". . .a good and most particular taste"
Literature and wine have been intertwined for as long as both have existed. It was fitting that the Greek god Dionysus (Bacchus for the Romans), who was responsible for wine, would also be the god of theater. Who amongst us hasn’t been inspired after a glass or two of beautifully made wine? As an English Literature Major turned Sommelier, these are my favorite moments where my two passions commingle . . .
Samuel Pepys. Famous for being a diligent diarist that captured the everyday life of the upper class during the Restoration period (1660-1669). He is also famous for noting in his diary on April 10th, 1663 “Off to the Exchange with Sir J Cutler and Mr. Grand to the Royall Oak Taverne in Lombard Street. . . and there drank a sort of French wine called Ho Bryan, that hath a good and most particular taste that I never met with”. Today, a highly regarded First Growth in Bordeaux, Haut Brion commands top prices and critical acclaim. Pepys was considered a man with a considerable taste for fine wine; his cellar contained Madeira, Tokaji, Champagne, and claret (the British term for wine coming from Bordeaux). This is considered one of the very first mentions of a Bordeaux estate in literature. For those who have been to London, you may also recognize Samuel Pepys's name as he is noted on several blue plaques that mark London’s vast history and alight upon walls on pubs that dot both sides of The Thames. Historians claim that he witnessed The Great Fire of London (1666) from numerous pubs over the course of several days on both sides of the great river.
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846) - an iconic horror short story that puts the victim’s passion for wine at the center of a riveting tale of revenge. The love of this famous style of sherry – a fortified wine from Spain – causes the downfall of the victim, Fortunato. Here is the fateful moment when Fortunato could have turned back, but doesn’t - “’You jest,’ he exclaimed, recoiling a few paces. ‘But let us proceed to the Amontillado.’” He is lured back to his friend’s wine cellar with the promise of enjoying the dry, amber-colored, and delightfully complex and nutty wine - only to fall prey to his love of drink and his friend who is plotting revenge—a nod to how a beverage can captivate us to the point of losing our senses.
Vin de Constance - a beverage that captivated several writers and a leader or two. An intoxicating dessert wine produced from Muscat de Frontignan grapes grown on the Cape Peninsula in South Africa. By 1702, it was considered one of the finest wines in the world. Rich on the palate with orange marmalade, peach, and ginger -Jane Austen cites it in “Sense and Sensibility” (1811) – Mrs. Jennings recommends “the finest Constantia wine” to heal the broken heart of Marianne. Dickens has this wine served to the Reverend Septimus by his mother in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” (1870). In real life, it consoled Napoleon during his exile and was found in George Washington’s cellar.
Be it a First Growth, a dangerously delicious Sherry, a historically famous and influential dessert wine from South Africa, or one of the many other wines noted in literature – wine and literature are artfully connected. The history of wine lies not only in where it comes from, but also in who thought it so important to use it as a plot point, a bright spot in the day, and an important detail to create the world within the work. As fall comes near, perhaps it’s time to pour some amontillado and reread Poe’s classic from the safety of one’s own home.