Sunday, April 03, 2016

Do you have to “love wine” to love wine?

I remember the first time a woman told me, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” I couldn’t quite understand what she meant. But I eventually got the message; it was break-up time. So when I heard that line the 2nd (and 3rd and so on) time I was more prepared for what was coming.

Last week, a colleague asked me, “Are you still not drinking wine?” It had been six weeks and I hadn’t broken the fast. I answered, “That’s right; I’m still not drinking wine.” Something in me wasn’t, isn’t ready. Yet.

One of my fascinations with abstaining from drinking wine (or any alcoholic beverage) is the perspective it is giving me into the world of wine. It's a community I have belonged to for a career spanning more years than I care to admit. From my first foray as an adult up and down Highway 29 in Napa Valley, in the momentous year of 1976, to the countless times I’ve crawled the halls of Vinitaly, tasting, tasting, and more tasting.

I’m not one attracted to alcohol. In fact, many times, leading up to this hiatus, I found myself in a situation where wine, great wine, was flowing. And when I'd had enough, it would feel if I were to drink any more it would be nothing more than to poison myself – alcohol poisoning. In fact, when I was leaving the hospital, thinking about all the substances that had been introduced into my system - anesthetics, steroids, anti-biotics, morphine, ibuprofen – the thought of drinking wine, at that time, was “Gee, I already have all these foreign toxic substances in me – let me give it time to get some of them out of my system before I start introducing the more familiar ones back in.” At that time, wine appeared to be just one more poison to avoid.

Can one love poison? Well, I know there are people out there who thrive on toxic relationships, but is this something they love? Or something they have gotten used to, habituated to? And even though I am not inclined to addiction (at least to wine) what is the attraction? Not drinking wine has put me in the seat of the observer rather than the player. I’m interested in finding out, exactly, why do I love wine?

Often I tell myself, “I’m not in love with wine.” In fact, when I see an article which displays 50 years of one wine being opened and tasted, I cringe. For one, that’s a lot of wine. Let’s say 20 wines, at one ounce apiece. That’s almost a bottle. Not the mention the Champagne starter and the dessert wine to finish and all the floaters that surface in a tasting like that. Sure, there’s Uber to take you back to your hotel. But where’s the Uber for your liver? Or you head, in the morning?

Maybe it’s a young person’s game. Although Mr. Suckling is no longer a spring chicken and Mr. Galloni is heading into the old-age of his youth. Yes, everyone ages, along with the wines they love.

I did those things too. I have the notes. And the pictures. I don’t know what I’d do now.

So, when I have the little conversation in the mirror, the one that goes “And what is it you like, not even love, about wine, these days, Alfonso?” I have to think about it.

For one, the stories. Wine isn’t just about the alcohol in the bottle. There are great tales of struggle, of obstacles, of opportunities, of passions and of victories. And Italy, being the epi-center of drama, doesn’t decorate that cake lightly.

And there are the images. I really love to see how vineyards change as they age. How winemaking utilizes different tools. I was looking at pictures I took in 1985 of a cellar in Gevrey-Chambertin. If one saw a cellar like that today in Burgundy, one would think it had been abandoned or misused. Oh, the wines were lovely, all rustic and grainy textured.

Or take a look at a Cantine Sociale in Southern Italy in the 1970’s. Good lord, it was one giant industrial experiment. Plastic everywhere, sanitary conditions not so evident. Take a walk through a cantine like that today - say in Trentino - one finds a set for a Ridley Scott film. Both wineries, by the way, producing wines of interest, then and now.

But what does love have to do with it? Maybe it is the young love response. Maybe I love it, but I’m not in love with it. Maybe it is the distance and the new perspective that has me curious as to what the next step is. Just as when we meet someone and think there might be the chance that this one might be “the one.” And it progresses, and the butterflies in the stomach surface, and the soul-licking anticipation of what is in store keeps you on the edge of your seat, hoping that what’s to come will be not just falling into something. But maybe also leading to a place where one sees the wholeness of this love, this thing. And that’s where I am for now with wine. I’m patiently anticipating the next step, waiting for the butterflies to return.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope you will discover (perhaps have discovered) that loving without being in love can be rich, highly complex and rewarding.

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