Monday, June 4, 2012

Rant: Liver, Fava Beans & Chianti

"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."
--Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (movie version)

"A census taker tried to quantify me once. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone."
--Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (book version)

From the original novel to the movie adaptation, Dr. Lecter's wine of choice for this "food" pairing changed from Amarone to Chianti. What was the reason for that change? It was thought that the audience would be unfamiliar with Amarone so it was decided to change it to the more recognizable Chianti. Most people now know the Chianti quote and far fewer realize the original quote concerned Amarone. Was that change really necessary?

This question touches on a much greater issue: How much must we "dumb down" wine education and references for the average consumer? Wine can be a complex subject, especially if delving into the arcana of wine production and viticultural science. Thus, some simplification is necessary because many don't care, or need to know, about all of the intricacies of the topic. But one must also be very careful of oversimplification or over-generalization, where people are giving misleading information that does not represent the actual reality. That is also applicable in far more areas than just wine.

People are drawn to simplification, though sometimes to their peril. Some consumers relish wine scores because they believe they are a simple and easy way to determine a "quality" wine. It is far simpler to rely on a score rather than read tasting notes or consult with a wine store employee about the nature of a wine. Such oversimplification though can result in unhappiness when a person finds that the high scoring wine they bought does not appeal to them.    

Vintage guides can also be overly simple. Just because a vintage is said to be poor does not mean that some excellent wine was not made that year. And the same is true that in a good vintage, there still can be poor wine. Such matters are rough guidelines, but one must understand it is far from an absolute. We must avoid simplistic statements that come across as absolutes as they can do far more harm than good. A small bit of explanatory material can work wonders, yet still maintain sufficient simplicity.

In wine writing, you must take into consideration all of these matters in order to properly address your audience. Though that also entails the task of identifying your audience. Are they sophisticated wine consumers or average wine buyers with limited knowledge? I have seen too many writers rely on absolutism, for simplicity's sake, which actually serves to mislead readers rather than educate. We can still address readers simply while also providing them some basic education. Stop "dumbing down" the subject of wine, and instead simplify while providing accurate educational material. That might take more effort on the part of the writer but the rewards are worth it.

So skip the Chianti, just because it is more well known, and instead enjoy a big Amarone with your liver and fava beans.


Anonymous said...

it's a joke. Google: liver, fava beans, chianti, tyramine

Aaron Küntz said...

This is the most pretentious thing I've ever read. Wine education? In a movie? Get over yourself. When I was 13 and first saw this movie, I didn't know what a Chianti was either.

Natasha Sforza said...
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Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised with the 2 comments. It was not a joke. It was ignorance. They stereotyped his madness with rhyming words.
(test ME - Chianti).
Lecter is supposed to have rich varied tastes not pointless homogeneous ones.

Anonymous said...

Great line from Silence of the Lambs everyone knows. But most people don't realise Dr Hannibal Lecter is making a medical joke.
Lecter could be treated with drugs called monoamine oxidase inhibitors - MAOIs. As a psychiatrist, Lecter knows this.
The three things you can't eat with MAOIs? Liver, beans, wine.
Lecter is a) cracking a joke for his own amusement, and b) saying he's not taking his meds.

Anonymous said...
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Joe K. said...

Thanks for the information. It is my favorite quote of the movie. Specially with the sniffing noise he made. But, I always wondered about the Chianti. I did not think Dr. Lecter would drink a low end table wine like that. (Unless, there are high end bottles that my ignorant self doesnt know about).

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Joe:
Yes, there are some high end Chianti wines out there, and they can be quite excellent.