Wine and love — thoughts for Valentine’s day

Wine and love can’t be separated. We woo with wine. We celebrate with it. We surrender to it. We let our hair down with it. We share its sensuality in ways not approached by other great human creations: We see it, smell it, taste it, feel its touch, fill our mouths with it, savour its lusciousness with our tongues and become intoxicated by it. It’s a component of attraction, seduction and shared pleasure.

Even that crusty old salt Ernest Hemingway praised wine’s unique sensuality. In “Death in the Afternoon” he wrote, ” Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing”.

Joni Mitcheel breathed wine’s sensuality into this beautiful metaphor for love and desire:

Oh you are in my blood like holy wine
Oh and you taste so bitter but you taste so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you
I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet”.

While four centuries earlier Ben Jonson, longing for love’s pleasures, elevated it one notch above wine:

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I’ll not look for wine.

Jonson simply echoed the even older Song of Solomon, “How much better is thy love than wine!”

How dreary, dour, joyless and acerbic, even vinegary, by comparison was the temperance movement’s slogan “lips that touch wine shall never kiss mine”.

Busy Michelangelo, sniffing a sexual metaphor in wine, penned an evocative, even lurid, impression of vernaccia, a white wine from the ancient Tuscan town of San Gimignano. “It kisses, licks, bites, thrusts and stings”, he noted.

The description doesn’t gel with modern, tart, dry vernaccia. But it leapt to mind when tasting Tim Adams Botrytis Riesling 2010 featured in today’s wine reviews. Now there’s a wine that kisses and licks with its luscious, sweet fruit, then stings with its tangy, sharp, lime-like acidity.

An even more direct and anatomical metaphor came at a National Press Club dinner hosted by wine merchants David and Richard Farmer in the early eighties. A prominent female political journalist of the time likened Sauternes to “making love [euphemism inserted] when I’m drunk – dry but luscious”.

Perhaps her companion was sober. Perhaps he’d heeded the porter in Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things – nose-painting, sleep and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance; therefore, much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him”.

Here the emphasis shifts from sensuous wine and shared pleasure to alcohol-fuelled seduction and lechery – a notion neatly captured in Ogden Nash’s “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker”.

Wine-fuelled lechery, however, reaches its raunchy depths in the final verse of Flanders’ and Swan’s popular, “Have some Madeira m’dear”. Strangely, much drink turns out not to be an equivocator:

Until the next morning, she woke up in bed
With a smile on her lips and an ache in her head
And a beard in her ear ‘ole that tickled and said,
‘Have some Madeira, m’dear’”.

Lechery might be OK for obscure, potent Madeira. But it’s a long way from the image Champagne likes to promote. Long seen as the ultimate wine of mutual seduction, Champagne combines an instant, subtle, inhibition-smashing rush of alcohol with a unique, delicate, sensual flavour. It’s a luxurious a symbol of generosity, sharing, celebration and sexiness.

Worth noting at Valentine’s, though, is a comment made by Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, head of Champagne Taittinger, reported by Decanter magazine from the Reuters Global Luxury Summit in June 2010: “Champagne’s stiffest competition comes not from Prosecco, Cava or English sparkling wine – but from Viagra”.

Tongue in cheek? Perhaps even more tongue in cheek, could this be a demographic indicator? Are ageing baby boomer males countering Shakespearean over indulgence with the wonder drug?

As thrilling as Champagne is, pinot noir at its best is perhaps the most sensuous wine of all. Perhaps it’s what Hemingway and Mitchell had in mind. Perhaps it might’ve been Michelangelo’s gold standard. Main Ridge Half Acre 2009 in today’s reviews is that sort of wine – deeply sensuous, aesthetically pleasing and “brought to perfection”.

In the spirit of Martin Luther’s “He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long”, and Cat Empire’s “I’m going to die with a twinkle in my eye, cause I sung songs, spun stories, loved, laughed and drank wine” — this week’s wine selections presents sensually pleasing wines of all shades – wines we can savour, love and laugh over on Valentine’s day.

Copyright Chris Shanahan 2011