In vino veritas… et artem. Rafa Moreno
The history of art and wine is inextricably linked. So much so that the different forms of artistic representation of wine culture across time represent nothing short of the history of civilization itself.
A bit of history
Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, Phoenicians… All of these cultures expressed the importance of winegrowing and winemaking in their manifold artistic representations, as well as considering wine a sacred object in religious rituals.
In the ancient world, wine—the sacred libation of pharoahs, nobles and clergy—was a vivid metaphor for celebrating the gods and a symbol of wealth and prosperity. This is captured in countless murals and engravings dating from the cultures immediately following the Neolithic Period.
In fact, the idea of wine as a cultural product, as having authorship, can be traced back to Ancient Egypt where archaeological finds include jars inscribed with the wine producer’s name and the intended recipient: “In the year 1. Good wine of the large irrigated terrain of the temple of Ramses II in Per-Amon. The chief of the wine-dressers, Tutmes.” We might be looking at the first “label” of a single vineyard wine.
A lot can be said about this topic, which is why we’ve decided to focus on contemporary popular culture’s portrayal of wine.
Wine and cinema
In the world of cinema, we encounter a curious paradox. Wine gets a rather narrow-minded treatment, which usually takes one of two forms: In most cases, wine is simply set dressing or at most a screenwriter’s device to develop characters, giving them an aura of class, shorthand for cultured and sophisticated, and exploiting a (false) idea of elitism and frivolity applicable to heroes and antiheroes alike. Here we have James Bond with his predilection for Bollinger champagne or the quintessential villain Hannibal Lecter who can’t resist a good Tuscan Chianti.
As for the industry’s own big-screen protrayal of wine, it tends to be excessively inward-looking and technical and thus generally appeals to a small audience of experts. A lay audience struggles to connect with documentaries that are usually produced by and for industry insiders. Attempts at turning the wine world into the setting of accessible mainstream films hasn’t been all that successful either, save for Sideways perhaps.
Wine and TV shows
TV shows are clearly experiencing their heyday and thus best reflect our present-day society… Except, of course, when it comes to wine: Mad Men, Cougar Town, Big Bang Theory… The genre makes no difference. The tendency is to cast wine in a soothing, relaxing role that seeks to provide an alcoholic (and socially acceptable) answer to myriad problems faced by characters who turn to wine as a shared form of solace and social communion.
However, older formats like the comic book or graphic novel are offering a more modern and innovative representation of wine. One example is the graphic novel Les Ignorants by Étienne Davodeau (published in Spain by La Cúpula). In this wonderfully enlightening exercise, two friends—a writer/illustrator and a winegrower—show each other their respective crafts. In doing so, they take the reader through both professions with ease and a sense of curiosity that grows with every page. A lovely example to inspire others, no doubt.
The world of literature, from Pliny the Elder and Omar Khayyam to Shakespeare and Dumas, has also sung the praises of wine. No one however has done so quite like Roald Dahl in his legendary story “Taste”, which almost amounts to a sociological study.
These days supermarket wine guides, how to books, and other non-fiction works fill the shelves of bookstores. However, the place where wine reaches its freest form of expression is on social media. Bloggers, wine writers and critics all find their niche online. It is up to the reader to separate the wheat from the chaff.
All of the above also applies to music. There is no need to go back to some bygone era. On the road, the representation of wine also strikes an emotional chord. Loss, falling in and out of love, loneliness and celebration are steeped in wine and melody. Here are five examples:
- Jeff Buckley. Lilac Wine
- Half Full Glass of Wine. Tame Impala
- Qui n’ha begut… Mishima
- Wine in the Afternoon. Franz Ferdinand
- Champagne Supernova. Oasis
We’ll keep on reading, watching, listening, drinking and falling in love.
Here’s to our health, wine and culture!