Thursday, May 21, 2009

Biblical Enology

  • Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Ecclesiastes 9:7
I am sure I am not the first to notice, but it seems to me that wine is a thoroughly biblical drink. On the one hand, the Bible obviously has a lot to say about alcoholic beverages, with no lack of admonitions against drinking to excess or otherwise being mastered by alcohol. It is particularly negative about beverages on either extreme of the alcoholic content spectrum; that is, I cannot find a single positive reference in the Bible to beer on one end, or to distilled spirits (“strong drink”) on the other.

Wine is a different story. Though the Scriptures abound in passages warning against drunkenness and addiction to wine, they have a number of positive things to say about wine in general, as in the verse quoted above. The beverage is usually associated with joy and celebration, particularly at the time of harvest. In the Old Testament it is often part and parcel with sacrifices and offerings, and of course is an integral part of the Passover meal.

Positive references to wine also abound in the New Testament, starting with the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. Later in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul advised his disciple Timothy to "stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses." And there are various references to Jesus drinking wine, including its visible role in that ultimate Passover meal, the Last Supper.

Of course much of the reason behind this is cultural, as the fruit of the vine has been part of the Mediterranean culture since time immemorial. Being born and raised in an Italian family, I can very much relate. Like most children of Italian immigrants, I often participated in parentally supervised underage drinking, accompanying delicious meals with some sufficiently diluted wine.

Ironically enough, however, for most of my adult life, I could take it or leave it. It is only in the past decade or so that I have begun to appreciate a good glass of wine. Maybe it’s due to more frequent trips to Italy and time with my relatives, causing me to take more pride and joy in my Italian-ness. I indeed have fond memories from decades ago of the vineyards that were lovingly kept by my grandfather, Nonno Nicola, or my great uncle, Zio Nino. (Zio Nino is pictured in the center , along with my Zia Nunzia on the left and my dad on the right, taking a break in a shady spot of his beloved vineyards. He was determined to keep working them and in his broken English he would say, "The day I stop working, I die.")

I would love to renew that tradition but, alas, the vineyards aren’t there anymore. But I do enjoy making wine, even without the benefit of my own vineyards. I will have more to say about that in my next post.

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