(Not So) Odd Pair: Wine and Sex

The publication, last week, of the first English-language translation of the Japanese manga comic Drops of God by Tadashi Agi (a pseudonym for brother and sister Shin and Yuko Kibayashi) aroused my, ahem, curiosity.

I have not yet read it but am dying to.

The editors of the prestigious British wine magazine Decanter have written that this youthful, sex-fueled tale of wine tasting and daring is "arguably the most influential wine publication" of our time. The wines tasted by the hero -- some of them previously unknown to most consumers -- have become sensational best-sellers in the countries where the series has appeared. In one case, because of hype created by the comic, a 2003 Bordeaux jumped in price from $25 to $1,000 per bottle overnight. (Here's the Wiki entry with a summary of the plot.)

But the association of wine and libido is nothing new under the sun: Over the course of human history, wine and sex have often been uttered countless times in the same heated breath.

That's a depiction (above, right) of the god of wine Bacchus and Ariadne, his bride, the daughter of the King of Crete, by Italian Baroque painter Guido Reni (1575-1642), a topos popular among European Renaissance and Baroque artists.

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macduff and the Porter discuss the relationship between alcohol and sex:


    'Faith sir, we were carousing till the second cock: and drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things.


    What three things does drink especially provoke?


    Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance: therefore, much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him.

Therein lies the rub (excuse the pun): Wine "provokes the desire" but "takes away the performance." (Marry is an interjection akin to by Mary! and nose-painting refers to the fact that the consumption of too much alcohol, besides impairing sexual performance, can make your nose turn red.)

But what's true for men may not be true for women: A few years ago, researchers at the University of Florence published a study in which they claimed that moderate consumption of red wine increases sexual desire in women.

Not surprising for a chauvinist country like (my beloved) Italy, where the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, recently told the media that he's thinking of changing the name of his political party to "Forza Gnocca" or "Go Pussy!" (akin to gnocco, singular of gnocchi, the word gnocca is a euphemistic reference to the female anatomy). It's incredible to think that the European debt crisis and the fate of Western Civilization rests on the shoulders of Berlusconi, who would surely rather be indulging in wine and sex at one of his infamous bunga bunga parties.

The Italians actually have a grape variety that they consider to be an aphrodisiac, a property that they attribute to its spicy character.

It's grown in Piedmont (in the village of Verduno) and is called Pelaverga, literally the branch- or dick-scraper (from pelare meaning to peel and verga meaning branch or rod).

Aphrodisia aside, my musings about wine and sex brought to mind the famous quote by 19th- and early-20th-century American philosopher and psychologist William James, who was among the first to study the application of alcohol in religious ritual: "The sway of alcohol over mankind," he wrote, "is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour."

(It kind of sounds like waking up with a throbbing hangover next to someone you don't know, doesn't it?)

The ancient Greeks associated wine, sex, and spiritual- and intellectual-enlightenment in their symposia or drinking parties. The many kylikes (drinking vessels, like the one above, right) decorated with sexually provocative images -- both hetero- and homosexual -- are evidence of this. But these images are not pornography. In fact, they had an apotropaic function: The depiction of the erect phallus and the cult of Priapus were intended to protect from evil.

Whether the inebriating and liberating properties of alcohol or the fact that wine relaxes the blood vessels (in a sense, doing the same thing that Viagra does), we all know that the right wine can help to put us "in the mood."

What's your favorite wine to drink before a roll (or role-play) in the hay?

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