PRODUTTORI TIME

July 31, 2010

Both Tracie P and I had a tough week this week. Let me just put it this way, people: sometimes work is a bitch.

And so last night, when work was done, we decided to treat ourselves to an evening of dueling DJs (Tracie P took it over the top with MJ’s “Wanna Be Starting Something”), kitchen-dance-floor grooving, Polaroid self-portraits, and a bottle of 2005 Barbaresco by what is probably our favorite winery of all time in history: Produttori del Barbaresco.

The wine was bright, tannic but generously nimble in sharing its lip-smacking wild berry fruit and succulently muddy flavors. We paired with gruyère and crackers, we dedicated songs to each other, we danced around the dining room table, and we forgot all of the worries of our world. It was PRODUTTORI TIME.

Tracie P and I aren’t the only ones obsessed with Produttori del Barbaresco: one of the wine bloggers we enjoy and respect the most, Cory (and one of the funnest and nicest people to hang and taste with, above), wrote about Produttori del Barbaresco in his wrap-up to the 32 Days of Natural Wine, in a piece I highly recommend to you.

Like last year, Cory had to deal with plenty of משוגעת from folks who didn’t agree with this or that and other bullshit.* But, man, this dude deserves a medal. He’s the nicest sweetest and brightest guy and his hypertextual project, 31 32 Days of Natural Wine, represents a truly fascinating study in semiotics, not to mention an encyclopedia in fieri of natural wine around the world. Wine writing is by its very nature an affliction otherwise known as synaethesia — humankind’s overwhelming and at times unbearable urge to capture in words the literally ineffable, ephemeral, and ethereal experience of tasting wine. With his unique project, Cory has warped the boundaries of wine blogging in an exhilarantly meaningful way.

So, people, whether Puzelat or Produttori, pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine on this hottest weekend of the year, squeeze your loved ones tight and remind them how much they mean to you, remember that first kiss and the way you felt when those lips touched yours, and remember that very first moment you tasted a wine that made your heart flutter…

* Yiddish meshugas, Esp. in Jewish usage: madness, craziness; nonsense, foolishness; (as a count noun) a foolish idea; a foible, an idiosyncracy (Oxford English Dictionary, online edition).


Natural wine in Texas and the woman man behind Charlie Wilson’s war

June 7, 2010

cruz de comal

Last week I spent an afternoon and evening with maverick grape-grower and owner of La Cruz de Comal winery Lewis Dickson, who, together with winemaker Tony Coturri, who oversees vineyard management and flies out to Texas Hill Country every summer to vinify the harvest (since 2001), may very well be the only natural winemaker in Texas.

I can’t talk about the wines (yet) because my post on our visit, our conversation, and our conference call with Tony will be part of the second edition of 31 32 Days of Natural Wine, which begins on June 19. I can’t reveal (yet) what Tony said to me about how he is able to make these wines with no addition of sulfur whatsoever.

But I can share the below photo of one of Lewis’s super-cool nineteenth-century hand-wound French rotisseries.

rotisserie

And in the spirit of “it’s almost lunchtime here in Texas,” I’ll share our tasty repast that night, leg of lamb that had been marinated for 3 days in wine must, roast potatoes, and freshly wilted spinach topped with mozzarella di bufala and cayenne pepper:

cruz de comal

Hungry yet?

In other news…

Yesterday, at cousin Alexis’s graduation party, I had the chance to sit down and chat with a Texas icon, Charlie Schnabel.

jeremy parzen

As per an age-old Hollywood convention, Charlie was played by a woman in the Mike Nichols movie Charlie Wilson’s War. Charlie was Wilson’s right-hand-man in Washington during the congressman’s covert war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. During that time, he traveled more than a dozen times to the region. “Read the book,” he said joking about the fact that he’s played by a woman on screen, “it’s better than the movie.”

jeremy parzen

Charlie had stopped by to help celebrate Alexis’s graduation: Texas barbecue (chicken, ribs, and brisket), all the fixings (including sweet creamed corn), iced tea (sweetened and unsweetened), and — get this — homemade ice cream.

We talked about the dandelion wine he makes at home and his love of Lambrusco, and I asked he why he thought Texas has played such an important role in the iconography of the U.S. “Because of size of our state, it’s really five different states,” he said. “It’s really a country… with a wide range of climates and people, from the Spanish settlers to the Indian culture that was already here. We’ve never lost the independent spirit.”

