Ever since Homer wrote about "a wine-dark sea," references to wine have flowed through literature. Here are some intoxicating musings of great authors through the centuries.
Henry IV (Part 2)
by William Shakespeare
“Plump Jack” Falstaff exemplifies the rollicking imbiber of life. Here, he pays tribute to “sack”—a white fortified wine imported from Spain and the 16th-century progenitor of Sherry.
A good sherris sack hath a two-fold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish and dull and curdy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and delectable shapes, which, delivered o’er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit…
by Ayn Rand
As they fight to preserve individual achievement and freedom, Dagny Taggart (vice president of a railroad) and Hank Reardon (a steel magnate) become lovers. For the self-made Reardon, expensive wine signifies his success.
[Reardon] glanced at the soft twilight around them, then at the sparkle of two wine glasses on their table. “Dagny, in my youth, when I was working in the ore mines in Minnesota, I thought that I wanted to reach an evening like this…I thought that some day I would sit in a place like this, where one drink of wine would cost more than my day’s wages, and I would have earned the price of every minute of it and of every drop and of every flower on the table, and I would sit there for no purpose but my own amusement.”
by Leo Tolstoy
In literature, intoxication often serves as a metaphor for infatuation. In this passage, Kitty (Ekaterina)—a Russian princess—observes the first meeting of the married Anna Karenina with Count Vronsky, who becomes her lover.
She could see that Anna was drunk with the wine of the rapture she inspired. She knew that feeling, knew the signs of it, and she saw them in Anna—saw the tremulous, flashing light in her eyes, the smile of happiness and excitement that involuntarily curved her lips, and the precise gracefulness, assurance, and lightness of her movements. “Who is it?” she asked herself. “All or one?”…She watched, and her heart was wrung more and more. “No, it’s not the admiration of the crowd she’s drunk with, but the rapture of one man.”
A Moveable Feast
by Ernest Hemingway
The “Lost Generation” of American expatriates in Paris often philosophized over wine in cafés and salons. In this memoir, Hemingway relates his experiences and encounters with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and others.
In Europe then we thought of wine as something healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer. I loved all wines except sweet or sweetish wines and wines that were too heavy.
Jeeves Takes Charge
by P.G. Wodehouse
In their first meeting, Jeeves—the consummate valet—ministers to the hangover of his new employer, Bertie Wooster.
“If you would drink this, sir,” [Jeeves] said, with a kind of bedside manner, rather like the royal doctor shooting the bracer into the sick prince. “It is a little preparation of my own invention. It is the Worcester Sauce that gives it its color. The raw egg makes it nutritious. The red pepper gives it its bite. Gentlemen have told me they have found it extremely invigorating after a late evening….” I swallowed the stuff. For a moment I felt as if somebody had touched off a bomb inside the old bean and was strolling down my throat with a lighted torch, and then everything seemed suddenly to get all right.
by Roald Dahl
Best-known for children’s books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl also wrote wickedly witty stories for adults. Taste revolves around a bet between two wine connoisseurs about identifying a “mystery” bottle—and skewers wine snobbery.
Richard Pratt was a famous gourmet…. He organized dinners where sumptuous dishes and rare wines were served. He refused to smoke for fear of harming his palate, and when discussing a wine, he had a curious, rather droll habit of referring to it as though it were a living being. “A prudent wine,” he would say, “rather diffident and evasive, but quite prudent.” Or, “a good-humored wine, benevolent and cheerful—slightly obscene, perhaps, but nonetheless good humored.”
by James Joyce
In James Joyce’s novel, saying “yes” to wine also represents saying “yes” to life. For Leopold Bloom, a taste of wine revives passionate memory in one of the most erotically evocative passages in literature (the book was banned in the U.S. from 1921 to 1933).
Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun’s heat it is. Seems to a secret touch telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden under wild ferns on Howth below us bay sleeping: sky. No sound. The sky… O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum…. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me.
Credit: Thanks to the English Department at Barnard College, New York for their suggestions, especially Professors Christopher Baswell, Shira Nayman and Anne Prescott.