Late last night when the snow had started falling and I could not sleep, after a discussion on conveying passion in wine writing, I was wondering; How can a beverage be the instigator of emotions, and what is it that defines that kind of wine? I struggled.
A wine which elicits emotion is not unlike attraction to another person; difficult to pinpoint. Only a few people have experienced love at first sight, but I’m sure most of us can identify with the feeling of walking into a room, sharing a glance with someone and knowing that out of the 50 people in the vicinity, this is the one you want to talk to. A minute later you are not satisfied with talking, you want to break the wall and get closer. Touch. If someone at this point asked you to specify why, you wouldn’t really know. You have not yet shared your views on life, your values, your tastes in music, your interest in having children or your favorite vacation spots. Things that, had you been asked to list the most important criteria for a future partner might have been supremely important. The person might even be too tall, too fat or too skinny when compared to your ideals.
If you describe your favorite wine, perhaps you will talk of deep, dark fruit aromas, chocolate scent and a demanding tannins. But in your glass is a wine which it’s lightly perfumed, soft, with elegant ripe strawberries on the nose – and it is making your heart sing. You might not even be noticing those components, because the best wine experiences tend to defy terminology. They may not be perfect wines, but they make you feel.
That is how it is for me. Wines in general and “industrial”, cookie-cutter wines in particular can be described fairly well in terms of structure, scent, flavor and quality. They might be quite good, and often match what I expect of them. Then there are these wines – disproportionally often biodynamic and from artisan producers – where the regular tasting notes evade me. Instead, I get images and emotions. This instant triggers the full extent of my curiosity, shakes me out of my everyday stupor (hey, when tasting 100 wines in a day, “stupor” is an appropriate word) and directing every nerve ending to the discovery of this thing which has connected with me on an emotional level. It starts with the scent, in a wine, or the eyes, in a person. Either way, it is a prerequisite for opening my senses to the subject of possible affection and the desire to explore it further.
What amazes me is how accurate that first sniff or first glance is at identifying something or someone special. In Blink – the Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell says our brains compute a million factors we are not even aware of collecting within milliseconds. Our instinct at the first impression is thus much more accurate than we could ever expect, and more correct than if we break down the information into lists and analyze it. I bet there is something to this.
Of course, there are confounding factors. Imagine that amazing local wine from the veranda in Greece. The bottle you dragged home in your suitcase is nothing like what you remember it to be. Nor is your Greek summer fling when brought home to gray, rainy Britain. Sometimes we simply can’t ignore the influence of the setting…
Even after a fleeting encounter, the impression of certain people stay with you, in spite of forgetting what you talked about, or exactly what the person looked like. You can’t shake them, and want to be near them again, to satisfy the curiosity to learn more, come closer. Certain wines do the same. It is not a specific scent or flavor or “mouth feel” that gets to you, it’s the “being” of the wine, something intangible. This is what fascinates me with the best of wines. These wines of feeling may not be the same for me as for you. As it is with people. Energies align, but the wavelength is not identical for everyone.
The ability to fall in love is probably uniquely human. It is a blessing, a fantastic reminder that we may be content alone but that there is a special level of happiness which can only be reached with another human being. That a wine can elicit an emotion even vaguely reminiscent of this does not make it a substitute for love. But it is an amazing indication that wine, at its very best, has a place in our hearts as well as in our glass. And maybe, just maybe, that sharing the one (the wine, preferably) with the other (the person) might be the straightest path to bliss in our lifetime.