Joseph Mills, author of A Guide to North Carolina’s Wineries and faculty member of the NC School of the Arts, recently released a book of wine poems titled Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers.
I was contacted by Mills, who asked if I’d be interested in writing a review of the new collection. It didn’t take me long to say Yes, since
- my undergrad major was English Lit, and I really dig poetry (not a well-known fact about me, I suppose), and
- I really, really dig wine (hopefully you’ve caught onto that one already).
In the realm of wine poetry, Mills doesn’t exactly have a ton of competition. Hafiz comes to mind, and I’m not sure 600+ year old verse is the best to go by for the purpose of comparative analysis. So, we’ll just have to review Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers on its own poetic merits.
How does Mills’ collection stand up?…
The Low Down
Dylan Thomas he’s not, but Mills has a gift for creating interesting and accessible verse, often including a subversive and thought-provoking twist.
Take, for example, the poem Opening Up which starts (quite humorously) by putting the reader in a familiar position:
As the dinner progressed / people’s comments / about each wine / became increasingly / ridiculous, and when / the woman beside me / praised the way a red / unfolded in the mouth, / I snorted so hard / I almost shot snot / onto my plate.
The same poem concludes a tad more soberly:
If we’re lucky / as the years unfold / we open up / until we reach a point / we can appreciate / one another’s complexities / and even the tart irony / of finding yourself / at the table’s next seat, / taking seriously, / so many of those things / you once mocked.
Buy It or Skip It?
Buy it – If you’re into wine, you’ll find something to like in Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers.
At their worst, Mills’ poems read a bit too much like the short-hand from a personal journal. At their best, they’re immediately accessible, clever, and offer nuggets of truth that are just dark enough to get you thinking.
I often found myself wishing Mills had ended a poem earlier to impart greater impact, rather than trying to tidy up his sentiment with an additional verse or two – it feels as though he sometimes errs on the side of playing it safe for the reader. In Sea Changes, Mills writes: “In college I read / the Iliad and Odessey, / and although I thought / they could be shorter, / overall they were better / than I expected” – I could apply the same critique to a number of the offerings in Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers.
But there’s no doubting Mills’ flair and cleverness, which alone make Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers a worthwhile read (preferably with a glass of interesting vino in one hand).
(images: fortscotch.files.wordpress.com, amazon.com, 24hourmuseum.org.uk)
Arthur Przebinda (of redwinebuzz.com) has an opinion piece published today in the L.A. Times‘ Blowback section. It’s well worth a few minutes of your busy time to read.
In his well-written rebuttal of Joel Stein’s amusing but ultimately misguided take on “wine snobbery”, Arthur contends that the language of serious oenophiles is not meant to be pedantic, and is actually no different in principal than that of a dedicated sports fan (or a passionate follower of any field):
“…the knowledge informed wine enthusiasts possess is no less meaningful, less interesting nor more ‘snobbish’ or difficult than the performance statistics in the head of a sports fan or the technical information rattled off by car aficionados.”
In other words, it’s just geek talk. And geek talk does not necessarily a snob make…
By the way, I don’t use the term geek pejoratively – in fact, I prefer to use the term “wine geek” to describe my own passion for wine (as do most of my wine industry buddies).
I love the company of wine geeks, just as I love the company of people who know way, way too much about the wood combinations of MTD basses. Because talking about wine, for me, is the apex of fun.
While I would rather leap off a 4 story building with my arms and legs bound and an anvil tied to my head than discuss fantasy baseball, you might love discussing fantasy baseball with your pals. I certainly wouldn’t ridicule you for doing it – and I’d expect you to show the same respect to us wine geeks.
I think where Arthur has this right, and where Stein is way off the mark, is that wine talk itself does not equate to snobbishness. As the famous Micahel Broadbent put it in Winetasting:
“If there is such a thing as a wine snob, he or she will have all the atributes of any other sort of snob: affectation and pretentiousness covering up the lack of everything that makes a person worthy of serious attention.”
Kind of like when Stein starts off an article with “When wine drinkers tell me they taste notes of cherries, tobacco and rose petals, usually all I can detect is a whole lot of jackass.”
Far worse than a snob in any case is a bore. The seriously smart Mr. Broadbent was onto this in a big way – also from Winetasting:
“A great expert can be a bore, particularly if speaking out of context, being repetitive, pedantic, opinionated… or merely intoing in a tedious, grinding, long-winded way. The wine bore is the person who speaks about wine when no one is inclined to listen, or to the exclusion of all else.”
Sounds right on the money to me, as it can easily be applied to any field of geek interest. Like wine, or fantasy baseball.
As Brit-pop music icon Morrissey sang, This World is Full of Crashing Bores. Wine bores. Fantasy Baseball bores.
And L.A. Times reporting bores.
(images: ewinetasting.com, viva-hater @ flickr.com, informationleafblower.com)
Alzheimer’s Disease, the most prominent form of disorders impacting the brain that we widely term as dementia, is a subject near and dear to the Dude’s heart.
What many people don’t know is that Alzheimer’s is in the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. Currently, the disease is fatal, and there is no cure. Yet. What’s particularly insidious about Alzheimer’s is the toll it takes on those who care the most about its victims.
My grandmother, now in her mid-90s, has Alzheimer’s. She has forgotten how to descend stairs, so she is confined to the second story of the house that she shares with my mother. When I visited her recently and tried to show her my newborn baby, my grandmother simply stared at as and softly shook her head from side to side. She had no idea who we were, and we likely were scaring the hell out of her with our behavior.
So you might imagine that I am no friend to Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t hate much in this world, and I consider hate a very strong word to use in any circumstances. I hate Alzheimer’s. I’ve yet to make any peace with it (apologies to the Buddhists out there… I am trying!).
What does this have to do with wine?…
A Swedish study has found a possible link between moderate wine drinking and lower instances of dementia. The study is hardly conclusive, but it suggests that wine may help protect against certain forms of dementia, and gives credence to follow-up studies that would explore the possible link further:
“These findings, in combination with the fact that women today drink more wine than 40 years ago, show that it is important to continue to do research on this correlation. In future analyses we will be studying the effect on more specific types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Other research methods will be needed in order to see what role wine and other alcoholic beverages play in the development of dementia“
Of course, there is a flip-side to this coin (and as any regular readers of this blog can tell you, it’s my M.O. to show to a sobering flip-side in these situations). Other unrelated studies have found a possible correlation between heavy drinking and the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. According to one such study, heavy alcohol consumption might contribute to speeding up the onset of Alzheimer’s by up to 5 years.
As usual, moderation is probably best.
I hate to end on a down note, so I decided that I’d like to put my money where my mouth is.
From now through September 1st, 2008, I will donate 50% of the proceeds from the sale of my Tasting Guide to the Alzheimer’s Association. If you have a wine-related website or blog, please consider becoming an Affiliate to sell my guide on your site during that time. If it’s successful, I may extend it indefinitely – so stay tuned, and help spread the word.
You can also help the cause to fight Alzheimer’s by displaying a ribbon from Caring.com on your website or blog. Each ribbon means a $10 caring.com donation to the Alzheimer’s Association. Check out the one in the 1WineDude.com sidebar for a preview.
(images: soundentistry.com, blog.makezine.com)