Bellman’s Pale Rhenish

Dear Reader, please try saying “ENSKTBLEH”. Yes, six consonants in a row. ENSKTBLEH. OK? Now sing it, loudly and happily. Go!

I’ve spent three happy days at the first ever Picture Stone Symposium in Visby, listening to papers, moderating some bits and giving a presentation of my own that went down pretty well. And one evening I was reminded of a) that I’m a weird singer, b) that one of C.M. Bellman’s least felicitous phrases occurs in one of his best-beloved song lyrics.

During a reception Thursday night in the Picture Stone Hall of the Gotland County Museum, a UK colleague asked me and a lady whose name I didn’t catch to sing something in Swedish. She suggested Bellman’s Bort allt vad oro gör, “Begone All Troubles”, and we went at it. Now, I don’t have great vocal range, defined as the number of notes between the lowest and highest ones I can comfortably sing. But my main problem is where that range is on the scale. My high tenor is out of phase with most people’s ranges, so when this lady intoned the song, she put it right in a spot where I couldn’t do the whole thing without frequently switching octaves. Sigh.

“Begone All Troubles” is about relaxing and sampling wines. And this is where Bellman makes the singer go ENSKTBLEH. Vad det var läckert! Vad var det? Rhenskt bleckert? Oui, Monseigneur. “This was really good! What was it? Pale Rhenish? Yes Sir.” RhENSKTBLEckert. Silly drunken poet.

The word bleckert fell out of use more than a century ago. It is a cognate of “bleach” and Sw. blek, “pale”. The vintage may still be around though: apparently it was made in the area between Coblenz and Andernach. What’s it called nowadays?

Comments

  1. #1 bibliovore
    September 11, 2011

    I think that’s the Rhine region. Then Pale Rhenish would be Riesling?

  2. #2 Martin R
    September 11, 2011

    You’re right about the area, but Riesling is a green grape and Pale Rhenish was a type of red wine.

  3. #3 Eric Lund
    September 12, 2011

    Generally speaking, red wines are made with the skin of the grapes and white wines are made with the skins removed. This is the difference between, e.g., pinot noir and pinot grigio: they use the same kind of grape, but the former includes the skin and the latter does not.

    I would guess there is something similar going on here: if you remove the skins you get Riesling, but if you kept the skins you would get a pale Rhenish. The “pale” may well be referring to the color: what would be known in France or the US as a rosé rather than red.

  4. #4 Doug K
    September 12, 2011

    I have wandered the vineyards of that area but never encountered a Pale Rhenish..

    Find The Bacchanalian Sessions, London 1693 at the U. of Virginia, which says inter alia,

    Six Men in a Tavern dispos’d to be merry,
    Shall drink six sorts of Wine; the first he drinks Sherry;
    The second to Claret, makes only pretension,
    And the third treats his Palate with White Wine and Gentian;
    And pale Rhenish the fourth before all other Wine chuses,
    And the fifth thinks Good Tent is the best of all Juices;
    While the sixth Man from all their Opinions does vary,
    Pleas’d only with mixture of Hock and Canary.

    So, it ‘s not White Wine presumably, nor Hock which would be the usual sweet white Rheingau, Liebfraumilch or similar. We will have to apply to the antiquarians at Poemas del rio Wang..

  5. #5 Mu
    September 12, 2011

    6 consonants? Try Angstschweiss ;)

  6. #6 Martin R
    September 12, 2011

    Eric, the Riesling grape is greenish yellow, not red. You won’t get a rosé out of it regardless of what you do with the skin.

    Doug, that’s a nice find!

    Mu, Angstschweiss (“sweat of fear”) is very good! But disregarding the ortography, it’s only five consonant sounds in a row: NG – S – T – SCH – W.

  7. #7 Chris' Wills
    September 16, 2011

    http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?workid=471&tabview=text

    They mention Cadmium Yellow Pale (Rhenish) for one of the yellows in the picture being described; perhaps your pale rhenish refers to an aged white wine or perhaps from a white grape without the skin being removed?

    I have some, originally, white wines that have gone a golden yellow after being stored, in the bottle, for about 20 years. Some turned to vinegar but some of the rielsings have become very nice.

  8. #8 Gary
    September 19, 2011

    The northernmost German wine reregion, the Ahr valley north of Andernach, traditionally makes red wine. I’ve never had it but it’s apparently very desirable.