What is Wine Anyway?

September 18, 2007

Eric Asimov at the New York Times posted a blog entry yesterday about whether a wine’s “context” should be considered in its evaluation or whether it should be tasted blind. In a tangentially-related post by Dr. Vino, the topic (and poll) is whether kids should be banned from wineries. Both sparked lively debates that illustrated how polarized people are in their views on wine.

Some see wine almost like a work of art captured in liquid form. And, naturally, they would prefer to enjoy the masterpiece in peace, with minimal distraction, focusing on nothing but the sensory stimulations coming from the glass.

At the other end of the spectrum are people who see wine as a part of life. When a cork is pulled, it means something to be shared, not coveted. To them, wine is not something that separates a select few, but something that binds every one of us together.

I can understand where both sides are coming from (and I actually see a correlation with keepers and revelers), but I have to admit to being someone who thinks wine and life (and family) go hand in hand.

I can’t imagine separating a wine from the conditions in which it was grown or the context in which it’s enjoyed. When I drink a Silver Oak, I think of the first birthday meal I made Christopher in my little Brooklyn brownstone 11 years ago and popping the bottle that my boss had given me as kudos for a project well done. When I open a Clos du Bois, I think of all the wonderful evenings spent on our friends’ deck, overlooking Alexander Valley, surrounded by grapes that would eventually end up in the Clos du Bois Merlot. When I drink an ‘04 vintage from Sonoma County and it’s bursting at the seams with fruit, I chuckle with the memory of the sweltering heat and how we had to take refuge in our friends’ barrel room to keep cool.

Do all these outside influences cloud my judgment of the wine? Perhaps. But I can’t imagine it any other way.

So I’m curious. What is wine to you?


11 Responses to “What is Wine Anyway?”

  1. Dry Creek Fitz Says:

    Bottled poetry…

    I also live in wine country, and walked through a barrel room today with next year’s wine in its oak prison and wondered if I was taking it all for granted.

    Wine to me is more like bread, and perhaps a bit like salt. I love bread, but I do not love all breads. I can and do eat it daily, and its abundance makes it no less appetizing.

    Bread has room for greatness, if not age. I ate at a new restaurant last week, and was served a basket of small dinner rolls that were each as soft as a marshmallow, light as a cloud, slightly sour with buttermilk or yeast, or both, I couldn’t say for sure.

    I have already forgotten my entrée, and am unsure of the wine paired with it, but I remember those rolls.

    Scarcity perhaps makes us keepers, and abundance leads to reveling. For many, wine is not like bread at all, but rather like the cool spring water that King David’s men risked life and limb to bring to him after hearing his longing. David’s reaction was that he poured it out as a sacrifice. A keeper or reveler?

    I think Lia is right…it’s the story that makes the wine. John Brecher and Dottie Gaiter of The Wall Street Journal suggested “Open That Bottle Night” in the pages of the paper back in 1999. They commanded us to revel, on that one night…open that bottle and remember the story with someone you want to share it with.

    They received thousands of letters, about wine, yes, but more importantly the stories of those bottles. So perhaps the reveling, after long and patient keeping, is even greater.

    Robert Louis Steven reflected on abundance and scarcity in his own way, during a time that phyloxxera was threatening wine’s very existence…

    Some of us, kind old Pagans, watch with dread the shadows falling on the age: how the unconquerable worm invades the sunny terraces of France, and Bordeaux is no more, and the Rhone a mere Arabia Petraea. Chateau Neuf is dead, and I have never tasted it; Hermitage – a hermitage indeed from all life’s sorrows – lies expiring by the river. And in the place of these imperial elixirs, beautiful to every sense, gem-hued, flower-scented, dream-compellers:- behold upon the quays at Cette the chemicals arrayed; behold the analyst at Marseilles, raising hands in obsecration, attesting god Lyoeus, and the vats staved in, and the dishonest wines poured forth among the sea. It is not Pan only; Bacchus, too, is dead.

    If wine is to withdraw its most poetic countenance, the sun of the white dinner-cloth, a deity to be invoked by two or three, all fervent, hushing their talk, degusting tenderly, and storing reminiscences – for a bottle of good wine, like a good act, shines ever in the retrospect – if wine is to desert us, go thy ways, old Jack! Now we begin to have compunctions, and look back at the brave bottles squandered upon dinner-parties, where the guests drank grossly, discussing politics the while, and even the schoolboy “took his whack,” like liquorice water. And at the same time, we look timidly forward, with a spark of hope, to where the new lands, already weary of producing gold, begin to green with vineyards.

    The beginning of vine-planting is like the beginning of mining for the precious metals: the wine-grower also “Prospects.” One corner of land after another is tried with one kind of grape after another. This is a failure; that is better; a third best. So, bit by bit, they grope about for their Clos Vougeot and Lafite. Those lodes and pockets of earth, more precious than the precious ores, that yield inimitable fragrance and soft fire; those virtuous Bonanzas, where the soil has sublimated under sun and stars to something finer, and the wine is bottled poetry: these still lie undiscovered; chaparral conceals, thicket embowers them; the miner chips the rock and wanders farther, and the grizzly muses undisturbed. But there they bide their hour, awaiting their Columbus; and nature nurses and prepares them. The smack of Californian earth shall linger on the palate of your grandson.

