Thursday, December 21, 2006

Why wine?


I have asked myself this question for a long time, ever since my passion chose me. For make no mistake, it is the object of our desire that enslaves us, not the other way around. I sometimes think Bacchus or some other impish deity is laughing at the wine geeks as we stumble around the world looking for the next ethereal moment.

And God help you if you love Burgundy!

Burgundy is like an enticing, mocking mistress, offering her heady, sexy riches every once in a while, rejecting us with a scornful laugh the rest of the time. Good Burgundy is a slice of Heaven, like having your tongue touched by an angel, one of the most profound vinous experiences that one can have; bad Burgundy, of which there is FAR too much, is like drinking battery acid that's been left to spoil.

The same can be said, to a lesser extent, of other wine regions. God knows there's a lot of good wine being made these days, but of course that depends on one's definition of "good". By most wine geek - and make no mistake, we're geeks (who else would spend hours debating slope inclinations or know at what Brix level the grapes were picked? And don't even ask what Brix is...) - standards, the wines being made these days are simple, fruity and OK for the price, but they lack personality. Granted, that's better than what was being made just a decade ago. But we look for complexity and balance, the elixir that makes you sit up and take notice.

At least wine is an obsession you can share, and as a wine lover you want to share it. Mainly because drinking it on your own is a pretty good first step in the direction of alcoholism, but also because you want those around you to perhaps find as much enjoyment in it as you do. There is nothing like seeing the "A-ha!" moment when someone sits up and realizes that something more than fruity alcohol is taking place in their mouth.

Wine, as Benjamin Franklin once said, is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

When you taste a well-made wine, there is also something very elemental to knowing that you are drinking an agricultural product, of the earth and where it was grown. In these high-tech, speed-driven, multi-tasking days, when folks are so far removed from their sources of nourishment, it's nice to know that you need to sit back, relax and let the wine just hang out in the glass, evolving and changing as it breathes. You can not rush a good wine.

Let me reiterate that: you can not rush a good wine.

It is not something to be used to set you apart from others, but a social lubricant that makes life ever more pleasant. Too many people tend to get wrapped up in the minutiae, turning them into the worst sort of wine collector: the snob. There is nothing worse than the wine snob; they feel they're better than "civilians" because they know more about wine and the culture surrounding it, and God help you if you're a wine lover and don't have the same palate as they do.

Ignore them and have fun!

There are several simple rules to enjoying wine:

1- know what you like; it doesn't matter what the critics say, you're not tasting the wine with their palates, are you? TRUST your palate. Americans don't trust their palate and rely all too much on critics and shelf-talkers, which explains the popularity of certain industrial brands.

2- keep an open mind and an open palate, you never know what you may discover. Too many times folks get pigeon-holed into one region/style and never venture out of it. The world of wine is as diverse as the real world, and holds just as many vinous treasures. Explore, let your palate wander and you will be rewarded.

3- have fun! I have been to too many wine dinners where the people are so wrapped up in the wines that they made for very boring company. I am blessed that my tasting group in NYC enjoys talking about more than wine. Heck, most of them came to my wedding!

4- moderation, moderation and more moderation. There's nothing worse than a drunk at a wine tasting. Sloshing your Chardonnay onto your neighbor is very poor form. If you want to get drunk, go to a bar and down shots of Tequila after the tasting. This way you can blame your hangover on the shots and not cut off your budding appreciation of wine.

OK, I hope this explains why we love this thing called wine. Rant over.

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