14 January, 2014

Thoughts about wine

There is a lot of money (and time... and liver cells) to be spent on wine. There is a lot to learn about it. Really, infinite knowledge to be acquired. The words, the particular language of the discipline, is critical. One could spend a decade becoming an expert in the products of one hill in one region of France. And when you are done, that decade is over, and the wine from that little hill might be completely different than it was due to climate change or soil or pesticides, or who knows what. And if you can spout off the names of the towns, or the people running these vineyards that have been producing for centuries, then you are immediately perceived as wise in this field. 

The thing is, taste seems so subjective. I have been a musician my entire life, and I have had many an argument about the virtues of this type of guitar, or that type of amplifier. Which is better for blues? A Stratocaster? Or a hollow-body Gibson? The argument can go on forever, and it is ultimately subjective. The business of wine takes that a step even further into the ethereal, in that “flavor” is something that lingers on the tongue ever so briefly, and then it’s gone. And the bottle you drink today is a different entity than the bottle of the same wine you drink next year. It’s true that the same holds to an extent, for a musical instrument. Things age, and tonality changes. But the ability to listen to and perceive that tonality, and assess it, is something that feels slightly less fleeting than the flow of a liquid across a palate. 

I just became interested in wine recently. I have liked it for a long time, but thought, perhaps, I should at least acquire a passable knowledge of it. I am not yet on the road to being knowledgeable, other than I recognize now that I have as much right or capacity to tell you what I taste as a sommelier with 100 years training. The difference is, of course, I will recognize fewer things, due to my lack of experience, and I won’t know the words to describe it as well as the trained expert will. But if I taste caramel, god damn it, then it’s fair to say that the wine has a caramel flavor. What I learned from even a cursory scanning of the internets is that the caramel is likely a flavor attributed to the barrel the wine was aged in. This is the knowledge one must acquire. And I guess I have decided it would be “fun” to spend a modicum of effort absorbing that library of information.

The other funny thing about wine is that we all drink the wine, and we all become intoxicated. I am drinking the wine right now as I write this, and it is most certainly impacting the words that I put forth on this page. Drinking has an added benefit that listening to music does not: it gets you wrecked. That may be an uncouth way of putting it, and will certainly be offensive to the finest connoisseur (it took me 5 tries to type that word closely enough, though still incorrectly, that the spell checker offered the correct spelling). But it’s true. Part of why we drink wine is because it makes us feel good. It makes us feel better, perhaps, than we otherwise might with the stresses and sadnesses of life. And we can kid ourselves that this is a science, or an art, while we get sloshed. And with the proper education, we can even sound like sophisticates while we walk that path.

I decided to start collecting wine. Not a lot and nothing “expensive” but, you know, just joining a few wine clubs, and getting some random picks that I never would have found, for $20 or maybe, on occasion, $40 a bottle (though I can’t bring myself to drink a $40 bottle of wine, because it has to be saved for a “special occasion” - and I am having a hard time defining what occasion is “special enough” to drink the $40 bottles, but that’s a whole other kind of insanity). What this is, really, and I recognize it, is a “project.” I used to have an aquarium and I became an expert in cichlids. Weeeeee. That was a lot of work. And it was smelly, and sometimes noisy (if the water level dropped), and there were these living things in my house that I was sort of responsible for, so it was also sort of a burden. That was interesting for a few years. And only just recently did I finally fully divest myself of that burden. And you can’t get drunk on fish. So there’s a limit to how much of a life-enhancing effect they can have. In fact, one could argue that they sort of disconnect you from others because nobody wants to hear you talk about how you squeezed the mouth of the mother fish open so you could get the babies to come out (I won’t even start to explain what that’s all about — they’re mouthbrooders which is different from mouth-breathers). 

Wine is a hobby. I used to play video games. I played World of Warcraft, and that was my “hobby.” I knew a lot. But again, that knowledge was not really applicable to all audiences. Though, I will argue that gaming is more like wine, because there’s a kind of intoxication that it produces, though more of an amphetamine variety than a depressant one. So now it’s wine. I won’t get too crazy about it (I promise). I won’t become a sommelier. I won’t purchase rental space in a warehouse for my 12,000 bottles of wine from this one region in the Rhone that you really just have to know about, if you love wine. I’m just gonna buy some wine. Put it on a few racks in my living room (where the fish used to be), and drink it with my girlfriend, or occasionally bring it to a party as a gift. I’ll take a class in wine tasting, mainly so that when the really pretentious people try to tell me that something has a “bouquet of vanilla” I can tell them that it must be the kind of oak that was used, and then they’ll have the delusion that I am also part of this secret club of aristocrats. Yadda yadda yadda.