Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Informed and the Elite: And the Road In

I was looking inside my fridge at all the bottles of opened wine inside. They have been there for a couple of weeks now. I had a tasting for a wine journalist and we had 45 or so wines to go through in a half a day. Afterwards, I took some of the opened reds to work and left the rest of the wines, reds, whites and rosés in the cooler. And over time I have gotten around to tasting them again, and for many of them, enjoying them even more with food and friends at a slower pace.

The wine business, in its present course, is a jumble of priorities, emergencies and opportunities. Often it is hard to tell which is which. But alongside all of the daily duties of the job, there really is a lot of pleasure.

Pleasure, the joy of wine and life and being alive and healthy. Does it have anything to do with one who aims to be better informed about wine and life? And for the elite members of the business, the master and supersensitive palates, how does that fit in with where they are?

There is so much chatter lately about where one goes to get information about which wine to drink, buy and cellar. The established journals, The Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate and Decanter, along with the specialized reports from Burghound, Stephen Tanzer, WineLibrary TV also adding to the mix. Blogs, folks like Alder Yarrow, Tom Wark, Fredric Koeppel, Alice Feiring, and many more, Wolfgang Weber, Ray Isle, Tom Hyland, Dr. Vino; the list grows daily. All this to say that to be a better informed lover of wine, the way to get there isn’t always the same for everyone. And to rise beyond to the status of an influential member of the wine community, there doesn’t have one and only one way to get there. It is really an exciting time, because we are witnessing the beginning of a Golden Era for wine lovers. And then there are folks who are just looking to get their drink on. Even for them, there are better choices, more wines from more places, better prices and lots of choice.

So is it choice that makes one better informed? Or is it selection? Is it hard work? Or is it dumb luck? When does one get to a point when one opens a bottle and seamlessly knows that wine to be the real deal? And is that because of better information? Or is it the pathway of the elite accomplices, on their way to being the best and the brightest?

There is nothing wrong with being elite or wanting to be elite. The word bears no resemblance to the popular Fox News aberration, elitist or elitism. Those are words that have been miscued for the purpose of propaganda and forwarding a particular cause. I am not thinking in that direction with this post. No I am really interested along with the pleasure principal, of the steps along the way. And I think after pleasure one reaches for more data, to become more informed as to what this enjoyment is all about. And then, if one stays on the road for a time, then one begins to see the mountain peaks or at least bask in the shadow of them for a moment or two before the inevitable sunset.

Let’s take an area on Italy, say Liguria. Some good wines, some better wines, maybe a great one or two in the mix as well. But for the purpose of this exercise, I’m just going to go through the stages to illustrate how I look at them.

You’re new to wine; you might be young or young at heart. So you have a month in Liguria, hiking. Along the way you sample a fresh Vermentino or Pigato. Not exactly your entry level wine, but we are in Italy and going with the flow. Somehow the wine made a mark, the way it went so well with the food, the time and the state of mind you were in.

Several years later, you have gotten into wine and food and are really interested in it. You are beginning to be better informed. You still like to hike, so back to the rugged hills of Liguria for a two week hike. Sounds fun already. Along the way you run into a winegrower like Dino Masala in Airole and taste his Rossese di Dolceacqua. The wine informs you of the land which the grapes are grown, a wildness in higher elevations where bees roam freely and the wild things are safe. There is more to wine this time, not just as a casual partner for the lunch meal or an extended evening of well being induced by wine. No, this time one is looking to go deeper.

Some years beyond, maybe two maybe twenty, that same traveler is wanting to return to those hills. This time they head to Arcagna above Dolceacqua, a little locality that hangs on the steep hills. In the quiet of these hills a winery, Terre Bianche, makes wine from those same grapes, Vermentino, Pigato and Rossese di Dolceacqua. But something happens on that hill. Maybe it is the quite of the place; maybe the wines have touched a spot inside the traveler’s soul. Something points to the life in the wine that is a higher expression, an elite moment of reckoning. No review sends that person there, no points, no accolades, no awards. But somehow this person on the path has found an expressive wine that rose above pleasure, above an informed experience. It was transcendental and it changed that person for life. More than any letters after one’s name.

That’s one way in. It can be solitary. Difficult to take your tasting group with you. But in all the years that I have been on the wine trail, the lessons I have learned in the field, among the vines, the dank cellars and the splintered bench outside the barrel room, they have been my teachers as well. It won’t get anyone a better paying job or a higher position, it won’t even equip one for the dining room on a Sunday night. It will take you on the ride of a lifetime, though; one which anyone has ever been on will hesitate to end.


John said...

I enjoyed reading the post; it's also a fun picture you've used to introduce it. I guess that is not how you would recommend running a tasting.

Michal Kasparek said...

That opening picture is amazing! Do you have any background information about it?

I am from Moravia, which is a wine-producing region in the Czech republic, but there's no tradition of drinking wine from bottles, while dressed in white t-shirts. (I don't say I miss that custom, but it looks really funny.)

Marco Moscato de Alexandria said...

Bravo, amico. Another great post that keeps it simple, yet right in the pocket. Are they drinking Bull's Blood in that first photo? Wait, no that's Hungary.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Well there are bulls and blood involved in the first image. And Sangria too.

Unknown said...

Enjoyed reading. Beautiful photos!

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