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  • Writer's pictureCláudio Giordano

The Folklore of Wine





In 1980 José Roberto Whitaker Penteado published the book O Folclore do Vinho, now out of print and apparently not reissued. A pleasant reading, after extolling the Dionysian drink — “more than a drink, it is philosophy, a way of conceiving life and understanding man” — he declares that it was natural to “fall in love with the folklore of wine”, and even being a neophyte in the field, he began “a book research in the Municipal Library of São Paulo, which continued in the Imperial Library of Petrópolis, in the Library of the Office Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin and in other public and specialized libraries in several cities in Europe. The result is almost 400 tasty pages talking in a pleasant way about proverbs, comic strips, ballads, autos, challenges and more things found in Brazilian folklore and in dozens of other countries. It is not a work of scholarship, but reference sources guarantee the accuracy of the information.


Collecting wine references in the travellers’ works, Whitaker Penteado writes about the Englishman John Luccock: “Luccock must have liked Brazil very much, as he lived there for ten years, between 1808 and 1818. His book [Notes on Rio de Janeiro and Southern Parts of Brazil, 1820] is a monument of sense of humour, seasoned with admirable fair play. Wine is a character of certain importance, as the English considered himself a man of good manners, refined tastes and a good glass.


Luccock is responsible for an original caricature of the customs of Rio society, the art of serving and behaving at table. Invited to a dinner in Rio de Janeiro shortly after his arrival, he wrote in terms of reporting the unforgettable experience:



The dishes are brought in one by one, and a portion of each is handed to every person in succession, none refusing, or beginning to eat before the last is served; then all begin together, and voraciously devour the contents of their plates.


They eat much, as well as greedily; and though intent upon their business, find time to be very noisy. The height of the table brings the plate near to the chin; every one spreads out his elbows, and bringing his wrist close to the edge of the plate, tosses the food into his mouth by a dexterous motion of the hand. On other accounts as well as this, there is not much delicacy or cleanliness in the meal; plates are never changed, and are delivered to the servants with the knife and fork held in the same hand; the fingers, too, are as often used as the fork. It is accounted a mark of strong attachment for a man to eat off his neighbour’s plate; so that the hands of both are not unfrequently dipped into it at the same time. A weak sort of red wine is used, but, being drunk from tumblers, it sometimes operates powerfully; before the conclusion of the repast, the company become boisterous, their common gesticulation in talking is increased, and they throw their arms about, with their knives and forks, in such a way that a stranger feels no little surprize, how eyes, noses, and cheeks, escape from injury. When the knives and forks are at rest, one is grasped in either hand, and held upright on the table, resting on the end of its haft; and when they are no longer wanted the knife is deliberately wiped upon the cloth. The business of the table lasts about two hours. Brazilians do not sit at their wine; a sufficient quantity is taken with the food, and the compliments of the bottle are carried to a great extent.”


In terms of wines, English continues its hard Brazilian learning and registers without losing its phlegm:


When a gentleman takes wine with another, the degree of their regard is expressed by the fulness of their tumblers, and both endeavour to carry them to their lips without spilling a drop; the wine is drunk off at a single draught, and as exactly as possible in the same time. If the master of a house propose a toast, it is generally the health of his own wife; and to honour the lady I have seen a whole bottle swallowed without a pause.


We will return to this work by Whitaker Penteado.






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