The Sublime Language of Wine and Poetry

Wine and poetry share a natural harmony. The vivid imagery wine evokes pairs beautifully with the lyrical essence of poetry. These kindred spirits both speak a language beyond words, conveying feeling and transporting us to another world. Wine inspires poetry. Poetry complements wine. Together they take us on a journey that nourishes the soul.

Wine as Muse

Wine has served as a muse for poets and inspired verse across cultures for thousands of years. The themes and metaphors wine offers are rich and varied. Poets are captivated by wine’s ability to unlock creativity and passion.

The enthusiasm, joy, and revelry of the Bacchanalian festivals of ancient Greece fueled lyrical praise of wine. In Homeric times, wine in poetry represented civilization triumphing over wildness, sparking creativity from chaos. For the Romans, wine signified both prosperity and dissipation.

In the Bible, wine appears over 250 times as sustenance and a blessing, but also excess. From the vine-growing parables of Jesus to the “Song of Vineyards” in Isaiah, grape cultivation and winemaking symbolize spiritual truth. The Sufi poets like Hafiz used the intoxication of wine as a metaphor for divine love.

The incomparable beauty of vineyards and the romance of wine are immortalized in verse. Poets are drawn to capture wine’s inspiration and its contradictions.

Tasting Notes in Verse

Beyond broad themes, poetry has a remarkable power to describe the precise sensory experience of individual wines. The layered scents, tastes, mouthfeel, and finish of a wine offer much to unpack poetically.

Metaphors for a white may compare its pale golden hue to straw or sunshine. A red’s rich crimson tone is likened to velvet and rubies. The cascade of bubbles in a sparkling wine evokes stars or sea foam.

When tasting, poets reach for comparisons to other fruits and flowers to capture a wine’s unique aroma profile. A white with stone fruit notes may be apricot kiss’d. For reds, cherries could be jarred, blackberries crushed. Floral tones like honeysuckle and violet often appear.

Texture and mouthfeel also inspire poetic language. A crisp white with racy acidity bites, while a rounder one with more body caresses. The chewy tannins of a bold red fur the tongue. The long, tailored finish of a structured red marches on and on.

Poets are sommeliers of language, curating vivid images that describe each wine’s essence and distinctiveness. Their rich lexicon captures subtleties prose cannot.

Wine Country as Setting

Vineyard landscapes themselves, especially those with romantic Old World charm, get celebrated in poetry. Among the most picturesque wine regions to inspire verse are Tuscany, Burgundy, and Napa Valley.

From the orderly rows of grapes to the charming stone wineries and villas, there is harmony that speaks to the poetic spirit. Vine leaves unfurling in spring or golden autumn grape clusters ready for harvest make enticing subject matter.

Poets are transported, observing workers tending the vines by hand, steadfast against the elements. The connection between man and nature feels profoundly spiritual. Sunset over vine-striped hills or dappled sunlight through the trellises stimulates the imagination.

The simple pastoral beauty of vineyards in autumn, the decadence of luxuriant summer growth, and the dormancy of winter equally fascinate as metaphors. The seasons reflected in the vineyard calendar become symbols of the cycles of life.

Wine and Love Poetry

Wine is inherently intertwined with notions of romance, passion, and intimacy. The wine cellar is an allegory for the mysteries of love waiting to be unlocked and savored. Vivid love poetry draws on wine’s seductive properties.

The figures of the wine pourer and the one drinking merge as metaphors for courtship. The delicacy of tasting wine parallels new romance. Love intoxicates all the senses and changes one’s view, like entering an altered state.

The color and taste of one’s lips on the rim of the glass are described intimately. The interplay of giving, receiving, and sharing wine mirrors the rhythms of romance. Wine accentuates closeness and conviviality, inspiring verse on how it enhances love’s pleasures.

But wine’s tendency to reveal truth also uncovers the dark side of love. Jealousy and infidelity exposed after too much drink make dramatic themes. Poetry explores love’s curdling when drunk on someone other than one’s lover.

Wine in Verse Through the Ages

The grape has ripened in vineyards for 8,000 years alongside the evolution of poetry. Let’s taste through history’s great poets and their wine poems.

Ancient World

Sappho – Greece’s lyrical poetess depicts wine as a conduit to the divine, bringing clarity and truth. Her Fragment 2 sings of the “nectar distilled in gold coupes,” making one “soon able to unfold secrets even immortals would keep occult.”

Sappho" fresco, Pompeii (Illustration) - World History Encyclopedia

Sappho” fresco, Pompeii (Illustration) – World History Encyclopedia

Anacreon – For this Greek lyrist, wine disables inhibition to catalyze singing, dancing and “rash amour.” His boozy, playful odes celebrate wine’s transformative magic.