He also told me what really caused the 1983 fire in the iconic Texas state capitol, where Charlie served as the secretary of the senate for more than 30 years. But I’ll have to share that with ya’ll a voce… ;-)

Check out this cool profile of Charlie, a Texas icon.


Claude Lévi-Strauss and (not so natural) wine

November 3, 2009

claudeReading over today’s obituary of that looming figure of the twentieth- (and twentieth-first-) century who seemed to watch over every discipline of critical theory, Claude Lévi-Strauss, I couldn’t help but apply my dusty knowledge of his structuralism to the hegemonic culture of wine today. After all, in some ways similar to Freud, Lévi-Strauss, who transpired over the weekend, will be remembered as much for his contribution to literary theory and epistemology as he is for his unapologetic transformation of the field of anthropology.

His fear of and subsequent predictions of a western behemoth “monoculture,” as it came to be known, have certainly taken shape in the evermore homologated contemporary world of wine today. The west, he wrote with words that seem to speak directly to the modern vs. traditional debate in European wine today, could destroy itself by “allowing itself to forget or destroy its own heritage.”

Lévi-Strauss wrote famously about wine: his treatment of the wine culture in southern France in his study The Elementary Structure of Kinship is often cited by scholars. (He also wrote about wine in The Origin of Table Manners.)

But wine, like bread, also held a special place in the lexicon of the great scholar and thinker. Like bread, wine represented for Lévi-Strauss a post-Neolithic technological transformation of the natural. Society (and the universal values that tie every expression of human experience together) is defined, according to Lévi-Strauss’s view, by a “rational” transformation of nature.

As Edward Rothstein wrote so ably in The New York Times today:

    Lévi-Strauss rejected Rousseau’s [historically romantic] idea that humankind’s problems derive from society’s distortions of nature. In Mr. Lévi-Strauss’s view, there is no alternative to such distortions. Each society must shape itself out of nature’s raw material, he believed, with law and reason as the essential tools.

Alas, we’ll never be able to ask Lévi-Strauss where he stands in the overarching dialectic of natural wine (and I can only imagine the ire this post will spark!). My own thought is that Lévi-Strauss and structuralism offer us a tool for understanding wine and its relationship to society. One can argue the finer points of ambient yeast, zero SO2, and minimal intervention vs. manipulation. But there is no denying that wine as an expression of society is shaped out of nature’s raw material by humankind — however minimal the intervention. Society by definition (and is there any wine that exists outside of society?) offers no alternative to the distortion of nature. Fermentation can occur spontaneously in nature. But the rational hand of humankind is what turns fermentation into wine.

What would Lévi-Strauss say? And who really cares? Probably no one but me.

What I can say for sure is that humankind has lost one of its greatest thinkers and one of the voices that helped to shape the very ideological dialectic from which the natural wine movement has culled its roots. If I only had a bottle of zero-SO2 Beaujolais for every night I spent cramming over the writings of Lévi-Strauss for my critical theory exams in grad school!

Lévi-Strauss, old man, you will be sorely missed…


Vin Santo: an overlooked “orange” wine? (and a more likely explanation of its name)

September 29, 2009

vin santo

Above: Ale posted photos of grapes (Trebbiano and Malvasia) being laid out to dry on reed mats for the Vin Santo that he and his father are making this year.

Scanning my Google Reader feed this morning, I came across these posts by my friend Ale in Sant’Angelo in Colle. He and his father grow Sangiovese and make Brunello di Montalcino for one of the oldest — and one of my favorite — producers in the appellation, Il Poggione.

vin santo

Above: The mats are then hung in the vinsantaia, an attic used especially for the drying of the grapes. Windows on either side of the space allow for ventilation that helps to limit humidity during drying.

Reading his descriptions of harvesting and drying grapes for the production of Vin Santo, it occurred to me that Vin Santo is an “orange” wine. There is no canonical definition of “orange wine,” even though a new “orange wine” movement has clearly emerged among European winemakers, mainstream wine writers, fringe wine bloggers (like me), enthusiasts, and lovers. Vin Santo is generally not made using skin contact during fermentation (one of the fundamental techniques employed in the production of orange wine). But there is no denying that Vin Santo is orange in color.

The rich orange color of Vin Santo is created by the drying of the grapes and by intentional oxidation of the wine.

vin santo

Above: Specially sized caratelli (literally, “small casks”) are used for aging. Many believe that the size of the barrels is one of the keys to the unique flavors and aromas of Vin Santo.