  2. meta Says:

    Thank you for the wonderful conversation you have going here! For me, wine is the love, dirt, and dedication that so many people toil to bring to this earth. It is the stain of salutation and a very deep connection with tradition and history. It opens us up to both the surprise and unexpected resonance of art and the lasting pleasure of that fresh baked brought to your table.

    Like good coffee, cheese or chocolate, what matters crucially is the terrain, the weather, the caretaking, the selection, handling, processing, storing, and aging. The knowledge and devotion these products require is what keeps us endlessly fascinated with artisan products. Thanks for reminding me about how lucky we are.


  3. C'tina Says:

    Like words used convey the meaning of feelings, some have the ability to bring together all the elements of morphemes, syntax, semantics, etc., to formulate, say a comment like Dry Creek Fitz above to articulate the gestalt of enjoyment.

    I just recieved Donna Hay’s book, Cool Kids Cook (ordered upon Lia’s reccommendation…)and my ability to revel despite the spilled ingredients or pyrex knocked and tipped precariously around the counters, was greatly enhanced by the glass of Coppola Zinfandel I deftly wielded along with my knives, child, and hot oven.

  4. lia Says:

    Chris . . . That is beautiful. I’m going to tap you for a guest post one of these days. And, stay tuned for more on the revel front.

    Meta . . . You are so very welcome, and thank YOU for joining the conversation. I love your sentence, “It is the stain of salutation and a very deep connection with tradition and history.” How lovely. You have a beautiful blog yourself, by the way. Thanks for sharing.

    C’tina . . . Fitz is pretty amazing, isn’t he? I’m impressed with YOU, though, wielding wine along with blades and fire. You go girl. Isn’t that book fabulous? I take great pride in the fact that my friend’s son’s (Cole) version is covered with smudges and caked with random bits of food. I’m so glad you and your kids are enjoying it as well!

  5. Maureen Says:

    I like the interpretation that Chris had, and would say I feel quite the same. Although I can’t translate as eloquently.

    Wine is my evening form of coffee in the am. (If that makes sense.) Just as I look forward to the taste and aroma of a good cup of coffee every morning, I look forward to a great glass of wine in the evening. I look forward to swirling my glass, paying attention to the nose, as I lift the glass to my mouth, and lingering in the taste. To me, it says work is over, it’s time to enjoy food, family and leisure.

  6. lia Says:

    Maureen, not only does that make sense (it makes SO much sense), it pretty much articulates my mission for Swirling Notions too. The name came from that very idea; that as you pour yourself that long-anticipated glass and swirl it about, it isn’t just the qualities of the wine that are unleashed, but thoughts and conversation and laughs as well. That’s the side of wine that I wanted to bring to Swirling Notions. So thank you, all of you, for being kindred spirits on that quest.

  7. Patrick Says:

    A fellow Healdsburger with the unlikely moniker of Bob Cappuccino once shared an old Sicilian adage with me, “Wine is the ultimate condiment”.

    That rang so true to me that I have actually let it serve as a touchstone to guide me in how I make wine, how I appreciate wine, and how I have come to perceive all these discussions we are now so very blessed to have about wine. What is a condiment? A unique ingredient – interesting or prosaic – that when added to something in just the right amount, serves to enhance one’s enjoyment of it.

    Wow. Isn’t wine just that? Whether enjoyed at table, among friends, while cooking, or for some quality downtime, it is rarely all about the wine. It is about the experience, the story, the moment. All of us who are foodies and winos can attest to having that moment of clarity when we taste the “perfect pairing”. We also have the face-scrunching “Bleech!” experience when we know that we had best enjoy our water with a certain dish. Of course, these are extremes. It is our daily bites and our daily sips (or swigs, depending on how bad the day was) lend that necessary comfort or stimulus that keeps us going.

    I could also take the condiment metaphor further into “spice of life” and “Heinz 57”, but I might have a hard time remembering that this is a comment, not a post!!!

    Lia, I am a new fan. You may not recall my face, but we are casual “bump-into-each-other & talk-about-the-kids” neighbors. Imagine may surprise when in my usual link following from blog-to-blog, I stumbled upon Swirling Notions and your website. There went my afternoon! Congrats. I look forward to much more.

  8. lia Says:

    Hi Patrick! Great to have you here! I completely recognize you, and was thinking the other day that it’s been a while since we’ve bumped into each other. Kind of funny that now we bump into each other in cyberspace, then. And if you only knew how much I adore ketchup (and Dry Creek Fitz can attest to this), you’d understand how much I love the metaphor of wine as a condiment to life. Fabulous.

  9. Bobbie Says:

    We have a pewter wine bottle coaster that someone gave to us as a gift long, long ago. Around the rim, it says, “A dinner without wine is is like a day without sunshine.” Okay, a little corny, but… kinda says it for me.

  10. […] friend of ours shared at a harvest party last year. He, (the one who posted the eloquent comment on What is Wine Anyway?), shaped some of his thoughts on the season around the letters for HARVEST and it got me […]

  11. […] friend of ours shared at a harvest party last year. He, (the one who posted the eloquent comment on What is Wine Anyway?), shaped some of his thoughts on the season around the letters for HARVEST and it got me thinking […]

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