Virgil – His Georgics detail Italian grape growing and winemaking. Book 2 praises vineyards sloping to the sun “where Massic hills glow with the hallowed nectar of the wine god.”

Li Bai – Tang dynasty poet deemed the “Poet Immortal.” His “Song of Drinking” sees wine as a means to commune with the moon while transcending earthly troubles.

Omar Khayyám – This Persian polymath’s Rubaiyat equates the fermentation of grapes to life’s mysteries. For him, the beauty of the “Vine that gushes with Wine” justifies life’s brevity.

Renaissance and Enlightenment

Shakespeare – Falstaff’s praise of “a good sherris sack” in Henry IV shows wine’s warming and uplifting effects. It “ascends me into the brain,” giving “bold eloquence.”

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

John Donne – In poems like “The Dampe,” Donne details wine’s heat, fumes and “mighty power.” But also its “cold, earthy, flake-walled room” of a cellar.

Robert Herrick– His ode “To Bacchus” requests the god “dip thy rosy feet in wine” to make each grape delicious and “full of spirit” as his verses.

Alexander Pope – Translating Homer’s Odyssey, his sirens scene has them “spread the tempting feast” of cheeses, figs, creams and fragrant wine to waylay sailors.

Li Qingzhao – Song dynasty female poet used wine metaphors for heartache. She still smells lingering “sweet malt and grain” in emptied goblets, evoking love’s aftertaste.

Romantic Era

John Keats – His “Ode to a Nightingale” longs for a drink of wine that “dance[s] and bubble[s]” in the nightingale’s world, transcending pain and mortality.

Percy Bysshe Shelley – His musings on the fallen leaves in autumn in “The Seasons” make them “strew the brookside” like “scatterings of the Bacchus festival.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – His poem “Drinking Song” sees wine as a key that “opens all the senses” to life’s beautiful mysteries “so not one wonders how they came to be.”

Li Yu – Chinese poet of solitude whose “On Drinking Wine,” declares that wine “dissolves my sorrow, disperses my depressed moods” and keeps melancholy at bay.

Bashō Matsuo – Haiku master poet featuring sake in verse like “With the sake cup, the cherry blossom looks even lovelier.” He elevates the everyday to art.

20th Century

Edna St. Vincent Millay – Her famous verse on life being fleeting begins, “My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—It gives a lovely light!”

D.H. Lawrence – His “Last Lesson of the Afternoon” describes the “sacramental wine, like fire” he drinks beneath the elderberries which “heats the pith of my bones.”

Gary Snyder – Beat poet whose “Drinking Alone by Moonlight” marvels that when “pick up the wine jug by the ears, I begin to worry with mountain moonlight.”

Gwendolyn Brooks – First African American to win the Pulitzer Prize, her “wine poem” asks, “is it naught to us / If we gain the skies, / And booze the stars, / Lose the world, and die?”

Gwendolyn Brooks | Poetry Foundation

Gwendolyn Brooks | Poetry Foundation

Jorge Luis Borges – Argentinian who references wine over a hundred times in his labyrinthine poems. It represents nourishment but also fading joy, like how “remnants of wine show red when the bottle is empty.”


Mary Oliver – Her idyllic “Messenger” describes plucking a sun-warmed grape and “the sweet pulp give[s] way, collapsed on the tongue and I knew that I was tasting a cloud on a summer day.”

W.S. Merwin – Pulitzer-winning poet of nature whose “After the Solstice” observes the vines “rising in the cold” on “these dark days filled with more darkness than light”. But spring will come again.

W.S. Merwin - Poetry Center

W.S. Merwin – Poetry Center

Christian Wiman – His ode “From Blossoms” rhapsodizes the vinegar born of wine’s exuberance when “boredom or time ruins all that effervescent garden, / granulates the honey into diamonds of dark summer”.

Ellen Bass – Her “Relax & Drink Deeply Of This One Thing” reminds us “Wine is still sacred. The cup and the blood are one.” Wine remains elemental, connecting us to past and future.

David Baker – His “Ode to My Drunk Uncle” speaks vividly of “sweet vermouth, anisette, Johnnie / Walker Black in the marble-rye darkness. / Half-glasses beading up all over the house.”

This small tasting shows wine’s diversity as poetic inspiration across the centuries and around the world. The grape’s essence transcends time and culture to stimulate human expression.

Winemaking as Poetic Process

Winemaking itself, when described in detail, takes on the sensual, regimented beauty of a poem. Each step of the journey from vine to bottle brims with metaphor.

In verdant spring, the nascent grape clusters appear as “green unripened beads️” on the branches. Vines bloom into leaf like a dancer’s arms reaching in grand battement.