The earliest documented printed reference to Vin Santo is found in Giovanni Cosimo Villifranchi’s Oenologia Toscana (1773). In 1605, Sir Robert Dallington mentions a wine called Zibibbo, which was “dried for Lent” and could possibly be a reference to Vin Santo (see his entire description of grape growing and winemaking in Tuscany here).

Many claim that the name Vin Santo (literally, “holy wine”) was coined in the 15th century when Greek humanist Basilios Bessarion tasted the wine and compared it to the wines of Xantos (see also this entry on Bessarion in the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia). Supporters of the theory maintain that he liked it so much, he exclaimed “Xantos!” and those present understood him to say “Santo!” But I doubt this is the case.

I’ve heard some say that the name is inspired by the fact that Vin Santo can go through a second fermentation in the spring when temperatures rise in the vinsantaia. Like Christ, the wine “rises again.” I doubt this is the case but Dallington’s reference to Lent leads me to believe that dried grape wines were associated directly or indirectly with Easter in his time.

In 1773, Villifranchi writes: “The name that is given by us today to this ‘Vino di Santo’ is believed by some to be owed to Ancoret saints* and the Monks of Soria [Spain] who originally made wine in this manner.” He adds that “others believe that this name derives from the fact that the grapes are typically pressed during the period of the Christmas holidays.”

Whether you call Vin Santo an orange wine or not, it would seem to pass muster with the natural wine dogmatists. Using a “mother” yeast to start fermentation is a sine qua non of Vin Santo production: after pressing, sediment is scraped from a cask from a previous vintage and then added to the newly pressed juice to initiate fermentation. That’s how they’ve been making Vin Santo for centuries (or at least since Villifranchi first described methods of vinification employed in his day).

The only difference is that in Italy, they don’t call it “natural wine.” They just call it wine.

Look for more on Sir Robert in upcoming posts and check out this cool video posted by Ale on his blog today:

* “The recluses of the East in the early Christian centuries” (OED).


Yeaster me, yeaster you, yeaster day

September 14, 2009

Above: In some parts of the world, the “yeasting” of wines is common practice and is considered a genuinely positive aspect of human intervention, as evidenced in this post by Vinogirl. I don’t know much about Vinogirl but I love reading her blog and her posts about harvest in Napa are wonderful.

Ever the Solomon of wine bloggers, Eric posted Friday on the sometimes “strident” tones tossed about in the debate over natural wine and its definition.

I greatly appreciated Eric’s observation:

    I think that too much effort is spent coming up with a precise definition. Making wines “naturally,’’ after all, does not mean the wines are any good. All things considered, I prefer wine that would fit a rough definition of natural. But I don’t think the dividing line between natural and — what, unnatural? — is always that clear. Certainly, it is not if you are trying to characterize a winemaker.

Above: I tasted with Produttori del Barbaresco winemaker Aldo Vacca this year at Vinitaly. He is one of the most earnest and forthright winemakers I’ve ever met and I love his wines.

It does seem that the one thing that all natural wine lovers — from enthusiast to dogmatist — agree on is that “ambient” or “native” yeasts (i.e., naturally occurring yeasts) are a key if not the key element necessary to be allowed into the natural wine pantheon.

The delicate issue of yeast was illustrated Eric’s account of winemaker Roumier who “tries to make wine as naturally as he can, but he told a story once of having a batch of wine that had gotten stuck in mid-fermentation. The only way he could get it going again was to add yeast, a cardinal sin among many natural wine devotees.”

It made me think of what Produttori del Barbaresco winemaker Aldo Vacca recently told me when I called him to transact some other business but couldn’t resist asking him about the practice of “yeasting” at the winery.

“In a great vintage, we do not add yeast,” he said, “because the fermentation does not need any help. But in many vintages, we use a yeast called ‘Barolo strain’ that was developed based on yeasts that occur naturally in our terroir.”

According to the results of a quick Google search, the Barolo strain was “selected from 4 year study by University of Torino from over 600 isolates taken from 31 wineries of the Barolo region. The selection goal was to find a dominant natural yeast from Nebbiolo that is able to retain and enhance color.”

I never have and never would call Produttori del Barbaresco a “natural wine,” even though I believe the style of the wine jives with the wines of producers who subscribe to the natural wine movement. And I wonder if any of those winemakers have ever used a cultured yeast in a challenging vintage (like Roumier).

Throughout the debate, many have asked rhetorically, would the coinage of an expression other than natural wine offer an umbrella for those wines that aspire to the ideals of natural winemaking but don’t quite achieve its sanctity?

