In Praise of Wine

For the praise of wine go to the world’s greatest literature. For its champions read down the roll of  poets of all lands and all ages from the Psalmists of ancient Israel to the most fervent of our twentieth and twenty first century versifiers. Since man first grew the grape and pressed it and allowed the juice to ferment, and first learned to give expression to his thoughts and feelings, Literature has been wedded to Wine. Indeed the relationship has been closer yet; Wine has been the mother of Literature. Does not Tom Moore tell his fellow-minstrels——–

“If with water you fill up your glasses,

You’ll never write anything wise;

For wine’s the true horse of Parnassus,

Which carries a bard to the skies!”

And has not a greater poet than the Irish laureate sung in one of the most perfect odes in our language:

“O for a draught of vintage! that had been

Cool’d a long age in the deep delved earth,

Tasting of the Flora and the country green,

Dance and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!

O for a beaker full of the warm South,

Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

And purple stained mouth;

That I might drink and leave the world unseen,

And with these fade away into the forest dim…….”

Does not Dr. Saintsbury, scholar and connoisseur, state emphatically that “much of the best imaginative work in the world has been due to its influence,” and make the confession in his Notes from a Cellar-Book that “There is no money, among that which I spent since I begun to earn a living, of the expenditure of which I am least ashamed, or which gave me better value in return, than the price of the liquids chronicled in this cellar booklet…… They pleased my senses, cheered my spirits, and improved my moral and intellectual powers, besides enabling me to confer the same benefits on other people.”

Which is pretty much old Omar’s view, according to Fitzgerald, in “The Rubaiyat”which

is at once a monumental panegyric of wine and a complete though pagan philosophy of life:

“I often wonder what the Vintners buy

One half so precious as the Goods they sell”.

And there we may leave the praise-the defence, if defence were needed in the golden language of immortal poetry. Our task is prosaic; the workaday, but very needful, task of attempting to explain wine, its nature, its production, the choice of it, its correct treatment and service. But while the approach to this big subject must be that of the practical person writing for practical people, we hope to view our subject not alone with the professional eye of the wine merchant and wine educator, but also with the becoming reverence of a wine lover.

Knowledge of wine was once deemed an indispensable part of every gentleman’s education, as the due appreciation of its virtues was accounted one of the amenities of a cultured life. But this type of culture is not taken too seriously today. To the general public the wine list is more of a mystery than is even the most abstruse of French menus. Wherefore, it behoves her/him in whose keeping is this precious commodity to spread the knowledge of wine to the unenlightened. As the gardener studies his flowers so should the wine merchant, off licence staff, bartenders, restaurant staff, sommeliers, etc., study their wines, in order that the uninformed may turn to them for knowledge and advice on the subject. As the purchaser of a motor-car, you would not be much impressed if the salesperson confessed himself unable to tell you the make of the car, its capabilities in the matter of road performance, and explain the action of its mechanism. If knowledge of his commodity is necessary to the motor-car salesperson, how much more so is knowledge of wine necessary to those selling and serving it?

The point has been put well by Mr. Andre L. Simon thus: “You cannot blame the public if they do not know what wine to drink; they all have something else to do, and although there are laypeople whose knowledge and appreciation of wine is remarkable, you must expect the public to be as ignorant about wines as they are about law or medicine. Hence it is up to you to diagnose, to advise and to prescribe when the same people who go to their doctors and lawyers, when in need of professional advice, shall come to you and ask you what is best for them to drink”. Mr. Simon was addressing an audience of students destined to become wine merchants in another era, but his counsel is equally applicable today.          Slainte. (Andrew O’ Gorman).