Sunday, June 24, 2018

So, you think you love wine. But do you like wine?

This month, while traveling in Connecticut, I was in a little wine shop in Madison, chatting with a salesperson. She was a self-described millennial, a mother of two young children, and the daughter of a woman who was feted by her religion for selling the most Upanishad books in airports, and, most likely, in the world. “I can’t stop thinking about wine," she told me."Wine! Wine!! Wine!!! It invades my mental space, I can’t get it out of my head and I can’t get enough.” I don’t think she was complaining. Lamenting perhaps, as the demands of motherhood dictates that she also attend to her little ones. But clearly, she has been afflicted with a vinous virus. I’m sure her devout parents might have already counseled her in becoming too attached to worldly objects. And wine is from this world. But is it of this world?

Earlier this week, I’m in the hill-country of Texas, going down a most wonderful rabbit hole of conversation about wine. The young sommelier at the table was bright, energetic and engaged (he reminded me of a younger version of Charles Curtis, who, if you don’t know of him, still has a child-like enthusiasm and wonder about wine). As our conversation veered left and right, the young somm suddenly uttered, “I know many of our colleague’s love wine, they love to study about wine and pour over maps and charts. But I am beginning to wonder which of them really, truly like wine!”

For me it was another epiphany on the wine trail of life. I had never really thought about it quite like that. I became accustomed the thinking that because one was involved with wine in some way, whether it was selling it on the floor of a restaurant or fine wine shop, or in the wholesale or import channel, that one was there because they wanted to be there. Because it was a wonderful profession, filled with travel and food and of course, wine. But I began, right then and there, to think a little deeper about one’s motivations for pursuing wine, and expertise in wine, especially.

While I am not certified in any exalted way by which tradespeople now traverse, through WSET or the Court of Master Sommeliers, or any other number of paths towards gaining recognition for one’s mastery of a subject as complex as wine, I’ve had my time “chopping in the woodshed” to have arrived comfortably in my own skin and my relationship to wine. And, as I’ve said a time or two in these blog posts, that while I am not obsessed with wine – all the time - I do have an affection for what wine has brought to the cultural scene. I see wine pervading more and more into everyday society. The other day, I was in North Texas on a large bus with 100 other folks, touring a triad of local farms. Along the way, they fed us and refreshed us with wine, beer and spirits. At one of the stops, in near 100 °F weather, they poured us a fresh, new rosé wine. It was cool, the fruit was delicate, it finished dry. In fact, it was a perfect accompaniment to the food served and the climate. I don't know if I can say I loved it – but I liked it immensely.

About five minutes later, as I was queueing up to see the automatic goat milker, a woman in front of me was commenting on the wine. “I suppose a wine expert would be disappointed in this wine. My husband gave me his and asked where the real wine was, the red wine.” I kid you not, in the torrential heat of Texas! But the real kicker was in that she was of a mind to defer to her husband’s opinion that the rosé we just tasted (and which I went back for a second glass) wasn’t a real wine and hence not worthy of any consideration (serious or otherwise) and that “experts” probably thought the same. I mused internally, “Well, I have some expertise in the subject and I think your husband is patently wrong!” Of course, I did not engage in a conversation which I wasn’t part of. But I had that re-occurring notion that we still have more work to do to effectively communicate a better wine/life balance in our American culture.

And I think that was also the point of my young friend in Austin. That we pursue mastery and expertise but we often pass over simple pleasures which balances it out. A fiasco of Chianti in Poggibonsi alongside a platter of grilled meat. A steaming bowl of Amatriciana in a trattoria in Rome with a carafe of red vino sfuso. A cannolo, made fresh by the ladies at Regaleali alongside a petite glass of Malvasia delle Lipari. Elevated experiences? Perhaps to some. But really these are everyday pleasures to an Italian and to those who follow the Italian path. And while it is, to some, an aspiration to love wine, to simply love wine seems to fall short for this observer.

I don't think I can, or even should, love wine. I was on a hilltop with a winemaker recently in Italy, and we were drinking the wine he made. It was a simple wine. Not something to drink in 50 years, or even five. And we got to talking about life and everything under the sun. I asked him if he loved wine. “What?” he said. “Love wine? What are you talking about? I love my mate, my children, my parents, my family. I might even love my little dog and cat. But love wine? Don’t get me wrong, I love what I am doing. And I love my village and my wine community, here in this region and in the world. I love all the people who have made my life richer and more meaningful. But I cannot really say that I love wine. But I do like it very, very much!”

Now, this was a person whose world is fairly ordinary and pretty orderly. He’s had his share of tragedies and he lives in the same epoch as we all do in this moment. So, he is not prone to turning a blind eye to the forces of destiny that are swirling all about us. But his perspective in regards to wine seemed to me, quite balanced and reasonable. Yes, to like wine might just be enough for me. In fact, that might be the little thing that has been nagging at me ever since I stepped away from the work force a few months ago. I didn’t miss wine. Wine for me was never an all-encompassing obsession. It was like my Uncle Pete or my Aunt Mary, someone I’d always known. And while I loved them, I cannot really bring myself to the point of loving wine like the people in my life.

So, just for the record – I love you – more than any wine. And I hope that I like you as much as I like wine – and that’s the way it is for now, from this pilgrim, on the wine trail in Italy.

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