Ministerial Musings: An Ode To QRW

I received a postcard in the mail today informing me that my favorite magazine is going out of business. Quarterly Review of Wines, published by Salem State University literary guru and oeneologist Dr. Richard Elia, regrets to inform it's readers that “After 35 years, Quarterly Review of Wines, one of the country’s oldest wine magazines, will cease publication.”  In this brief communiqué, Dr. Elia tells his readers: “The economic climate is depressing, and we at QRW would be unable to continue the kind of quality publication we have delivered to our devoted subscribers.”

QRW is unlike any other publication. Its elegant photographs opened windows on sunlit, picturesque vineyards from the Sonoma Valley to Tuscany, from Alsace to Württemberg. It educated the novice to the expert vinophile on the language, nose, and notes of the best reds and whites, and, if that weren’t enough, it reviewed, as its appellative connotes, vintages that even the modest budget could enjoy.

I write this with a tear in my eye. I will miss QRW.

I can hear you: “What does this have to do with a religion column?”

Aside from the fact that Jesus’ first miracle occurred at the wedding in Cana (wherein he turned water into wine) and your humble columnist is (among other things) a Eucharistic scholar, QRW hits home in other ways.

Before I entered the sacred halls of seminary, I earned a Master of Arts degree in British and American Literature from Northeastern University, located a hop-skip-and-a-jump from my Mecca: Fenway Park. After completing my M.A., I began teaching composition and literature at my undergraduate alma mater, Salem State University. (Yes, Witch City, USA.)

Office space was sparse, so I was assigned a study with another professor: Richard Elia, Ph.D. I was never a student of Dr. Elia as an undergraduate (even he could not understand how I evaded his lectures on W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot), but I soon became his colleague — and I was all the richer for it.

As the publisher of Quarterly Review of Wines, Dr. Elia — it wasn’t just his students who called him “doctor” — had to sample and pen reviews about wines sent to him from across the globe by the crate. He would often do so in the morning, when his palate was fresh. He would take just a sip. He would let it linger. He would spit it out and write his columns, which appeared alongside articles by celebrated wine connoisseurs such as Randy Sheahan, Clive Coates, and Eleanor and Ray Heald.

When I arrived in my office, the sampled bottle (along with several uncorked ones) would stand like proud pillars on my desk. I was in heaven. Each day I would be given free bottles of the best wines; some of them yet to appear on the shelves of avante-guard liquor stores or the menus of Boston’s four-star restaurants. Yes, this seminarian and neophyte poetry professor loved his job!

Each day was paired. Monday, a California chardonnay and a walk through Eliot’s Four Quartets. Tuesday might be a delicious Bordeaux filled with subtle tannins and a sail with Melville’s Billy Budd. Every morning was a new adventure, like the uncracked spine of a novel. A new poem. A stimulated palate.

Dr. Elia was (and is) a friend: a scholar who offered the finer things in life to those who rarely get an opportunity to revel in them. If that does not embody the generosity that lies at the heart of Christianity, then I don’t know what does.

Some say it was Pliny the Elder who said “in vino veritas” (“in wine there is truth”). Others attribute the adage to Alcaeus of Mytilene. I believe it is found its modern expression in the writings of Dr. Richard Elia and the cast of wine experts at QRW.


You will be missed.

This postcard informed me that an old friend died today.  Jesus wept.  And so did I.

John Tamilio III, Ph.D. is the religion columnist for The Lakewood Observer.

John III Tamilio

John Tamilio III, Ph.D. is the religion columnist for The Lakewood Observer.

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Volume 7, Issue 23, Posted 4:43 PM, 11.15.2011