Summer heat brings the first glimpses of veraison, as berries blush red “like a maiden’s cheek”. Warmth swells the taut skin and a “ruby tear / wells within each fruit”. Thunderstorms drum up anticipation.

Threshing leaves mark autumn’s arrival like “emeralds discarded from a jar”. Vineyards bear a “mosaic of topaz, citrine, Peridot” as fruit ripens. Workers harvest by hand, backs “curved like sickles” snipping each bunch.

Day and night, pressed grapes release tears of juice to ferment “from grain to grape to gauze.” Inleeping oxygen unlocks color and texture like “a set of nesting dolls.” Barrels embrace the aging wine for a slumber, round and oaken.

Finally, the winemaker releases the vintage by cork drawn “like Excalibur” from stone. The circle of vine to wine bottles a journey of microbiological magic. Each stage of transformation echoes life itself.

Wine Poetry Collections

Many budding Bacchuses have penned entire poetry collections dedicated to wine’s lore. Here are some must-reads for wine and verse aficionados.

The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox – Lushly imagines the 19th-century French countryside through an affair between a vintner and a fallen angel.

Ardor by Kevin Young – Sensual musings on wine’s heat and heartbreak’s afterburn told through love letters to wine itself.

Wine Poems edited by Kevin Perry – Spans centuries of wine poems from ancient Greece to modern greats like Neruda, Paz, and Angelou.

Vintage by David Baker – Poetry and prose vignettes on wine’s grip on memory, time, and the sacred overlaying the profane.

Wine, the Vine, and the Bicycle by Lisa Colt – Joyful tales of wine growing and winemaking in rhythm with the California seasons.

The Poetry of Wine by Gerry Sapers – In over 200 poems, oenophile Sapers covers wine types, rituals, effects, language, history and mystery.

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea – Epic family saga of a miraculous Mexican heroine entwined with vines, drink, and magic.

Wine Labels as Poetry

Wine labels represent a tiny canvas on which wineries can express their ethos through words. Many opt for poetry over prosaic description to capture the wine’s spirit.

Labels for Tablas Creek Vineyard wines feature stanzas from poets their Rhône style wines evoked, like Wordsworth, Neruda, and Dryden. Other wineries select verses touching on the region’s landscape or cultural history.

Short-form poetry communicates the essence of a wine directly on the bottle. Rhyming quatrains and haiku supply pleasant surprises uncorked. Creative wine names like “Waltz of the Wild Woman” or “Ballade of the Moonchild” add whimsy.

Wineries also collaborate with poets to bring verse to their label. Bonny Doon works with Iowa Poet Laureate Marvin Bell to pair his original poems to their quirky wines. Oregon’s Sweet Cheeks Winery has special edition labels with poetry by a local writer.

So next time you browse a wine shop, look out for poetry embellishing the cherished space of a bottle’s back label. Let the wine’s verse guide your selection and enrich the experience.

How to Host a Wine and Poetry Pairing

Combining wine and poetry in your own event is a deep, sensory exploration perfect for a gathering of friends. Follow this guide for a sublime tasting.

Set the Mood

Craft a relaxed atmosphere conducive to unfolding verse and wine. Candles, soft lighting, fresh flowers and gentle music work well. Arrange comfortable seating for discussion. Provide notebooks and pens for reflection.

Select Wines

Choose diverse wines – a sparkling, white, red, dessert – that lend themselves to vivid imagery. Seek wines with compelling stories behind them that connect to place and people. Avoid oaky, highly tannic wines that clash with lyrical experience.

Curate Poems

Select poems that resonate with the wines’ flavor profiles, origins, and seasonal nature. Look for works evoking the history and landscape of the region, feelings conjured by the varietals, or metaphors for the development from grape to glass.

Guide the Pairing

First, introduce each wine – its story, style, and notes. Then read aloud its paired poem. Maintain focus by keeping pairings to 5-6 wines max. Allow silence to let the wine and words harmonize. Finally, invite guests to share observations, emotions stirred, and other poems they found meaningful.

Optional prompts for further discussion

  • What images, memories or senses does this pairing evoke for you?
  • Do the wine and poem harmonize or create an intriguing contrast?
  • How do the tempo, language, and emotions conveyed compare?
  • What in the poem resonates with this wine varietal or method uniquely?

Send-off with Song

Conclude by having everyone read a line from a favorite poem aloud around the table. Share one last glass while either playing music or having guests recite their own vineyard verses. End the night on a melodic note.

Wine and poetry both have the power to move, inspire and delight. Together their impact is exponential. Host your own wine and poetry pairing to experience new depths of each artform. Let the creative spirit of Bacchus and Apollo connect you to something beyond words. Salut!

Want to read more? Try these books!

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Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesBy Published On: September 1, 2023Last Updated: February 29, 2024

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