gastronomy. The European elite consumed a great variety for dietary reasons and for the sake of social status. Here is an unusual white wine infusion with honey and sage from the thirteenth century manuscript Ut vinum salviatum.


White Wine with Honey and Sage


1/2 cup honey

8 to 11 fresh sage leaves (and/or rosemary)



Heat a small amount of wine with the honey and sage leaves. Cover and allow to infuse 10–15 minutes. Mix with the rest of the wine and let stand overnight in a cool place or refrigerate. Strain and serve decanted.


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