On Wine

The world is rife with important matters. Global warming, starvation, and disease are a few good examples. You also might include war, pestilence, and famine. Throw on top of that the economic uncertainties we face in the modern era, and you might think that humanity has enough to worry about without inventing pastimes to keep us occupied. Yet that’s exactly what we do every day. Whether it be film, theater, literature or visual art, mankind is constantly developing ways to entertain itself. The most natural of these ways is through food and drink; consumption is the basest form of interaction with the world, and at our basest, humans consume. The human body needs to devour anywhere from 1700 to 2500 calories to survive each day without turning to its own flesh for sustenance. With that in mind, we should find it unsurprising that we are as a race slightly food obsessed. To paraphrase Alice Waters, at some point in every single day, the question arises: What’s for dinner? And whether it’s a decadent, multi-course French meal or a simple plate of pasta, there is no better accompaniment to the dinner table than a bottle of fine wine.But the bottom line is: Why the fuck should you care about wine? With all the poverty, war, hatred, oppression, and various other extremely serious things that the world has to offer us to worry about, why waste time on something as frivolous as fermented grape juice? The answer, of course, is that people love to concern themselves with frivolous things! Rather than focus on the massive, daunting – nay, overwhelming – problems of the world and the universe we narrow our focus to that which is pleasant and fascinating, and wine is a particularly enjoyable way to while away your time as the world degenerates into chaos and inhospitable disorder. After all, it tastes good, it’s an engaging thing to talk about (what with the myriad methods of production, grape varieties, and news of the industry – not to mention the sordid, tawdry gossip that comes with any community), and – here’s the kicker – it gets you drunk! Not drunk in the hobo-on-the-street sense of the word, mind you, but drunk in the we’re-all-so-middle-class and life-is-such-a-parade sense. Tipsy, as it were. Good luck finding another way to remain oh-so-classy while still scratching that mid-twenties urge to get delightfully lit. (Craft cocktails are, of course, making a resurgence, and that’s a good example of a competitor to wine for its classiness – more on that later!)

So there it is, the dirty secret that sommeliers don’t ever want to talk about in their elevated discourses on region, vintage, and method of production: Wine will get you drunk. And easily, too! The average alcohol content in a dry red wine has got to be around 13.5-14% these days, and is steadily on the rise. Compare that to perhaps 5% to 6% in your average microbrew, and it makes you wonder why frat boys aren’t chugging Pinot Noir through funnels. It would certainly match the togas better.

Beyond the intoxicating appeal of wine, the sensory experience is amazing! Spend some time with a glass of wine and you’ll (on any given day) find rich, dark blackberries, black plums, red raspberries, tart cherries, subtle cola notes, cedar, spice box, incense, leather, horse mane, butter, lemons, limes, peaches, apricots, grapefruit, kiwi, passion fruit, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. All of these aromas and individual experiences are waiting in a glass of wine – and that’s before you even taste it! People who are into wine – call them oenophiles, wine nerds, cork dorks, or whatever else you may choose – are obsessed with these things; the subtle differences between perceived citrus fruits and tropical fruits intrigue and delight.

Because no two people’s nose is exactly alike, controversy and dischord can permeate a tasting group, destroying friendships and dividing communities. This is fine. Anything that riles passion in the human heart enough to draw people together will inevitably tear some people apart.

I digress. Wine can be a captivating experience, but you have to be willing to be wrong, willing to be clueless, and willing to accept that with time your tastes and your preferences will change and evolve, and that you will inevitably look back at your previous wine choices – your ideals of oenology, your idols of viticulture, your concept of what a great wine is – and say to yourself ‘what in the world was I thinking?’ This is right, though it can be a particularly expensive problem if you’re of a wine collecting mindset.

The point of wine, at its heart, is to engage in your senses, to connect with your body, and to embark upon a journey that will never end, an experiential odyssey that you’ll carry with you for your entire life. Through wine, a little bit of France, of Italy, of South Africa and of Walla Walla can travel to you; you, the winemaker, and everyone else who ever tries a wine can learn about the world, can grow as people, and can experience life in a mysterious and dynamic way that is never quite the same from person to person but is nevertheless part of the greater shared existence that makes us all human.

And, of course, you can get lit in the best possible way: Like a classy person.