Friday, December 7, 2007

Wine as a Vehicle for Discourse and Discussion

Wine has the ability to transform conversation from the mundane lecture to an elaborate show. Wine was the pivotal device used during Roman convivium as well as Greek Symposiums, the word symposium in Greek meaning drinking together. A dozen or more men would drink wine in this formal occasion and discuss the subjects of the time. Today we have events where social elite gather sometimes a dozen at a time for a class, or other times a multitude numbering over one thousand participants for discussion and discourse. Wine is prevalent at these events as well; however wine is the center of discussion at these events. Instead of wine being the vehicle to spur discussion, the wine itself not only spurs the discussion, but is the center of the conversation.

During the time of the Greek and Roman social gatherings, wine was not what we think of wine being today. Although texts speak of the social elite of the time drinking a fuller-bodied wine than the lower classes, this by no means is to relate the difference between Beaujolais and Bordeaux. Instead the differences were more on the difference of wine being fermented from grapes or a liquid fermented from the addition of water to grape skins and stems which had already been pressed for wine to be drunk by the upper classes. The wine was also heavily adulterated with any manner of spices, herbs, honey and was watered down to a lower alcohol level. One would surmise that this watering down of the wine, would explain the ability for people at these gatherings to drink vast quantities of wine and still be able to speak. The wine was mixed at different proportions but the standard measures of water-to-wine seem to be 3:1, 5:3, and 3:2. Evidence in carvings does show us that the occasional "social" drinker of the time, did succumb to vomiting from the excessive drinking of wine, so the social speaking may not have always been of the utmost of character or content.

Although there were certain differences in the custom of the events between the Romans and the Greeks, a few things were constants. The groups were of varying sizes ranging from a dozen or more men. They were attended to by young boys, women who could have been dancers or prostitutes, and musicians were there for entertainment as well. The attendants were of varying use, perhaps in the beginning of the evening, more there for attendance to bring more wine or in the case of the convivium where food was present, more food would be brought to them. On occasion, women were also allowed to partake on occasion of wine that attended from the same class. This was a debated issue in both gatherings, as women who drank were often seen as harlots and easily succumb to adulterous ways when influenced by drinking wine. As the evening progressed in "social" conversation it would not be uncommon for men to excuse themselves from the conversation to partake in the sexual use of one of these attendants, be it one of the young boys or women or even one of the other members of the event. The men obviously had no issue of adultery when it came to their own practice. The theme of such events could range from varying ideas, but often the Greek or Roman Gods of wine Dionysus and Bacchus would be proper discussion.

We fast-forward to the 21st century to see the changes from the Greek and Roman days, to the days of wine gatherings here in Boston. Wine has now not only become the physical stimulant that it was during the past, but it is now part of the intellectual conversation. Here in Boston, the largest expo of wine exhibits some of the top producers of wine in the world along with its own symposiums on wine including topics such as New Zealand Pinot noir, food and wine pairing and emerging wine regions of the world. The Boston Wine Expo even offers a Grand Cru Wine Lounge. One could compare this lounge to the small group of men discussing their topics in their chambers, except in this case, the wine surely again is the topic of discussion. One would surmise in this case that this room is of the more elite social members of the event. Classes are held at Boston University through it's Wine Studies at Boston University's Elizabeth Bishop Wine Resource Center. As well as a Readings in Wine History class offered to Boston University's Masters Of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy students.

The similarities and differences abound between the Roman/ Greek events and the modern day events. Both are centered on wine which is obvious. One could argue that both events attract a particular class of individual. Although the Boston Wine Expo has become quite large in it's sixteen years, it still requires an entrance fee, and the individual classes require an average of eighty-five dollars for the tasting fee. The classes at Boston University range from twelve hundred dollars and upward of twenty-five hundred dollars, while a semester at Boston University is upwards of seventeen thousand dollars. With these price-points as reference, one would say that they are generally priced out of the common-man's price range. So like the Greek and Roman events, these modern day events are centered on an elite and usually educated class of individual that looks toward at time a "class distinction" that the "wine-culture" brings to them. Differences abound however, the debauchery associated with the prior events of sexual discourse are publicly not evident; as well the normalcy of the regular attendee vomiting from excess is not readily seen either. Both of these ideas in modern civility are frowned upon.

One can see that wine has changed in matter and form from the days of the Greek and Romans to modern day. What was once a vehicle for discussion has now become a topic of civility and social/cultural phenomenon. Although the debauchery of days past has left the modern style of wine centered symposium, what has not left is the idea that wine is an integral part of our society. The modern events not only have added true civility to wine, but have all but removed the uncivil acts that were once part of the wine drinking elite's events. Wine events have now come to a point where we actually study these events of the past and are able to draw conclusions such as these, that wine is an integral part of our society and will remain so into the distant future as it was with our Greek and Romans ancestors.

1 comment:

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