National Catholic Register

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What’s Red and White and Tasted All Over?

Catholic bloggers love their wine — in moderation, of course

BY ERIC SCHESKE

October 8-14, 2006 Issue | Posted 10/4/06 at 11:00 AM

 

It’s October, and that means harvest: corn, wheat, hay, pumpkins. Most importantly for me, it means grape harvesting and stepped-up wine production.

Catholics traditionally love wine. It’s the centerpiece of their liturgy on Sunday mornings and, often, the centerpiece of their dinners on Saturday nights. A Catholic editor once told me, “All good Catholics drink.” He spoke those words at lunch, while drinking Pepsi, so it was no drunken bombast.

He meant it, though I think it’s fairer to say, “A lot of great Catholics have loved wine.”

Read about the early 20th-century Catholic literary revival that biographer Joseph Pearce has chronicled so well. The wine flowed freely — so freely that you might think it was the fuel of the revival. G.K. Chesterton drank it, Maurice Baring balanced glasses of it on his bald head, Hilaire Belloc practically drank a barrel of it during a walking pilgrimage that he recounts in The Path to Rome.

Chesterton and Belloc loved the stuff so much that contemporaries claimed that they had misheard the Creed and thought it demanded belief in “One, Holy, Catholic, and Alcoholic Church.”

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Catholic bloggers write about wine. A lot. My own blog, The Daily Eudemon (ericscheske.com/blog), contains no fewer than 50 references to the vine and dedicates every Friday to drink.

Surf around and you’ll find that wine admirers flood the Catholic blogosphere. They love the fruit of the vine, the work of human hands, often citing Jesus’ first miracle at the Cana wedding feast as proof of wine’s goodness.

Take “Kenny” at The Sleepless Eye (kennyignatiusaugustine.blogspot.com). A child of Taoist parents, he’s a convert who has written a fine meditation on Cana, concluding, “God loves wine. If he didn’t, why on earth did he create grapes?”

Kenny is also a trained bartender, so it’s good to see that he hasn’t lost his faith in wine. People who are around alcohol the most are often the ones who despise it. The shattering effects of its abuse can deter the most ardent bacchanal.

Eschewing Excess

The desert father Abba Moses abused the awareness-altering substance during his pre-conversion days as a murderer and brigand. Blogger Karen Knapp (kmknapp.blogspot.com) tells us that Abba Moses once drank 18 pints of wine after robbing a shepherd of four rams.

I like to think that a nasty wine hangover catalyzed his conversion to one of the greatest desert holy men of all time. It’s not surprising that the Bible contains a dozen or so condemnations of excess consumption, which Athanasius Contra Mundum (athanasiuscm.blogspot.com) lays out while examining the Mel Gibson affair last summer (another unfortunate episode in the evil of excess).

Given the potential pitfalls with wine, it’s legitimate and even admirable for a Catholic to abstain totally. Bloggers like The Ironic Catholic (ironiccatholic.blogspot.com) have pointed out that Chapter 40 of the Rule of St. Benedict prescribed a half liter of wine every day, per monk. They fail to mention, though, that the same chapter promises a special reward for those who abstain.

The thing is, there’s a big difference between teetotalling and abstaining.

Abstaining is good, as long as the abstainer remembers that wine is good, too. If he forgets, perhaps he can recall a few of the humorous stories that surround wine. There are plenty, like the one about the response of the composer Brahms when presented with a fine wine that his host, lavishing praise on his distinguished guest, called “the Brahms of my cellar.” Brahms tasted it and said, “Better bring out your Beethoven.”

Bloggers frequently mention the pleasure of wine, whether it’s the blogger who recounts his last night before entering the Jesuit Novitiate, saying that he ate good food and drank good wine (higherplane.typepad.com); a blogger spilling wine on a distinguished nun (southwarkvocations.blogspot.com); or merely monologues that recount good wines, conversation, and food.


To Your Health

Wine obviously has a long history in Catholic culture, but Catholic blogger Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti (laudatortempo risacti.blogspot.com) reminds us that it had a distinguished career in pagan times, too, and not just among the Caligulas. He took the time to list more than 20 quotes by classical authors, from Euripides to Horace, singing the praises of wine. There’s this, for example, from Homer’s Odyssey: “Wine sets even a thoughtful man to singing / Or sets him into softly laughing, sets him to dancing.”

You can also find mundane facts about wine in the blogosphere, like the invention of robots that recommend good wines and cheeses to go with it (mirabilis.ca); Christian mutual funds that refuse to invest in wine companies but will invest in companies that donate to Planned Parenthood (cornell-catholic-cir cle.blogspot.com); and the existence of a pro-life wine company, Bogo Wines, which I learned about at theworldimho.blogspot.com. (I should have read the Register more carefully: It turns out this paper featured Bogo in a Prolife Profile some months back.)

This last summer, you could’ve even read that, like red wine, studies have shown that white wine is healthy for you, too (mirabilis.ca again). That’s good news, of course, but drinking wine for the health of it strikes me as similar to living out the marital union for the exercise.

If you want wine critiquing without pretension, check out the Catholic blogosphere’s reigning wine connoisseur, professor Stephen Bainbridge, at professorbainbrid geonwine.com.

Bainbridge is great, but my sentiments are more in line with Greg Krehbiel at Crowhill Weblog (crowhill.net/blog). He says, “In my opinion, the day you can no longer enjoy a bottle of cheap California wine is the day you’ve gone from ‘smart wine drinker’ to ‘snobby, stupid wine critic.’”

Amen to that. And praise to the world of wine and the Catholic bloggers who write about it.

Eric Scheske writes from

Sturgis, Michigan