Founder Teobaldo Cappellano dubbed the Italian natural wine movement Vini Veri or Real Wines and added the epigram, wines as natural intended them.

Perhaps we should call these wines “humanist” wines. After all, all wine is made by humankind for consumption by humankind. In the end, I find that the wines I like the best are the ones that take into account not nature but rather “human scale,” as Guilhaume Gerard put it (in his remarks at the Symposium).

We can discuss natural wines and their definition until we’re blue in the face, but in the end, we are human — all too human.

Forget natural wine: the Texas weather will put the fear of G-d in you. I snapped this photo yesterday as Tracie B and I were strolling across the Colorado River. Click the photo for the full-sized image.


Natural wine with a capital N: 91 Nicolas Joly Coulée de Serrant

August 17, 2009

Above: What is natural wine? The question of what it is (and what it isn’t) is one of the most hotly debated topics in the world of wine blogging and punditry today. No one would deny, however, that Nicolas Joly’s Coulée de Serrant is natural wine. The 1991 was fantastic the other night.

Things have been so crazy lately — between “keeping the world safe for Italian wine” (check out this recent post I translated for VinoWire) and hawking wine in California (hey, Alder, there are wine bloggers who start wine clubs and are proud to attach their names to them!). So crazy that I neglected to post about a very special bottle of wine — 1991 Coulée de Serrant — that Tracie B and I opened to celebrate our anniversary a few weeks ago.

Above: I had packed the bottle in a thermal bag (recycled from my mom’s annual mother’s day gift of gravlax from Barney Greengrass) with an ice pack and stashed it my suitcase and brought it back from La Jolla to Austin. The sturdy wine held up well — not surprisingly.

Where did we find this bottle? In this most unlikely of places: La Jolla’s oldest luxury hotel, located on Prospect, in the heart of downtown, La Valencia (often pronounced lah vah-LEHN-chah by locals), affectionately known as “The Pink Lady” or “La V.” A good friend and fellow wine dude had mentioned that he found the wine on the list, which is otherwise dominated by flights and flights of big, oaky California Cabernet. Tracie B and went in there a few months ago at the end of the night and convinced the current sommelier to sell it to me (I have to say it was a steal for a Joly that old).

Above: At Trio, chef Todd Duplechan prepares shishito peppers the same way that padrón peppers are served in Spain. The pepper is not spicy but tangy and moreish, as the British might say.*

As it turns out, I recently became friends on Facebook with the sommelier who put that wine on the list at La V, Dustin Jones, who now reps for Fourcade and Hecht. “It was definitely a hand sell,” he wrote me, “and a tough one at that, the fact that 6 bottles were put in inventory and they still have it suggests that this is not a wine that sells itself!” One man’s esoterica turned out to be our golden Chenin treasure: Tracie B and I were thrilled to get to taste an older Joly and it didn’t disappoint.

Above: We shared our 91 Coulée de Serrant with sommelier Mark Sayre and chef Todd, who surprised us with this special dessert for the occasion. Mark is without a doubt the top sommelier in Austin and so whenever I have something really special that we want to open away from home, I take it to him. Mark and I are good friends but whenever you BYOB, you should always remember to share a glass with your sommelier.

The wine had bright acidity and nuanced fruit on the nose and in the mouth and it showed a caramel note that Tracie B attributed to the winery’s practice of letting botrytis form on the grapes. (Remember her post on our visit there?) No one would question the “natural wine” street cred of Joly and Joly’s approach to winemaking proves over and over again how natural winemaking can deliver remarkably delicious wines with remarkable aging ability.

Above: We had so much fun that night at Trio and Mark and Todd made such a special dinner for us. Even I feel handsome when I’m standing next to the beautiful Tracie B. Who wouldn’t?

In the wake of the San Diego Natural Wine Summit, a few folks have written me pointing out that not every wine we poured at the event would be considered a “natural wine” by everyone. I’ve even heard from some of the most authoritative voices in the field. I’m beginning to believe that the notion of “Natural Wine” (with a capital N) is more of an ideology and an attitude about living, eating, and drinking than a set code of self-imposed regulations. Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interact with Kermit Lynch, who, when I asked him about this, told me: “Before I find out how the wine is made, I taste it, and if I like it then I ask about the winemaking.”

Can a wine taste “natural” even if some elements of vinification go against natural winemaking dogma?

* Of food or drink: that makes one want to have more (Oxford English Dictionary, online edition).


