Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Wrath of Grapes

In the hands of experts, language is an instrument. Marguerite Duras, for example, sounds like a cello, playing an eternally plangent tune. Annie Proulx seems more like a bassoon, often on the verge of a hee haw. Norman Mailer, more profound and in control with nonfiction (The Whisper of the Axe, and Why Are We in Viet Nam?) Garrison Keeler--another bassoon, while Louise Erdrich is the ensemble effect of the string quartet.

On the subject of music, you have only to read any review in The New York Times by Ben Ratliff to get a musical education simply through his use of language.

All of which brings me to the unexpected pleasure dwelling within the Dining In S
ection of today's New York Times like a second maraschino cherry hiding out in a bowl of tapioca.

The language that so
impressed me is still American English, and unlike some of the scholarly jargon I've had to deal with in a life of editing books, not only accessible but in its way lovely, somewhat like a tipsy socialite at the afternoon tea at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco or, in its better days, the lounge at the Cafe Carlyle in New York. I almost got on to The Four Seasons Biltmore here in Santa Barbara, but this being Central Coast, the socialites don't drink things that make them tipsy, they drink celery juice.

I am talking about the vocabulary used to describe wine. There is a 2004 Meursault (Burgundy from France) that is intense with creamy structure , length and harmony with a butterscotch taste.

A 2004 California Chardonnay from Hanzell is described as having a finish that sails o, revealing a tight band of fruit, and my favorite is the Pouilly-Fume from the Loire Valley in France, of which it is said that it is subtle but very complex. The long stony finish is creamy in texture but also racy and fresh. Really lingers.

Curious, I tried the wine column in our local paper, the Montecito Journal, which is written by a serious enologist with a Ph.D. Sure enough, she had put some time looking at words to describe the amazing wonders of vitis vinifera.

No stranger to the grap
e nor the inner price one must sometimes pay for too intense a relationship, I turn in wonderment to an area yet closer to my heart and there I attempt to apply the language of the grape to the printed word.

Norman Mailer: a robust, sometimes clangorous finish, an occasionally off-putting nose, and a stony, lingering aftertaste.

Jane Austen: A racy, fresh bouquet with subtle lemony overtones and an unexpected finish.

John Updike: A fruity opening band with flinty overtones.

Gore Vidal: A tart, robust texture with subtle lemony aftertaste.

Edgar Allen Poe: A brash, flinty bouquet with insistent overtones and focused finis


Anonymous said...

How about Truman Capote - who, I suspect, influenced many of us more than we might think?
- Karen

lowenkopf said...

Truman Capote: an edgy, lemony finish with butterscotch bouquet and subtle, complex overtones.

John Eaton said...

In vino veritas, Shelly.

Wonderful post, smoky with a hint of oak and edgy sun, like Jack Daniels in a good glass with one icecube.

John :)

*optional lounging hound dog subject to winery approval.

**and was it Truman who said Norman was a typist?