Saturday, 12 December 2015

Water To Wine?

Water to wine - if only! No, not really. We've had a superfluity of the former in recent days....rains upon rains until we're sick of the sight and sound of water and the damage that it's done. The sort of minor miracle that would turn it all into rivers of Rioja and lakes of Claret issuing into a Homeric wine-dark sea is more the stuff of nightmares than pleasant fantasy. However, a beaker full of the warm south - now that wouldn't go amiss.

In vino veritas. This magnificent sundial (below) can be found at the Chateau de Pommard, famed for its fine wines. Pommard is a tiny commune on the Route des Grands Crus in Burgundy. With a population of only 540, it boasts 337 hectares of vineyards which yield up 130,000 cases of wine annually, nearly half of it Premier Cru.


"In wine is truth" has its equivalents in languages and cultures other than Latin. The Greeks (more of them later) also said: "in wine is truth" but the Greek word ἀλήθεια, being more subtle than Latin, also conveys a sense of trueness, of authentic being. The Babylonians said: "wine enters, secrets exit"; the Persians: "with drunkenness comes the truth"; and the Russians: "what a sober man has in his mind, the drunk one has on his tongue". I think that makes it a truth universally acknowledged.

I suppose we've all known people whose character undergoes an interesting transformation when they've drunk a little too much. One of my favourite bands, Farrah, have a song that contains the well-observed lines:
"She's on cruise control as the Rioja takes hold
She gets in such a state
She has to say the things you shouldn't say...
Vitriol and spite and then the silence
Obscenely spoils the night..."

Health experts have vacillated for years (even centuries) about the benefits of drinking wine. The Greeks were very much in favour. In more oppressive times the activity was frowned on, even made illegal. Nowadays it appears to be the case that drinking wine in moderation is a good thing, on the whole. A recent research project conducted at the University of Iowa claims to have found that: "moderate use of alcohol is associated with healthy aging". People who take one or two alcoholic drinks a day are likely to age better than those who drink considerably more, considerably less or are teetotal. Dionysus (son of Semele and Zeus) be praised!

Alcaeus of Mytilene did much such praising of Dionysus, the god of the vine, grape-harvest, wine-making and religious merriment. Alcaeus was a lyric poet from the island of Lesbos, writing and performing in the 6th century BC and he made every occasion an excuse for drinking - exhorting his friends to drink in celebration of a tyrant's death, in celebration of the summer, to liven up the winter, to drink away their cares and sorrows, to drink because life is short! We know this because he wrote his exhortations down in verse as well as performing them at dinner parties. What a guy. Here's a sample in translation:

A Drinking Poem
Let's drink! Why are we waiting for the lamps? Only an inch of daylight left.
Lift down the large cups, my friends, the painted ones;
for wine was given to men by the son of Semele and Zeus
to help them forget their troubles. Mix one part of water to two of wine,
pour it in up to the brim, and let one cup push the other along...

It may be that Alcaeus, his paramour (Sappho, allegedly) and carousing pals enjoyed the precursor of one of my favourite Greek wines, Danielis from Achaia Clauss, a complex and rich red wine and as good as anything the world over, barring the very best French vintages.


This week's poem takes as its starting point a line from Ode To A Nightingale in a mutant form of acrostic...

Extrapolated Keats
O do not use me prematurely up,
For true love like unto
A good wine grows with keeping.
Beaker after beaker might slake youth's fierce thirst but
Full well will spill and spoil all chance
Of your ever realising in maturity
The dark exquisite pleasures of my subtle richness
Warm to your yearning mouth
South spreading in suffusion.

Thanks for reading. Make moderately merry, S ;-)
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