“What makes wine so special?” asked my then 13-year-old granddaughter.
She had intently observed her mother (my daughter) and me enjoying a bottle of Chardonnay. She watched us chat, swirl, laugh, talk, and bond over glasses of the clear golden liquid.
“It seems,” she remarked thoughtfully, “that wine is so different from other drinks, but I don’t know why.”
I looked at her and promised to get back to her while I thought about it.
A couple of years later, I’m still not sure I have an answer for her. Or even for myself.
So what makes wine so special? What is it about wine that had Roman troops carrying vines to every corner of their empire? Why did Noah, upon leaving the Ark, plant a vineyard and become a husbandman? What is it about wine that made it so remarkable when it was being served at a wedding in Cana? Why did French winemakers risk their lives to hide treasured bottles in caves and homes when the Nazi invaders stormed through?
Why did the legislators in Napa pass laws that would ensure Napa’s place in the winemaking world when other nearby communities – Santa Cruz, for instance – did not secure their precious wine lands and watched them turn into unfortunate examples of urban sprawl?
The answer? Wine is different from any other libation. I grew up in a beer and spirits culture. As a child, I observed that after an adults’ Saturday night party or BBQ, it was not unusual to see bottles of Wild Turkey or Beefeater sitting on the bar, waiting to be capped and stored. Bottles of beer in tubs of cold water hours later, needing to be patted dry and placed in the fridge. Sticky patches of soft drink or mixer on the floors or patio, waiting to be mopped.
A New Curiosity
Fast forward many years and in my adulthood, I decided to figure out wine. Beer or spirits didn’t interest me then, but wine had a certain je ne sais quoi, a certain peculiarity, that was calling me.
It wasn’t until a close, wine-loving friend introduced me to a stunning Napa Cabernet Sauvignon that I got it. It was a fully transcendent experience, and I actually got it!
It took a few years, another marriage, another divorce, and a cautionary tale of a relationship before I really started seriously exploring this wine thing. That was well over a decade ago, and I’m still not sure that I have the answer to my granddaughter’s question.
Despite what some others have said, I don’t agree that wine is just a beverage. When I think of a beverage, wine isn’t one. When I think of a beverage, I think of water, tea, a soft drink, a cup of coffee. Dr. Pepper. Diet Coke. Red Bull. Coconut Water. Wine, however, never appears in the equation. Wine is more like food. And there are countries with deep, ancient histories of wine that would agree with me.
I began to realize that I am a wine person. That is more than being a person who happens to like wine.
Wine to me is life; it has the ability to make me rise above issues, difficulties, and my self. As I loosely twirl a wine stem and ponder, contemplate, and muse about life, I will sometimes find answers. I learn about wine because it is a major part of my existence. While I know the scientific reasons for it, there is something magical that happens to grapes when they turn into wine. It’s that mystical change that ensures I’m a wine person. And will always be for life.
Wine as Spouse
The experience of pure silk caressing my palate, and the luscious, long, exquisite finish ruined me for any other wine.
I discovered that there was one wine that seized my heart and made me love it. My first “good” Pinot Noir – which I tasted long before the movie Sideways, by the way – was an epiphany. The color gleamed with translucent ruby, purple, and flashes of garnet, the nose danced with roses, cranberries, strawberries, smoke, cherries, and Grandmom’s spice cupboard. The experience of pure silk caressing my palate, and the luscious, long, exquisite finish ruined me for any other wine. While I don’t remember the winemaker, I do remember the experience.
By necessity, Pinot and I have an open relationship. While I regularly taste, assess, and enjoy other wines, Pinot is always my first love and the one I return to nightly. It is sensual. It is luxurious. Hedonistic, even.
I know that when I am drinking a very special wine – and I’m not talking about my usual Napa Chard and bowl of popcorn while binge-watching Netflix – and I’m watching its color catch the light and dance as I swirl, and as the nose and the taste transport me, I know that for me this is not a simple beverage. This is not a soft drink or water. And despite its humble beginnings, it’s not even juice.
Peculiar, remarkable, and special, this is wine.
And when all is said and done, that’s all that has to be said and done.
This is wine.
Anyone who does not understand that has either never had a good wine, or if he has, just can’t comprehend. That person is probably not a wine person.
And that’s okay. Let them enjoy their whatever drinks and beverages they like. I’ll enjoy my wine.