“What makes wine so special?” asked my 13-year-old granddaughter.
She had intently observed her mother (my daughter) and me enjoying a few glasses of Chardonnay. She watched us chat, swirl, laugh, talk, and bond over glasses of clear golden liquid.
“It seems,” she said thoughtfully, “that wine is so different from other drinks, but I don’t know why.”
More than four-ish months 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? What is it about wine that made it superior to the water that was being served at a wedding in Cana? Why did Noah, upon leaving the Ark, plant a vineyard and become a husbandman?
Why did Napoleon insist on laws that would ensure the continuation of wine in France? Why did French winemakers risk their lives to hid treasured bottles of wines from the Nazi invaders in caves and homes? Why did the lawmakers of Napa pass laws that would ensure Napa’s place in the winemaking world when other places – Santa Cruz, for instance – who did not secure their special wine places have turned into unfortunate examples of urban sprawl?
One of my favorite explanations of the passion for wine is voiced by the character “Maya” in the Sideways movie. She expresses easily how I feel about wine. But not completely.
In case you didn’t know it, I self-describe myself at the “Pinot ‘Ho” because it’s my favorite wine. While I enjoy Miles’ description, it’s a little different for me.
For me, wine is different from any other drink. I grew up in a beer and spirits culture. After a Saturday night party, it was not unusual to see bottles of Wild Turkey or Beefeater sitting on tables, waiting to be capped and put away. Naturally I had to taste it, but was not enamored of the flavor. Ack!
Fast forward many years and I tried to figure out wine. I didn’t try to figure out beer or spirits at that time, but wine had a certain je ne sais quoi that was calling me.
It wasn’t until The Wineaux Guy™ introduced me a beautiful 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 an “interesting” 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.
Wine to me is more than “just a beverage” as Annette Alvarez-Peters, head wine buyer at Costco, once stated in a documentary about Costco and wine. Naturally, that statement caused quite a stir as people reacted strongly to her comment.
Okay. So she thinks it’s just a beverage. In that case, no matter how much people may rail, disagree, agree, or whatever, or how many certifications she may acquire, a statement like that shows that she doesn’t understand the passion of wine. She does a great job running Costco’s wine program, but she’s essentially a person who is doing a job, can taste, assess, and make yea or nay decisions about wine purchases, but she’s not a wine person. She’s just another employee who happens to have a job that I would kill for. She once made a comment about wine being no different than toilet paper, and that did it for me. No respect.
I am a wine person. Wine to me is life – it has the ability to make me rise above myself. I can take a glass of wine and ponder, contemplate, and muse about life (or whatever topic at hand) and will sometimes find answers. I love learning about it, and want to make it a major part of my life.
I don’t drink wine to get intoxicated. There are quicker and more alcoholic ways to get drunk that work far better than wine. A pint of Tangueray comes immediately to mind, even if it resulted in cautionary tale stories. But I digress.
My first “good” Pinot – which occurred before the movie Sideways, by the way – was an epiphany. The color that gleamed with translucent ruby, purple, and flashes of garnet, the nose that danced with roses, cranberries, strawberries, smoke, and cherries, and the experience of pure silk on the palate and a luscious, long, exquisite finish, pretty much ruined me for any other wine. While I can’t remember the wine maker, I do remember the experience.
Pinot Noir and I have an open relationship, however. While I often taste and enjoy other wines, Pinot is always my first love and the one I return to every night. Yeah. Wine is pretty much a sensuous and sensual experience.
When I think of a beverage, wine does not come immediately into mind. When I think of a beverage I think of water, tea, a soft drink, even a cup of coffee. Dr. Pepper. Diet Coke. Wine never appears in the equation. Wine is more like food. As I’ve said many times, wine and food are practically synonymous.
But even that definition isn’t enough and falls far short.
Wine is biblical, historical, and cultural. As I said before, there is a reason why grapevines have been taken all over the world in order to make wine. There is something that happens that’s magical to the grapes when it turns into wine. Yes, I know all of the scientific reasons why it happens, but it still doesn’t quite explain why wine is so special to so many people.
All I know is that when I am drinking a very special wine – and I’m not talking about my usual Chardonnay, popcorn, and a Netflix movie – but when I’m holding that glass of wine, and I’m watching the color catch the light and dance as I swirl, as the nose and the taste transport me, I know that for me this is not a beverage. This is not a soft drink. This is not a bottle of water. This is not a Coke. This is not Kool-Aid. And despite its humble beginnings, it’s not even juice.
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 they have, just doesn’t understand.
And that’s okay. Let them enjoy their beverage. I’ll enjoy my wine.
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