Wine Is Both Servant And Honored Guest



We were talking about wine, as I recall, and I was saying that, generally speaking, I enjoy it. There are somewhere around 2,000 different grape varieties in the world, some of which make really awful wine, no matter how you treat them, but Enlightened Mankind has pretty much narrowed down the best ones and knows the secrets to making delicious quaffs from them.

The best are known as "Vitis Vinifera," the Noble Grapes. I take no personal credit for this. They include cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, Riesling, merlot, syrah, zinfandel and grenache, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, malbec and cabernet franc. Also, petite syrah, petite verdot, mourvedre and Carigne. Semillion, chenin blanc, pinot grigio, and Orvietto have a place, as do Gruner Vetliner, sangiovese and nebbiolo, not to mention tempranillo. There are others, silvaner comes to mind, as does Viognier.

What I am saying is that if you don't particularly care for one, there are lots of others to try.

If you are very lucky, someone will come along to offer you a glass of wine made from one of the lesser-known varietals, and it will be magnificent. Winemakers, good ones, are as near to alchemists, as we are ever likely to encounter.

The winemaker determines the ultimate taste and effect the wine will have in a person's experience. He or she uses the best ingredients, of course, but ultimately the process is as much an art, as a science.

Good winemakers are as passionate about their wine, as a painter is about his brush strokes.

It must be said, however, that grapes like Concord and Thompson Seedless and Muscadine and numerous other "common" varieties will only make fairly common wines, kinda like painting by numbers.

To fully understand the complexities of wine, one should study the history of wine, and to do so, one must study the history of civilization. They are inseparable. In addition, it would be beneficial to study archaeology, genetics, geology, geography, agriculture, chemistry, commerce and a host of other subjects. The nice little Chianti you had with your lasagna last night has a genealogy as worthy of study, as your eccentric aunt Martha.

You could, of course, just leave study to scholars and simply enjoy wine for its own sake.

That's what most folks do, and for very good reasons. Few, if any, libations bring more complete involvement with the occasion, interest in the ingredients and simple satisfaction with their presence.

Good wine is a multidimensional entity with a personality. It is frequently accepted as an additional member of the party and invites open discussion, as to its acceptance. It is primarily meant to be a companion, to be enjoyed with food or to be part of a celebration.

It would be rare, indeed, to overhear a conversation concerning the particular aspects of one's Coca-Cola or bottled water, and how well they complement the food.

Beer has its devotees, of course, but it seems more independent, if not indifferent.

Heavier spirits exist for themselves alone. Only wine seems to fill the roles of servant or acclaimed guest, with equal aplomb.

In the book of Genesis (one of the world's oldest writings) Noah is said to have made winemaking one of his top priorities, after finding dry ground. The ancient Greeks were so impressed with the properties of wine that they assumed a god must be responsible and named him Dionysius. Romans called their wine god Bacchus. Egyptians placed jars of wine in burial sites of major figures, assuming they would enjoy it in a later life.

There is archaeological evidence that wine was made and stored at least as far back as the Sumerians, the earliest known civilization. Throughout history, wine has played a major role in commerce and ceremony and in daily life, of course.

Thomas Jefferson was so obsessed with attempting to grow French varietals on his Virginia plantation, that he spent much of his fortune and a great deal of his time in the effort.

It only resulted in one of the few failures in his life. Good grapes will grow there, but not the great ones. George Washington was said to be a teetotaler, but some suspicious stains were found on a set of his false teeth. Jimmy Carter banned wine from official ceremonies in the White House and lost his bid for re-election. On and on.

Whether one drinks wine (or any other beverage) is their personal choice. It makes a fascinating study no matter what one's preferences. Anyone remember Gregor Mendal?

Later, we will discuss how some Mendal types first discovered how to create the great varietals of grapes from the common wild ones.

On and on.

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