Friday, April 21, 2006

Why are you into wine?

Can you answer that question honestly? (If you can, please leave your reason under comments. I would love to hear your answer.) There are dozens of reasons to love wine -- no, probably hundreds. And yet, too, there's just one.

Is it wine's taste that appeals to you most, or -- be honest, now! -- is it wine's association with the good life, with status and education and refinement? Perhaps it's the science of wine-making, which is indeed fascinating: all that chemistry, all those elements -- all those yeasts! Or perhaps it's the agricultural aspect of wine that interests you; as the cliche' has it, great wine is made in the vineyard, not in the winery (a cliche' I happen to think is true, for the most part). Even a short list of wine-grape names can sound like poetry: Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sangiovese and Syrah; Zinfandel, Muscadet, Merlot, Shiraz; Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer; Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier; Roussane, Nebbiolo, Barbarossa, Primitivo, Bastardo.

Or consider the words used to describe the various flavors your tongue discovers in well-made wine: jammy, buttery, oakey, smokey, cinnamon-y, pear, apricot, plum, lychee, grassy, asparagus, straw, chocolate, raspberry, blackberry, raisin, cigar-box, cedar, pine, tar, etc. etc. (My honeyman thinks a lot of these words are, as he calls them, "froo-froo." He'll describe a wine he likes as "tasting like Jerry Garcia's guitar sounds," while I'll describe a wine that "tastes like Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream.")

Or dream of the picture-postcard places associated with wine: Tuscany, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Alsace, the Val Loire, the Valley of the Moon, the Walla Walla Valley -- to name but a very, very few among hundreds.

Or remember the ancient, stoney smells of wineries you've visited: perhaps it is these old, mossy, earthy, faintly moist aromas that open your imagination to the long history of wine and wine-making and the peoples and cultures of the world that have learned to create art from a few sour grapes.

Why do we love wine? Maya, the character in the film "Sideways," sums it up for me:

MILES: ...Why are you into wine?

MAYA: I suppose I got really into wine originally through my ex-husband. He had a big, kind of show-off cellar. But then I found out that I have a really sharp palate, and the more I drank, the more I liked what it made me think about.

MILES: Yeah? Like what?

MAYA: Like what a fraud he was.
(Miles laughs.)

MAYA: No, but I do like to think about the life of wine, how it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing, how the sun was shining that summer or if it rained... what the weather was like. I think about all those people who tended and picked the grapes, and if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle its going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive -- it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks -- like your ‘61 -- and begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so fucking good.

Yep. It tastes so f---ing good.

3 comments:

wineguy said...

I live in Santa Barbara County and I sort of started playing with wine in the early 80's, which is just about the same time they started making really good wine here. So my taste and the wine just kind of grew together.

flysilly said...

I am into wine because I like the way it tastes. Well, some wines, anyway! Also, I like how the right wine rounds out a really good meal...not to mention the association with family, friends, holidays and good times.

Anonymous said...

I am a wine slut and I know I am in good company!

I like expensive complex wine and I like to find that $6 bottle of Pinot from Australia, a tasty sipper after work. I like wine with food. I like wine with great cheese.
I like knowing where the wine is from and trying to taste differences. I like tasting wine throughout its lifetime to see where it goes with age...one spectacular benefit of working at a winery.
It is a thrill to taste mystery flights of wine; like Pauline, goddess of wine in Spokane. presents at Niko's Wine bar...to see where the tastes take me.
I like sharing wine with friends best, though I have been known to drink a glass all by myself...is that a bad thing?