Orange wine awaits at the beach

August 6, 2009

Above: Not everything we’re going to taste in San Diego on Sunday at Jaynes Natural Wine Summit will be as orange and cloudy as this Picrate (Chenin Blanc from the Loire) that Alice, Tracie B, and I shared last February in Paris.

Seems that everyone who is someone is talking about “orange wine” these days. Last week Eric and Alice attended an “orange wine” dinner in Tudor City (Manhattan) and posted these excellent dispatches respectively, here and here.

Just like the ongoing discussion of what can truly be called “natural wine,” I’m sure some will disagree as to what “orange wine” is exactly but the generally accepted defining element is skin-contact (maceration) during fermentation of otherwise white grapes. Not all the wines included in the “orange” genre undergo maceration but there is most definitely an orange revolution afoot.

Not all the wines Tracie B and I will be tasting on Sunday at the first-ever San Diego Natural Wine Summit at Jaynes Gastropub will be as orange as the Picrate (in the photo above) but there are 29 — yes, count ‘em — 29 superbly stinky, natty wines* for your tasting pleasure, paired with Jayne’s “farm to table” menu and DJ Greyboy’s “rare grooves.”

Above: This weekend, Tracie B and I will most definitely be hitting our favorite San Diego taco shack, Bahia Don Bravo. Natural wine and fish tacos, anyone? Yummmmmmm…

If you happen to be in town, please come by to see me, Thursday through Saturday nights at Jaynes and don’t miss the Natural Wine Summit on Sunday!

All of the wines we’ll be tasting on Sunday will be available for purchase at my new snazzy site, 2bianchi.com. Check it out if you have a moment and thanks for reading and for your support! Hope to see you in SD!

And remember, Stay classy, San Diego…

* The expression natty wines was happily coined by my Nous Non Plus bandmate Bonnie Day on our 2009 California mini-tour. I’ve got to be the only wine blogger in the world that uses footnotes, right? ;-)


How to make a living by wineblogging and 31 days come to an end

July 22, 2009

dirty south

A “hardy” mazel tov for Hardy Wallace (above), author of the excellent blog Dirty South Wine, who has emerged as the winner in the Really Goode Job contest and will be heading to Sonoma for a six-month tenure of blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking — and getting paid a handsome sum all the while! All I can say, Dirty, is chapeau bas, you did it: you figured out how to make a living by wineblogging! Tracie B and me have always enjoyed your blog and we’re thrilled that you won the contest. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy or a cooler blogger… I won’t bother explaining what the Really Goode Job contest was but I will say that it was an ingenious marketing tool and it is indicative of how the lexicon and lexicography of wine marketing is rapidly being transfigured. Hardy congratulations, Dirty!

Like Tracie B and me, Dirty contributed to Saignée’s 31 Days of Natural Wine blogging series: the blogilicious event ended today with a post by Joe Dressner, whom many would consider one of the pioneers of wine blogging and whom we all revere as one of the fathers of the natural wine movement in this country.

The 31 Days series got a great writeup at The Cellarist by Jon Bonné, who also participated in the blogging event, as did a lot of our bloggy friends.

There were so many awesome posts among the 31 (and I recommend you read them all, whether you’re just getting into natural wine or whether you are already a natural wine fanatic) but one highlight for me (beyond Tracie B’s post on our visit to Joly, of course!) was Arjun’s treatise on sulfur and sulfites, a subject so hard to get a grasp on and so often misunderstood by wine lovers.

In other news…

I’m about to get on a plane for Vegas and then San Diego, where I’ll be hawking natural wine tonight at Jaynes Gastropub and talking up the first-ever San Diego Natural Wine Summit, where I’ll be presenting natural wines next month (August 9). (Click on the link and you can read a little manifesto of natural wine that I authored.) I saw the above license plate in the Austin airport gift shop and remembered the one that Tracie B brought me the first time she came to visit me in San Diego last year. It rode on the dash board of my old Volvo (“la Dama Azzurra”) all the way from the Pacific Ocean to Central Texas. Tracie B and I have only been apart since this morning and I already miss her…


Big news: the San Diego Kid heads back west

July 2, 2009

That’s me, The San Diego Kid, back in 1978, when I was just 11 years old, the year the whole world changed around me (but that’s another story, for another time).

I wanted to let y’all know that me and my squaw will be heading west next month to pour and talk about natural wine at the first-ever San Diego Natural Wine Summit at Jaynes Gastropub.

