In Defence of A Passion

They say that ‘wine was being made long before history even began to be recorded. It was old when the Epic of Gilgamesh was written. It has given comfort, pleasure and exhilaration to humanity for thousands of years, and will long continue to do so. (Younger, Wine, Gods & Men)

 

History suggests that the phenomenon of fermenting grapes has existed since the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, as far back as 7,000 BC, and that Northern Europe only began to partake seriously from 500 BC, via the spread of the Roman Empire. (Harding, A Wine Miscellany)

 

Personally, it’s had a particular significance in my life since I stumbled across a  William Younger quote. It grabbed my attention, at a ripe and impressionable age:

 

“A bunch of grapes is beautiful, static and innocent. It is merely fruit. But when it is crushed it becomes an animal, for the crushed grapes become wine and wine has an animal life”.

 

I have since tried to appreciate the bigger picture of wine; that picture created by the alchemy and pyrotechnics that come together in a single sip. The very fact that wine is ‘animal’ and ‘animated’ means that: at it’s simplest, it isn’t about the grapes at all, it’s about the animation of human relations: interacting, sharing, bonding, rituals, hospitality … all of the maneuvers of a social life.

 

It is hard not to be fascinated by wine, if you take a moment to think about it. It’s a common cliché in the industry to say that wines are like people. In fact, wines are infinitely more complex than people, and perhaps that’s why they’re so enjoyable.

 

Imagine you’re standing in your kitchen, a glass of red wine and a glass of white wine in front of you on the marble. “Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair kitchen, where we lay our scene” –  you pick one, or you pick the other, and as such in this extreme wine can be categorised with broad and hurried strokes: red or white.

 

The other extreme, of course, is that in those glasses in front of you are thousands of years of generous decisions, and cruel ones, intelligent decisions and dumb alike, good ones, bad ones, even fatal ones. Cumulatively, these decisions have made not just a glass of wine, but an identity. They have developed the wine’s personality and it’s reputation – one which depends on the subtlety of circumstance, and is alive enough to keep changing and developing that individual personality until it, like any human, dies.

 

There is one key difference, though, between man and bottle. As much as I might try to dress up the sentiment myself, I will always fall short of the fantastic cinematic moment in Ridley Scott’s A Good Year. Below, are the words of the exchange:

 

Uncle Henry: Max, have I told you why I enjoy making wine so much?

Max: You don’t make the wine, Uncle Henry – that guy Duflot does.

Uncle Henry: [Reproachfully] In France it’s always the landowner who makes the wine, even though he does nothing more than supervise with binoculars from the comfort of his study. No, I enjoy making wine, because this sublime nectar is quite simply incapable of lying. Picked too early, picked too late, it matters not – the wine will always whisper into your mouth with complete, unabashed honesty every time you take a sip.

  (Italics my own)

 

It’s true, of course. Just as you might assess a person: the first impression they make, and their subsequent ones, so we pass judgement on a sip of wine. What is generally acknowledged as the “taste” of something is actually a collection of impressions that have been made on our minds by what we sense.

 

Animal instincts, wouldn’t you say?

 

But whilst a person might expose a fairer side to themselves (and obscure a murkier past) the wine opens up to you and reveals its soul to the very depths. It shows your palate, and subsequently your brain, a photograph of home: stony soils where it’s deep-rooted vines have battled wind and rain, the torment of a late annual frost or two, and the glorious days under the August sun, giving it colour and vivacity.

 

You see, it’s all there – you just have to look for it.

 

However, it’s your kitchen, they’re your glasses, it’s your choice! Fay ce que vouldras, as Rabelais would have it. But, in doing so, remember two things:

 

The first is that ‘Although the earth will claim us all in the end, there is good evidence that regular drinking, in moderate amounts, will postpone, or at least delay, the dread day.’ (Harding)

 

The second is that ‘A cynic is a man (or woman) who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing’. Oscar Wilde was right.

 

“An old wine enthusiast, badly smashed up in a railway accident, was given a drop of wine to revive him. ‘Pauillac, 1899’ he murmured, and then died”.

 

However, it’s your kitchen, they’re your glasses, it’s your choice! Fay ce que vouldras, as Rabelais would have it. But, in doing so, remember two things:

 

The first is that ‘Although the earth will claim us all in the end, there is good evidence that regular drinking, in moderate amounts, will postpone, or at least delay, the dread day.’ (Harding)

 

The second is that ‘A cynic is a man (or woman) who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing’. Oscar Wilde was right.

 

“An old wine enthusiast, badly smashed up in a railway accident, was given a drop of wine to revive him. ‘Pauillac, 1899’ he murmured, and then died”.

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8 thoughts on “In Defence of A Passion

  1. We, the straight-talkers, wish to express an opinion: you know nothing about wine. Please stop this nonsense. Its embarrassing. Return from Italy and fulfil the sub-par life you were always destined to fulfil.

    Like

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