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The Tempest: Delirious and Delicious

by John Axelrod ©2016

When it comes to Shakespeare, all the world is a stage. Composers knew this well. The wit, the humor, the comedy, the tragedy, the fallibility and nobility of our romantic love and its betrayal is all there in the immortal words from the Great Bard. That which makes us human is mirrored in his writings. And those human stories easily inspired composers from Berlioz to Mendelssohn to Dvorak to Tchaikovsky to Strauss. It is hard to even count the number of works based on Shakespeare’s plays. Probably, the most famous today remains Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, but it was his symphonic fantasy overture based on The Tempest that was more popular during Tchaikovsky’s lifetime. This work is full of the drama and fury most identified with Prospero’s magic and Ariel’s winds, the monstrous Caliban, the love story between Ferdinand and Miranda, and, of course, the perfect storm at sea.

The Tempest, made by Realm Cellars, was the first proprietary wine Realm released, also inspired by Shakespeare, and so aptly named for the “perfect” storm of grape varietals that became available at the same time, from the same vineyard, in 2002 -- the year of the wineries tumultuous start. The wine is dominated by merlot with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and a touch of petit verdot and draws inspiration from France’s Premier Cru traditions. The 2011 vintage, tasting of plum, chocolate and cassis, has a luxuriously rich brandied cherry and blackberry aromatics surround a cinnamon and nutmeg spice core, which carry through onto the palate. A juicy red fruit entry transforms into a luscious finish that is capped off by elegant and refined tannins. “The Tempest” is dark and brooding, like the sea itself.

Though their equipment was borrowed and the winery its owner occupied was unfinished, the grapes were sound that year, beautiful in fact, and the resulting wine reflected a fierce determination to brave the storm. The Tempest is a roiling cauldron of lush, bright, red fruit, a wine that shows what Merlot can be in the right hands, from the right vineyards. Since then, all of Realm Cellar wines have been named after Shakespeare: Falstaff and the Bard.

Wine was available in Shakespeare's England, but it was very expensive, much more so than ale, and only the upper classes could enjoy it regularly. English grapes were not adequate for winemaking so they imported their wines from France, Spain, and Greece. Sack, a sweet wine fortified with brandy (known today as sherry), was most popular with the Elizabethans. Had they known about this fantastic wine from Realm Cellars which is not overly priced around 75€, maybe the good Queen herself would have encouraged Shakespeare to do more than simply write. Rumor has it he did, if Edward de Vere as the true author has any merit.

We do know Tchaikovsky was the real author of his music, even though his relationship with the widow Nadezhda von Meck might be as uncertain in truth as was that of Elisabeth and the Edward, the Earl of Oxford. And it was his fantasy overture, The Tempest that made such an indelible impression on von Meck that she assumed the roles of both muse and Maecenas, and for fourteen years supported him through crises financial and emotional. In fact, The Tempest was the first work of Tchaikovsky’s she had heard. “For several days I was delirious and could not get over it,” she told the composer four years later, at the beginning of their momentous relationship. The piece is a far cry from any modern conception of the play, ignoring the themes of revenge and colonial domination now thought to be central to it, but our Victorian ancestors, who saw the play as above all an opportunity for spectacle, would have felt very much at home with it.

The same could be said of the Tempest wine. Our modern palate will appreciate the intensity of its flavor, but it is the right bank Bordeaux style aesthetic that appeals to the purist and traditional oenophile. Just as von Meck heard this work and worshipped Tchaikovsky thereafter, all it takes is one taste of this deliriously delicious wine and your taste buds may never be the same again.

Shakespeare wrote: ”The wine-cup is the little silver well, where truth, if truth there be, doth dwell.”

Since the Bard should be obeyed in all things, let us take this quote to heart and admit that wine and Shakespeare may well be the perfect pairing. Add music to that and you have the perfect storm for the ear, eye and mouth.