A couple of weeks ago, the BBC marked and celebrated the 21st birthday of National Poetry Day by programming a whole day of poetry on Radio Four. Entitled ‘We British: An Epic in Poetry’, the high-reaching aim, across the day, was to explore and reflect the history and identity of Britain from the 700s to the present day solely through the medium of poetry.
I mention this not because I’m – excuse the pun – well versed in either poetry or history or even because the versifying on Four brought out the dormant poet within me. You can rest assured that rhyming couplet wine reviews won’t be appearing in these pages any time soon but I have, taking my cue from the BBC, uncovered a couple of historic – wine inspired – poems that I’d like to share.
Wine and poetry have long gone hand in hand. In truth, wine’s chief role in the relationship has been the ‘fuelling’ of the writing of poems but there are also odes to wine itself by renowned poets and it’s two of these poems that I’d like to recount today. Of course, as this is a wine column I’ve also tried to match the mood and themes of the poems with a couple of complementary wines.
The Drinking Song by WB Yeats
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
Ambiguity is the key theme in this 1916 poem by Irish poet and Nobel Prize Literature winner, William Butler Yeats. Is the love requited or unrequited? Is the sigh one of disappointment or contentment?
Relating ambiguity or uncertainty to the wine world, immediately brings to my mind the accidental creation of fortified wine, Madeira.
Madeira’s winemaking history stretches back to the Age of Discovery in the early 15th century when the island was a key port of call for ships wanting to purchase wine, before heading to the New World or East Indies. To prevent the wine from spoiling, neutral grape spirits were added. On the long sea voyages, the wines would be exposed to excessive heat and movement which transformed the flavour of the wine. The Madeirans themselves, were blissfully unaware of this metamorphosis until an unsold shipment of wine was returned to the island and with it, came the revelation, that the much travelled wine was far superior to that originally sent to sea.
Certain to elicit a sigh of contentment, not disappointment, as the “wine comes in at the mouth” is the Barbeito Rainwater 5 Year Old Madeira which is hugely aromatic with notes of caramel, nuts, almonds and candied fruit. It’s perfect at any time of day and pairs beautifully with salted nuts, olives, tapas and cheese.
The vagaries of the sea may have led to the fortuitous creation of Madeira wine but they also led to the death of one of this country’s greatest ever poets at the tender age of 29. Radical visionary poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, best remembered for his revolutionary poem “Masque of Anarchy” met his tragic end when he drowned in a storm on the Gulf of Spezia on the coastline of northern Italy in 1822.
The Vine-Shroud by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Flourishing vine, whose kindling clusters glow
Beneath the autumnal sun, none taste of thee;
For thou dost shroud a ruin, and below
The rotting bones of dead antiquity.
Shelley’s short but affecting poem is best considered whilst drinking the ‘Circle of Life’ by Waterkloof winery.