Now, mind you, it ain’t that we ain’t coming back to Austin, Texas. That’s the Kid’s home now. But summertime is here and the Kid has a hankering for some ceviche and some waves… and some natural wine.

SAN DIEGO NATURAL WINE SUMMIT

Sunday, August 9, 2009
Noon – 2 pm Media/Trade Preview
2 pm – 6 pm Public Tasting $45/person

Jaynes Gastropub
4677 30th Street (@ Adams Avenue)
San Diego 92116

To reserve, please call 619.563.1011 or email info@jaynesgastropub.com

Space is extremely limited so please reserve now!

WINE AS NATURE INTENDED IT.

In other news…

Want to drink what me and Tracie B drink? Send me an email and I’ll add you to my email blast list: I’ll be doing a 6-pack offering next week, including some of my favorite wines and Dora and Patrizia’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano — stinky and natural like we like it!


Sunday poetry: Dante and wine

June 28, 2009

Of the entire corpus of Dante’s writings, his Inferno — the first canticle of his Commedia, with its gallery of eternally damned, their sordid tales, and their punishments — is indisputably the most popular (in part because of its inherently cinematic and more immediately accessible content). The other two canticles are much more dense and more difficult to penetrate but they are equally — and in many cases more — inspired, as Dante travels up toward heaven through Purgatorio (see the terraces of Purgatory left) toward Beatrice in Paradiso.

The word vino or wine appears twice in the Commedia, both times in the Purgatorio. In the first instance (Purg. 15, 123), Dante refers to his fatigue, “like a man overcome by wine or sleep.”

In the second, wine plays a much less mundane role. In Purg. 25, 76-78, the Latin poet Statius compares the miracle of winemaking (natural winemaking, I might add) to how God creates life:

    E perché meno ammiri la parola
    guarda il calor del sol che si fa vino,
    giunto a l’omor che de la vite cola.

    And, that you may be less bewildered by my words,
    consider the sun’s heat, which, blended with the sap [must]
    pressed from the vine, turns into wine.

(You can read the tercet in context at the Princeton Dante Project here and I’ve included the Princeton Dante Project commentary to Statius’s lecture on embryology, the physiology of the spirit, and the formation of the aerial body below, together with a link to the entire commentary.)

I had been thinking about this tercet after I posted in Saignée’s 31 Days of Natural Wine Series on the “miracle” of winemaking. (The series continues through July 18 and is definitely worth checking out.)

This passage from Dante is a great example of how Western thinkers and poets saw winemaking as a divine act. I find it beautiful how Dante (in the voice of Statius) uses the example of winemaking to illustrate how life is formed — a concept not easy for the mortal to grasp. As the heat of the sun starts fermentation, so the miracle of grape juice being turned into wine begins. Juice for thought, no?

Thanks for reading and buona domenica! Tracie B and I are off to the movies now…

From the Princeton Dante Project, a great tool for reading, browsing, and studying Dante’s Commedia:

Statius’s lecture on embryology may be paraphrased as follows. He is willing to deal with Dante’s desire to know how the aerial body is formed ([Purg XXV 34-36]): (1) After the ‘perfect blood’ is ‘digested’ (the fourth digestion) in the heart, having now the power to inform all the parts of body, it is ‘digested’ once again and descends into the testicles; (2) it now falls upon the ‘perfect blood’ in the vagina; it is ‘active,’ the latter ‘passive’; (3) the male blood now informs the soul of the new being in the female; (4) but how this soul becomes a human being is not yet clear ([Purg XXV 37-66]). Once the fetal brain is formed, God, delighted with Nature’s work, breathes into it the (rational) soul, which blends with the already existent souls (vegetative and sensitive) and makes a single entity, as wine is made by the sun ([Purg XXV 67-78]). At the moment of death the soul leaves the body but carries with it the potential for both states, the bodily one ‘mute,’ the rational one more acute than in life, and falls to Acheron (if damned) or Tiber (if saved), where it takes on its ‘airy body,’ which, inseparable as flame from fire, follows it wherever it goes; insofar as this new being ‘remembers’ its former shape, it takes on all its former organs of sense and becomes a ‘shade’ ([Purg XXV 79-108]). This ‘lecture’ is put to the task of justifying Dante’s presentation of spiritual beings as still possessing, for the purposes of purgation, their bodily senses even though they have no bodies. Souls in Heaven, we will discover, have no such ‘aerial bodies,’ but are present as pure spirit.


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