- Canary sack from the Canary Islands,
- Malaga sack from Málaga,
- Palm sack from Palma de Mallorca, and
- Sherris sack from Jerez de la Frontera
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.
Today, sack is sometimes seen included in the name of some sherries, perhaps most commonly as the Williams & Humbert brand "Dry Sack".
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", as in drawing out wine from a solera, which led to sacas. The word "sack" is not attested before 1530.
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 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”.
This wine was similar to another wine known as 'malmsey', made from Malvasia grapes.
William Shakespeare's minor character Sly, a drunkard and an object of a jest, declares that he has "ne'er drunk sack in his life."
Robert Herrick wrote two comic poems in praise of sack, "His Farewell to Sack" and "The Welcome to Sack."
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.
In Tales of the Black Freighter, the story within the graphic novel The Watchmen by Alan Moore, a marooned sailor describes the scene upon returning to the shores of his hometown with the lines, “I was returned, splashing noisily through the encumbering shallows, sun mulling the horizon behind me, a poker in a glass of sack.”
- Oxford Companion to Wine: Sack Archived 2008-07-26 at the Wayback Machine
- Williams & Humbert - Dry Sack Medium Sherry
- Julian Jeffs, Sherry, p. 24; 1961/2004 (5th edition) ISBN 1-84000-923-3
- Hugh Johnson, The Story of wine, p. 92-93; 1989/2005 “new illustrated edition” ISBN 1-84000-972-1
- The Second part of King Henry the Fourth, Act 4, Scene III at shakespeare.mit.edu
- The Taming of the Shrew, Act 1, Scene II at shakespeare.mit.edu
- The Diary of Samuel Pepys Monday 20 July 1663