Wine quotes across the ages

In his great book, The story of wine, Hugh Johnson wrote of wine’s unique ability to banish care. Across the ages many of our greatest writers, scientists, historians and philosophers felt strongly enough about wine to record their thoughts for posterity.

Today’s column is a little tribute to these writers, featuring snippets from across more than two millennia of wine commentary.

Tasting notes
“See how it puns and quibbles in the glass”.
George Farquhar, Love and a bottle, 1698. (Evidence that sparkling wine existed in the seventeenth century).

From the wine steward she ordered a bottle of Roederer’s Cristal. Even for those who dislike champagne, myself among them, there are two champagnes one can’t refuse: Dom Perignon and the even superior Cristal, which is bottled in a natural-colored glass that displays its pale blaze, a chilled fire of such prickly dryness that, swallowed, seems not to have been swallowed at all, but instead to have turned to vapors on the tongue and burned there to one damp sweet ash”.
Truman Capote, Answered prayers, unfinished novel contracted in 1966.

It had the taste of an apple peeled with a steel knife”.
Aldous Huxley.

… Mr. Tulkinghorn sits at one of the open windows, enjoying a bottle of old port. Though a hard-grained man, close, dry, and silent, he can enjoy old wine with the best. He has a priceless bin of port in some artful cellar under the Fields, which is one of his many secrets. When he dines alone in chambers, as he has dined to-day, and has his bit of fish and his steak or chicken brought in from the coffee-house, he descends with a candle to the echoing regions below the deserted mansion, and, heralded by the remote reverberation of thundering doors, comes gravely back, encircled by an earthy atmosphere and carrying a bottle from which he pours a radiant nectar, two score and ten years old, that blushes in the glass to find itself so famous, and fills the whole room with the fragrance of southern grapes.”
Charles Dickens, Bleak house.

Did they shoot the horse?”

It tastes like it’s been drunk before”.

I’ll be glad when I’ve had enough”.
Gordon Shanahan.

“Here is a story about two Australian swagmen who used to meet for a chat under the shade of a well placed tree. By Jacob’s Creek, I shouldn’t wonder. One day, Barry, the first, turned up with a bottle. He took a long swig, wiped his lips on his sleeve, and passed the bottle to his mate Kevin, who did the same. ‘Whad’ya think of it?’ said Barry.

Jes right’, said Kev.

Whad’ya mean, jes right?’

Well. If it’d been any better you wouldn’a giv’n it to me, and if it’d bin any wuss, I couldn’a drunk it.’

The art of wine selection in a nutshell.”
Hugh Johnson, Wine: a life uncorked, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2005.

In the wilds of Afghanistan I lost my corkscrew and for days was forced to live on nothing but food and water”.

Some weasel left the cork out of my lunch”.
W.C. Fields

On one occasion some one put a very little wine into a [glass], and said that it was sixteen years old. ‘It is very small for its age’, said Gnathaena”.
Athenaeus, circa A.D.200, The Deipnosophists.

An old wine-bibber having been smashed in a railway collision, some wine was poured on his lips to revive him. ‘Pauillac, 1873’, he murmured and died.”
Ambrose Bierce, 1842 – 1914, The devil’s dictionary, 1911.

Wine qualities and philosophy

My wines are sexy; they make weak men strong and strong women weak”.
Wolf Blass, 1974.

Life is too short to drink bad wine”.
Anonymous, but popularised in Australia by Len Evans.

A mind of the calibre of mine cannot derive its nutriment from cows”.
George Bernard Shaw.

I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”
Lilly Bollinger, Manager, Bollinger Champagne, 1941–1971.

Wine is sunlight, held together by water”.
Galileo Gallilei.

Give me a bowl of wine, In this I bury all unkindness.”

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar.

You haven’t drunk too much wine if you can still lie on the floor without holding on”.
Dean Martin.

Both to the rich and poor, wine is the happy antidote for sorrow”.

When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading”.
Henry Youngman.

I can certainly see that you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret”.
John Cleese (Basil Fawlty), Fawlty Towers.

There are no standards of taste in wine… Each man’s own taste is the standard, and a majority vote cannot decide for him or in any slightest degree affect the supremacy of his own standard”.
Mark Twain.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009