As I was tasting through some barrels this morning, I tried to think of what I might blog about for Culinate. My mind was racing with ideas: sustainable viticulture, the work of growing wine, the migrant-labor situation, the “making” of wine. Though all of these topics are dear to me, I wanted to start with something a little “softer” and less controversial.
I was pulling a little wine out of the barrel with a thief and letting it flow into my glass before going into the winemaker’s ritual of swirling, sniffing, swirling, sniffing, swirling, sipping, sucking, and spitting. I just couldn’t figure out what to write about. Then it hit me: Start at the beginning.
Wine has a long history. It has been the muse to many a poet and painter. It has fed the souls of as many soldiers as it has the vanity of aristocrats. There are those who prefer beer, there are those who will unenthusiastically partake, and there are those who are truly touched by the blood of the vine. Every wine tells a story. It speaks of the things that can be understood: the way it was grown and made and of the people who toil at its creation.
It also speaks of the things that cannot be understood. It tells the story of the soil from which it was born: the millions of years of volcanoes, floods, and earthquakes. It has a mystery much like that of the covered faces of the harem of a nomadic king. It uses curiosity and wonder to seduce. There is something about wine that makes people want to learn about it, to come to “know” it.
No one — not even the French — is born with an innate knowledge of wine. It is something that has to be learned. At some point all winemakers, sommeliers, and plain old wine geeks are nothing more than wine novices. We all go through the times of mispronouncing the names of grapes and wine regions (for the record, Oregon’s Willamette rhymes with “dammit”), not being able to tell a black-cherry note from that of a red currant. We have all read tasting notes that describe things like barnyard, cigar box, armpit, and forest floor, and wondered, “Is this supposed to be a good thing?”
We all start at the same place. We all start at the bottom of an immense monolith, overwhelming in its scope and sheer mass. We stare upwards and squint and wonder how in the hell we are going to get to the top, how will we ever know all of this?
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