Loss of love is surely the most common reason to drink deeply, writes Tom Harrow in his latest wine column: Notes from the Bottom of a Bottle. He takes a tour of the tipples of some notorious ex-lovers, and offers some sage advice ...


Loss of any kind is as good a reason as any to commence a bout of extended drinking. A previous column dealt with what to drink when one's livelihood becomes uncertain--particularly in the once-glamorous world of finance. Now I will address the way the end of a relationship provides a fine excuse to wallow--metaphorically and literally--in alcohol. Loss of love is surely the most common reason to drink deeply.

History is full of ex-lovers self-medicating with alcohol when an affair unravels. Anthony and Cleopatra’s Dionysian appetite for sex and strong drink reached a new intensity in the face of adversity, as the legions of Rome encircled Alexandria, foretelling the end of their sybaritic union. More speculatively, after ending his scandalous romance with Eloise, Peter Abelard, a brilliant 11th-century scholastic theologian, almost certainly sank a few jars of mead to get over his castration (actual and psychological in his case) before taking Holy Orders--a common enough resolution among heartbroken young men in the centuries before the French Foreign Legion offered an alternative diversion.

The link between the cloister and the cellar is well established. That monks often brew rather than brood over lost love has enriched society’s spiritual well-being at least as much as their prayers of intercession. The great Abbey of Cluny in France was long a centre of Burgundy production; more latterly, lands belonging to the Abbazia di Rosazzo in Friuli, Italy made some of this exciting but little explored region’s finest and age-worthy wines. And of course where would the world of sparkling wine be without Domsigneurs Ruinart and Perignon of Champagne.

From a monastic cell to "Reading Gaol"--Oscar Wilde, following his public disgrace in Britain and exile to Europe, finished his life nursing absinthe and crushed dreams in the Café de Paris. With his professional reputation ruined and the final chapter of his tempestuous relationship with Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas finally over, Wilde sought refuge in the Green Fairy:

After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world.

Not one but two potions are at the heart of Romeo and Juliet’s doomed romance in what must be the most famous literary admonishment for mixing one’s drinks.  First she takes a sleeping draft "seeming as death"--cheap Ruby Port has much the same effect. Believing her gone, he swallows actual poison--"a bitter conduct…unsavoury guide". I'm reminded of my notes from a tasting of Macedonian reds. 

Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, who suffer "from a love which must transcend life itself", sip from a poisoned chalice but mistakenly imbibe the essence of pure love, clearly a concentrated Viagra tonic, which only serves to prolong the agony of the lovers (and the audience) for a further two acts.

Then there is Guy Ritchie. London's tabloids rarely manage a week without photos of Madonna’s ex grinning waxily and stumbling out of the Punch Bowl, his Mayfair boozer, after putting away several dozen pints of Courage Best, Bombardier or Old Speckled Hen.

For the refined Epicurean, this essence of pure love might be embodied in a very old Sauternes or Tokaji dessert wine, an elixir sweet but balanced by its acidity--complex but harmonious, richly nutty with age but still with traces of youth’s exuberant honeyed fruit. Others might choose a venerable red Burgundy, a 1990 Grand Cru perhaps, which arouses cerebrally as much as sensuously, suffusing both the intellect and the palate, the perfect combination of personality and looks to distract you from the end of an affair.

Against the charge of seeking to encourage the post break-up bender, I will answer that wine is actively good for one’s heart, broken or whole. We have long accepted that red wine thins the blood, preventing the build up of cholesterol that hardens arteries which can lead to heart problems. Now research is showing that the compound resveratrol, present in the skins of red-wine grapes, preserves the body as wine (and love) confuse the mind. It manipulates genes to prevent age-related changes in your heart, keeping it robust, healthy and thus more resilient against the wounds of thwarted passion. 

So while her ex guzzles pints of ale, I recommend that Madonna, health-conscious and heart-sore, continue preferring the Kosher wines of the Rimon Estate in Galilee. These are distinctively made with pomegranates so even richer in anti-oxidants, neutralising more free radicals than grapes. But apart from the health and science stuff, while grapes are the symbol of Bacchus, the Pomegranate is Aphrodite’s fruit--and from whom should one seek favour when a Love lies broken, than the Goddess herself?

Picture credit
: Illustration by Bayard Jones from "The Honor of the Name" (1903)

, from Digital Sextant (via Flickr)

(Tom Harrow is an independent wine merchant specialising in wine-tasting events, cellar consultancy and vineyard tours through his company A Moveable Feast, Ltd. He is the author of a regular column for Urban Junkies and his own wine blog. His last piece for More Intelligent Life was about sherry and Heston Blumenthal.)