When Brahms played wine critic

Gargantua by Gustave Doré
Gargantua by Gustave Doré

I recently heard from an old acquaintance who has spent the better part of the last decade studying music, philosophy and aesthetics. Not surprisingly, he seems to have a lot of time on his hands. When I told him that I write about booze for publication, he began to regale me with interesting anecdotes.

He noted that Johannes Brahms, the 19th century German composer and pianist, was once invited by a wealthy patron and wine aficionado to a lavish dinner party. There, the composer was honored with choice bottles from the man’s extensive wine cellar. When he brought forth one of his personal favorites, the wealthy man declared to his guests: “This is the Brahms of my cellar.” Taking a tentative sip, Brahms is said to have muttered, “Better bring out your Beethoven.”

Ludwig van Beethoven, if you were wondering, was apparently not a heavy drinker (reportedly no more than one bottle per meal). On his deathbed in 1827, it is widely held that Beethoven begged Schott Söhne, his publisher in Mainz, to send him some really good Rhine wine.

This is likely apocryphal. Ditto for reports of his final words — which have been variously reported as “I shall hear it in heaven” and mostly famously, “Plaudite, amici, finita est comoedia” which means “Applaud, my friends, the comedy is over.” This sounds a bit too close to 16th century satirist, humorist and bawdy Franciscan monk François Rabelais’ supposed last words: “Je m’en vais chercher un grand peut-être; tirez le rideau, la farce est jouée” which means “I am going to seek the great perhaps; draw the curtain, the farce is played.”


Of course, Rabelais (“I drink no more than a sponge”) was no stranger to hedonism, gluttony and strong drink — at least, not in his literary output. His The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, that pentalogy of novels chronicling the adventures of giant Gargantua and his son Pantagruel, offers endlessly quotable paeans to wine drinking and drunkenness, among many other habits.

In one chapter, titled, “The Discourse of the Drinkers,” there is this: “Not I truly, who am a sinner, for I never drink without thirst, either present or future. To prevent it, as you know, I drink for the thirst to come. I drink eternally. This is to me an eternity of drinking, and drinking of eternity.” No wonder the book was dedicated to the “most noble and illustrious drinkers”.

Rabelais was a native of Loire in France. I’m a sucker for Loire Valley wines but, alas, there are only a handful of kosher options available in this country.

If you have the chance to travel at all, you should still be able to find a bottle of kosher Chinon, like the lovely and unique £15 Domaine de la Commanderie Chinon Red 2012 or the €14 La Petite Métairie AOC Bourgueil 2014, which struck me as having surprising depth and character.

One of the kosher red Loire wines available here is the enjoyable Domaine du Val Brun Saumur Champigny Bay Rouge 2011 ($24) made, like most Loire reds, from Cabernet Franc; it is a light bodied, dry red with some charming forest fruit and cherry notes and nice to slightly brooding black pepper notes, with perhaps the tiniest hint of chocolate, really lovely acidity and freshness that demands a nice light summery meal, like an Asian dressed cold meats salad. L’chaim!

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here