Sensual Wine: On Sangiovese,
Tasting and Literature.
Not long ago I was living in the heart of Tuscany, and there, I would be doing what most people in Tuscany do–drink wine. However, I have also been doing what very few people in Tuscany (or anywhere else) on a regular basis–talk about poetry and literature. I joined a “secret” literary group of modern-day renaissance souls that would meet regularly, open bottles of wine, while talking about literature and art.
Many would react to this with confusion. Perhaps it is the way poetry is taught in high schools and universities. But I have always been fascinated by how people see poetry as something overly intellectual and intentionally theoretical at the same time abstract, as something (unlike wine) not to be enjoyed.
In order to help drive home a point I had been making about poetry all these years, I mentioned to a friend about poetry being visceral, instinctual and pleasurable, I said to him after he just finished a glass of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano he clearly loved, “You know what you just did? You drank a poem.”
As most people do, he dismissed me and even I pretty much forgot about our conversation until a few days later. When I was reading wine articles and realized that poetry and wine have much more in common than merely being reliable tools of seduction.
The unexpected symmetry of wine and poetry was swirling around in the empty carafe of my mind when I received an invitation to a rather remarkable wine tasting in Florence called Anteprima: Chianti Classico Collection.
For example, both poetry and wine share an interesting relationship between makers, audiences, and critics. You can think of winemakers as poets and wine as their poetry. The winemaker labors over the wine, blending this and that, tinkering for days, trying to find the perfect balance between pleasure and structure… In much the same way as a poet agonizes over their poem. The winery, of course, functions a lot like a publisher, packaging the art and making it available to the public. Coincidentally, in both cases, there are often issues of class, taste, and sophistication that can get in the way of both consumption and enjoyment. Perhaps, not surprisingly, for both poetry and wine, there is a real tension between the tastes and preferences of audiences, as the tastes and preferences of critics. What critics and makers tend to love is not always what audiences tend to love and cherish.
What critics and makers tend to love is not always what audiences tend to love and cherish.
The unexpected symmetry of wine and poetry was swirling around in the empty carafe of my mind when I received an invitation to a rather remarkable wine tasting in Florence called Anteprima: Chianti Classico Collection. This was the preview of new vintages from the wine region Chianti Classico between Florence and Siena, that takes place every year. As I was walking around the room, checking out the labels on the bottles and creating tasting notes in my mind with every sip, I began to feel as though I was in a library or a bookstore–each bottle a book spine, each tasting note a blurb. Before I knew it, I was thinking of a glass of wine as a poem that had been written in red or white, with me as one of many potential readers.
The region that is the most romantic area of Italy known for its sweeping landscapes, burning hot sun and its wealth of art and food history.
One of the ways people talk about wine is to compare the taste profile to something recognizable like melon tobacco; so I started trying to think of poet correlatives for each wine I was tasting. When I first tasted Chianti that derives its name not from the grape used to make the wine, which is Sangiovese, but from the region where it is made. The region that is the most romantic area of Italy known for its sweeping landscapes, burning hot sun and its wealth of art and food history. It is from this region that we also get delicious olive oil and Michelangelo’s David. Drinking Chianti for the first time was like drinking Dante Alighieri’s poem that swirled through my glass and kept me wanting to read more and more. If something can be smoother and more complex at the same time, it was. The only way I described it was like; imbibing dusty berries from heaven with a touch of provocative tobacco.
One doesn’t go somewhere with the intent of buying a sexy wine, but it is through experiencing it that its true seductiveness is revealed, quite often starting out with a flirt on the palate or as a waft of a mysterious perfume that beckons us to give in to our desire to become better acquainted. There are occasions when the winemaker succeeds in capturing the subtlety and beauty that can only be experienced viscerally when it is quiet and it evokes and awakens our deepest romantic notions. These are thrilling moments, for sure. The ability for wine to move us, emotionally, physically, experientially, and leave us breathless – that is sexy. Just like poetry.