Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Most Important Wine Harvest of All Time

How many times have you read it? The harvest in process and the ensuing data regarding the weather, the quantity and the quality that inevitably leads to an initial prediction that this year will be the wine of the decade? Wine of the century? Greatest of all time?

Recently I looked back over a slew of articles, going back forty years, and read something similar to that. At the time, I’m sure many of the journalists thought, indeed, that they were reporting an accurate assessment.

What I find curious, though, over time, is that the “lesser” vintages, the ones not thought to be so great, actually delivered wonderful vinous experiences. That probably indicates that my interaction with the wine might have had less to do with the climatological conditions of past than the present conditions of my perceptual and emotional being.

I’ve written about this a time or two in recent posts. That the experiences, the setting, the people, the food, the personal sense of well-being contributes to the wine at hand and how one appreciates it in the moment.

Which, for me, throws out much of the prognostication about wine. Or at least, the hype.

Look, I’m not drinking as much wine as I once did, when I was actively involved in the wine trade. Oh, and I was also younger, my body was more forgiving. Now the thought of a thirty-year vertical tasting gives me convulsions. Too much of a good thing? Or as we age, does our need for exorbitance dissipate?

I recently saw a photograph of Frank Sinatra and Bono at a legendary steakhouse in my old home town, Palm Springs. Frank was 78 years old and he was puffing on a cigarette. I thought it an odd thing. An elderly man, smoking a cigarette in a bar while waiting on his table. I don’t know why it struck me so. I mean, I enjoy the occasional cigar, key word, being occasional. But as a habitual practice?

Not to equate smoking with wine drinking, although one could make the argument that both have their fair share of toxicity.

I reckon that moderation might be a prerequisite to enjoyment of anything that could become dangerous to one’s health. Skydiving comes to mind. Bungy jumping too.

But wine is supposed to be beneficial. That’s what folks have been telling us for forty years or more. Wine is good for you, they say.

Again, I’m thinking about the quality of the experience more than the actual quality of the wine. A wine that a famous critic gives 98 points versus one that gets only 89.

I’ve written about aged wines lately. But what is in my mind today isn’t about the age of a wine. And it seems it isn’t about the degree of buildup it gets in the press. No, I am diving into different waters here. The Chinese call it the Doctrine of the Mean, or Zhongyong.

It’s a middle ground between the extremes, the water that I am wading into. And I find the subtlety fascinating.

More wines open up to me from more harvests. It feels expansive but not in a materialistic manner. I feel it in art, in music, in cooking, in relationships. Less is more? Not really. It isn’t about less or more. Like I said, for me, it’s a middle ground.

So, when I read those pieces that tout the great vintage of 20_ _, I feel a detachment from those words. Maybe I’ve died. But it doesn’t interest me these days.

For one, they haven’t always rung true. But more to the point, those kinds of parameters just aren’t what I’m looking for in an experience with wine. I’m looking in other corners of the world of wine, and especially with regards to Italian wine, there are many corners. Or, rabbit holes.

All this to say, while my world has gotten smaller, the macro-view has presented me with a whole new universe. It’s a bit quieter, a bit calmer, for my present needs. It’s revelatory. Important? Maybe not so much. After all, the greatest of all time is always changing in our world. Look at the greatest actors, artists, musicians, fighters, warriors, countries, lovers, you name it, from 50, 100, 500 years ago. And look at them now. Things change.

He says, as he jumps, again, into the abyss.


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