A Happy And Comforting Companion

THE EDGE OF PAYSON

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I admit it. I like wine. As a matter of fact, I enjoy almost all versions and colors. If it contains some bubbles, all the better. Other beverages are fine in their own way. Each has its own champion, and I suppose water leads the list. Personally, I think water is for bathing, washing dishes and cars and keeping plants alive. There's tea and coffee and milk and soda -- all nice liquids. There's the hard stuff, of course, and beer and liqueur and Thunderbird and MD 20/20 and Bartle & James, which is really a malt drink.

There's sake and fruit "wines" and Mead and Brandy and Port and juices of every fruit. Man is never more brilliant than when inventing new ways to ingest liquids.

As for wine, there are good wines and bad wines. There are superb wines and everyday "nice guys." Wines can age well or not. They can be young and fun or dull and old. They can even be dull and young or fun and old.

I find them very much like people. The traits match up pretty well. Wines are sometimes shy and take some time to open up. Often, they come on strong but tire easily. Some are bland and some are exciting. Some stay with you for a long time and some leave almost immediately. The great majority of wines are just nice company for a meal or a party or a night.

I first discovered wine at a wedding reception. It was served in the form of champagne. It's the rare wedding reception that doesn't serve some form of wine or a substitute. The idea is that the moment deserves great happiness and freedom from worry.

Champagne is wine that has been made intentionally to "bubble right to the brain." It shamelessly contains just enough ethyl alcohol to temporarily confuse brain cells, blocking the negative ones and fortifying the positive ones. It's "Happy Wine" for a reason.

Weddings should exist in a happy cocoon -- a suspension of all worry and negative thought whether wine is present or not. The same could be said, I suppose, for the bride's dress and flowers and music.

For similar reasons, "honeymoon" refers to a period of time when the newly married couple could exist in a period of bliss, undeterred by daily negatives. In many countries, Ireland in particular, a bottle of Mead (honey wine) was given the new couple and they were expected to emerge only when the bottle was empty -- preferably on a New Moon.

The Bible has many references to wine, telling us that these customs and many others related to wine are very old.

Like anything else, wine can be abused. So can nice cars and good dogs. Don't blame the wine, though, or the cars or dogs. It's the abuser who deserves the blame.

Wine contains a small amount of ethyl alcohol, which naturally occurs during fermentation. That's a fact. Most people can handle that, with only a mild resulting euphoria. It's temporary and it contributes an uplift in spirits for a short term. A large percentage of the world's population understands the phenomenon and accepts it. Regrettably, it must be said that a great deal of damage is done by the percentage that can't seem to tolerate it.

Back to wine, though. The term "wine" refers specifically to fermented grapes. Dandelions and honeysuckle might, indeed, make a fermented beverage which has some similarity to wine, but they, and many other fermentations, are not truly wine. They are fermented libations. Fermented grain, rice and sugar cane are also a different breed. They mostly belong to a group known as "spirits." During fermentation of any sort, certain yeasts attack sugars and leave alcohol behind. Sugars plus yeast plus time and temperature may not exactly equal E=mc2, but there are those who would argue the point. A famous poet named Houseman once wrote, "... and malt does more than Milton can to justify God's way to Man."

It is the effect of alcohol that is closely connected to ritual rites, which existed before history was written. This, along with certain "smokes" which could be ingested, brought a change in perception of reality. This was considered a sacred thing and was assumed to reveal "The Spirit World" where truth and the future resided -- beyond consciousness. It was assumed that only priests or people of great authority could be affected properly and thus allowed to participate in the emergence of "Spirit."

Boys will be boys, however, and of course the "secret" of fermentation was spread far and wide from its first discovery. Worldwide this "spirit" is known as "Aqua Vie" (Water of Life.) Every culture reports some version of the use of "spirits."

Wine is not, technically, a spirit. It is in a category all by itself. It is an experience, as well as a food of sorts. More on this later as we take a look at wine through history.

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