Wining with Shakespeare

The wine-cup is the little silver well, Where truth, if truth there be, doth dwell.
-William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Ah, Shakespeare. For many, it brings back memories of struggling to comprehend the language of Elizabethan England in high school English class. But being a literature nerd, I always loved reading the Bard, regardless of whether it was a comedy or tragedy.

My first Shakespeare play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a fun frolic through a fairy land featuring a feuding power couple and impish characters getting up to no good. Obviously, all ends well in this comedy.

For this play you need a fun, playful wine. The white Fuzion Alta from Mendoza fits the bill. A blend of pinot grigio and the native Argentine grape torrontés, this is a medium-bodied, easy-going white that is incredibly flavourful. With notes of green apple, pineapple and delicious toastiness, it is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Pairs well with light curries, or just drink it on its own. This is a great buy for under $10, and with a sale price of only $8.95 until November 6, 2016, you’ll be laughing all the way home from the LCBO.

Fuzion Alta Torrontes Pinot Grigio

With its heart-wrenching ending, Shakesepeare’s timeless Romeo and Juliet is the tragic love story par excellence. The title characters are the only children of feuding families in Verona and despite this, end up falling in love with each other. Unable to get their families on board with the union, the Friar, the only person who sees their love as the purest there is, helps Juliet come up with an elaborate plan, involving temporary poisons and faking her death, so she and Romeo can run away together. But word doesn’t reach our male hero in time, and when he hears about her death, he goes to see his beloved in her temporarily expired state, and poisons himself…just as she wakes up from her slumber. Finding her lover dead by her side, she tries to drink whatever drop of his poison is left.  Her speech is absolutely riveting:

What’s here? A cup, closed in my true love’s hand?

Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end.—

O churl, drunk all, and left no friendly drop

To help me after? I will kiss thy lips.

Haply some poison yet doth hang on them,

To make me die with a restorative.

Left with no other options, the distraught Juliet takes her love’s dagger and stabs herself. And the final line sums it all up nicely – “For never was a story of more woe/Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” – as the curtain closes on the young lovers’ lifeless bodies. This gutting ending hits me right in the feels every time (I may have ridiculous tears falling down my face as I write this).

Such a moving story calls for a complex red, and the Nyarai Cellars 2012 Cadence is just the ticket.  [I reviewed this virtual Niagara winery’s viognier earlier this year as one of the wines that stood out at the Taste Ontario event in April—click here in case you missed it]. The Cadence, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, is a surprisingly dramatic red. The nose shows black cherry, plum, sweet spice (cinnamon in particular), tobacco, red apple, blackberry, cedar and earthiness. The first sip has a great mouthwatering acidity followed a wash of berry flavours and firm tannins. Many of the aromas show up on the palate, which also reveals subtle flavours of old-world earthiness and cool-climate vegetal notes, capped off with spicy black pepper. This wine’s acidity makes it a great food wine—try it with stuffed peppers or a marinara pasta with crumbled sausage. It even works with dark chocolate! This wine will also be beautiful after cellaring for a few years. Buy the 2011 vintage at the LCBO (limited stocks), or the 2012 directly from the winery online ($22.95).


Shakespeare died in 1616, so this year the whole world is celebrating the 400th anniversary of his important work. I’ve always said that wine and music go hand in hand, and that is particularly true in my life at the moment, with Shakespeare as the common link. My choir is performing a whole concert of music inspired by Shakespeare next Sunday, which is why the Bard has been very much on my mind lately, his words swirling through my head along with the beautiful music they have been set to. One piece in particular has been persistent: Songs from Shakespeare, by Harry Freedman (1922-2005). This Canadian composer wrote the music for the famed Stratford Festival in Ontario to be performed in its productions of Shakespeare. My favourite selection from the piece is “Under the Greenwood Tree”, from As You Like It, which describes abandoning all riches for a simpler, idyllic life in nature:

Under the greenwood tree

Who loves to lie with me,

And turn his merry note

Unto the sweet bird’s throat,

Come hither, come hither, come hither:

            Here shall he see

            No enemy

But winter and rough weather.

Who doth ambition shun

And loves to live i’ the sun,

Seeking the food he eats,

And pleased with what he gets,

Come hither, come hither, come hither:

            Here shall he see

            No enemy

But winter and rough weather.

Sounds lovely and light, right? But Freedman has set it in a minor key, with the repeated “Come hithers” arranged in this dissonant harmony that is hauntingly beautiful. It gives me goosebumps every time we sing it. Did I mention Harry Freedman was my grandfather? I may be biased, but the personal connection makes the music all the more powerful to me. I am amazed that, like Shakespeare’s words, my grandfather’s music can have such an emotional impact on me. But that’s the thing about poetry, music, or wine. It’s a beautiful thing when you find one that truly speaks to you.

And on that note, happy wining and happy music-making 🙂


If you’re in the Ottawa area this coming weekend and are interested in coming to hear the concert, here is the info:

What: The Cantata Singers of Ottawa present Shakespeare in Song

When: Sunday, October 30 at 3 p.m. (artistic director Andrew McAnerney will do a pre-concert talk at 2:30 where you can learn more about the music you are about to hear)

Where: St. Joseph’s Church, 174 Wilbrod Ave.

For more details:

Shakespeare in Song poster

5 thoughts on “Wining with Shakespeare

    • Ya, the ending is beautifully heart-wrenching.
      Thumb is almost back to normal. Just a small bump/scar, which I am told is barely visible. Thanks for asking!
      How are you enjoying this SNOW?? Seriously though, how is it snowing this much in October?? 😦
      Why do I live in Ottawa again?


  1. I was wondering when I saw the name whether it was a relation of yours. So cool! And great idea to pair wines with plays (wine with food, wine with music, wine with theatre!) You can pair wine with good reads next 🙂


  2. Pingback: One last time before I go | Wining with Mel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s