HappenStance Press, 2012 £4.00


Reviewed by Marcia Menter, Ross Kightly and Trevor McCandless

Marcia Menter:
I wish I were more of a drinker. I wish that after five sips of wine I didn’t start feeling tipsy and saying so. I wish I could discern the notes of “raspberries and recently cut roses” in a Spanish Rosado, or the “exuberant, juicy cherries” in a Tempranillo, as Matthew Stewart can. But wines are like perfumes. The pretty words on the page can’t tell you whether you’ll like the stuff at first encounter. You have to bring your own senses to it.

I think Stewart knows this perfectly well, because this tasting menu of a pamphlet, with its vanilla-colored pages and wine-red endpapers, is playful rather than poncey, inviting the reader to occupy the skins of the grapes he blends for a living. The left-hand pages are essentially marketing copy, repurposed from Stewart’s own text on the Zaleo winery website. (That Tempranillo “offers . . . soft tannins in a red/ that has absolutely no oak”.) The right-hand pages are what the marketer wishes he could write:

Just watch me after every sip.
My glycerine falls down the glass,
leaving arch after arch behind,
a silhouetted cathedral
where you’re worshipping yet again.

Oh, man. I’ve been there. I’m immune to copy like “Why not . . . pair it with tasty Spanish tapas/ especially . . . Ibérico ham?” But then Stewart brings me a tissue-thin slice of that glistening ham (‘Food Match’):

Place it across your tongue and wait
for the marbled fat to melt. Sip
un vino tinto. The tannin
grips, hugging the ham

The poems are slight as poems go, but I can’t resist the voice of grape waiting to be picked, burning “with the agony of sugar/ slowly seeping through my muscles” (‘Zaleo Pardina’). Or the one that’s frank enough to say “I haven’t got the guts for red” (Zaleo Rosado).

I hope Stewart gives copies of this pamphlet to some of his better customers, even if they don’t think they like poetry. They’ll get it.



Ross Kightly:

Somewhere it is possibly written that one must adopt a neutral and unbiased stance when reviewing. That this is a sine qua non for fairness.

I can understand the logic of this viewpoint. And out of deference to it I have been holding off this review, hoping the neutrality might somehow creep in.

I have failed. No amount of waiting, I realise, is ever going to destroy my partiality for the delights of this small but succulent pamphlet. But at least I can place my cards on the table: I love this little booklet. It has given me one of the best and most satisfying experiences of my life. So if you want a nice, balanced, judicious, impartial review – look elsewhere please.

On the 15th of December 2012 I was privileged to take part in a HappenStance event at the Scottish Poetry Library. As part of this occasion I participated in a reading from this pamphlet: I was some of the 'Tasting Notes' themselves. These make up half of the pamphlet, where one may imagine back labels on wine bottles uttering in Vin-speak such things as

With raspberries and recently cut roses
on an elegant and delicate nose,
Zaleo Rosado then leads us through
to a lip-smacking, refreshing palate.
It's ideal for lazy summer evenings.

The most entrancing thing about the pamphlet is that opposite each bit of puff is a chance for the wine to speak its mind:

Even the winemaker sniggered
at me on sight, and bled me off
from all his other grapes and skins
a day after leaving the vines.
I haven't got the guts for red.

All I can say is that the mouth feel of these poems is as exquisite as the wines claim to be. I had an absolutely wonderful time.

And other people tasted the wines as the reading went on.

It is impossible for me not to love this pamphlet.


Trevor McCandless:
I must admit that I was prepared to be disappointed with these. At the end of my street there was once a bottle shop owned by a man who would write tasting notes in chalk on huge blackboards. These ‘notes’ went for hundreds of words. They were utterly improbable in their verbosity.

This collection couldn’t be more different.  It is a series of tasting notes for real wines that the poet himself blends. These notes are accompanied by a poem on the opposite page – often written from the perspective of the wine itself. I can’t begin to tell you how delighted I was by these.

There is a sensuality to wine that is brought to life in these poems. I read somewhere that nearly one in five men cannot identify the smell of body odour, a fact that might help explain much to anyone who has spent time on crowded trains. Given that, I’ve often found myself suspicious of tasting notes that whisper of freshly cut roses or the hint at the back of the palate of field raspberries. Nevertheless, even in these days of endless TV cookery, the sense of taste seems to me to be underrated. These poems are not just concerned with the sensuality of wines, but more with wine’s outright sexuality.  Take this couplet from ‘Zaleo Premium’ as a case in point:

longing for a mouth to take me,
roll me back and forth on its tongue.

This book is lovely. Mouth-wateringly so. And I can prove it – watch. In ‘Food Match’ the poet cuts a slice of pig’s trotter “so thin the steel/ is visible below the meat.”

Place it across your tongue and wait
for the marbled fat to melt. Sip
un vino tinto. The tannin
grips, hugging the ham – both of them
start, suddenly, to magnify.

I love the play of ‘t’, ‘m’ and ‘s’ sounds on my tongue here. That is what this collection is like. The language is simple and assertive, and yet clear enough for the taste of the wine to still come through.

Like I said, a delight.