VENI VIDI VINO
Seamus Muldoon, Himself
The greatest wine in the world is the wine that you’re drinking right now!
Think about that!
Why is that?
Maybe it is so simply because you are still here to drink it. Maybe it is so because it is the wine you chose to drink. Maybe other wines would be found to be more to your liking, but they are not now available to you for any of numerous reasons. The rationale is that connoisseurship is personal to each of us in varying degrees of competence, but if we have any capabilities in that vein at all, we recognize that gratitude is part of the equation. We are grateful to be here and to be able to enjoy this glass of wine, and that sense of thanksgiving, of saying grace, makes this glass of wine the very best wine in the entire world at this moment. Wine symbolizes the best that is in and of us. When God decided that the world was so pervasively evil that humanity needed to be destroyed, all save one, it was Noah the vintner who was chosen to be saved. It was Noah the vintner who was placed in charge of the innocents of the earth, the animals, and through whose story we are first taught the meaning of stewardship. (Genesis 6 – 9) This association of wine with greatness and divine mercy, with the hope of a restored position on the road to a cosmic Christ signifies the mysticism and the grace, the elevated and enlightened state for which we are grateful when we enjoy wine. It is a magic elixir in the finest sense of magic.
What would the mystery of wine be without that sense of joy and gratitude? There is romance in wine, without which it would not be what wine really is – something decidedly more than a fruit drink. We love the wine somewhat as we love each other. Loving the wine and each other at the same moment elevates both experiences. Without the mystery, it is only a chemical compound. Mystery is what removes any experience from the mundane to the sublime. Mystery abstracts the physicality of what we are doing and imbues it with aura.
We drink wine here out of Goomba glasses, small glasses without stems, glasses that the Sicilians and Greeks use when they convene in their taverns. When you remove the artifices from the wine experience, it is just you and the wine and the person with whom you are enjoying it. The experience is pure and mystical for being pure. Gilding that lily with mise en scene gimmicks cannot counterfeit the mystery if the person does not experience the mystery simply from the wine and the company. Artifice is merely pretense. Having the wine with food is not artifice, for the sustenance is also a “real” need fulfilling resource for which there must also be thanksgiving.
Make no mistake. I like good bullshit, perhaps more than I should. In fact I thrive on good bullshit, bullshit for the sake of bullshit – ars gratia artis. All my friends will gleefully confirm that, in the instance of myself, the conflict between reason and testosterone usually ends with testosterone being the victor. But this vignette isn’t about my sessions with good bullshit. It is another story. It is a serious story, albeit you may well find the occasional aside for the sake of a chuckle or for irony.
Wine is, in another dimension, about imprimatur. The gradations of wine, the producers of wine, the sellers of wine all use imprimatur to differentiate, and in that manner to assign comparative value (or at least comparative price). Nations have specific statutes to establish and enforce imprimatur – appellation controlee – denominazione d’origine controlata, &c. Beyond that, however, the simple fact that one appreciates wine is in itself a form of imprimatur. Alas, to the simple and shallow, it is a perspective not used to its high purpose, but rather used to denigrate and to self promote – “We’re the sweet elected few. The rest of you be damned.” That mantra has been chanted for ions by people who lack the ability to appreciate that the only proper expression concerning one’s perceived good fortune is gratitude, not hubris. There are no chosen people. There, in good status or in bad, but for the grace of God, go we. And the grace of God has to be earned. It is not bestowed as one might expect a trophy for winning a wet tee shirt contest. But that is another discussion. Why one would use the fact that they are fortunate enough to be able to appreciate wine as a platform from which to look down on those who don’t/can’t, instead of simply focusing on their good fortune and going forward with that as best they can, is beyond me, but not worth the effort to learn about.
Part of me – the bullshit part of me – would really love to have a room devoted to wine. That room would be chock a block with wine bottles, sectioned off and identified with the wood case ends that identify more expensive wines. What I actually drink comes in cardboard shipping cases, the very fact of which is a better commentary on my low estate. That room would also be adorned with art depicting scenes from viticulture and gastronomy. There would be a small corner library on the subject of wine. There would be a look and feel of a wine cellar. It would be a veritable chapel for the appreciation/adoration of vitis vinifera and the pleasures that abound in that pursuit. The room would also accommodate a small assembly for dining. A meal in such a room is like taking communion. It is bullshit of a grand manner, and, as I said, I like good bullshit.
Reality is that I get to enjoy wine while I am cooking. I am standing at my battery, armed with pots, pans, grills, burners, ovens, utensils and ingredients, sipping my wine of the moment, and happily concocting some plat du jour for the delectation of my true love, humming or singing as I go, and sipping some delicious and pedestrian wine that suits my gloriously happy mood. How lucky can a person be? Reality is sometimes also a visit with friends, discussing what comes to mind, serious or not, and enjoying wine and antipasto, usually with fresh baked bread, still warm from the ovens.
I love my reality.
Today is Thanksgiving Day 2004 – an exclusively American holiday. It celebrates the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony – you know – the landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock &c. We’ve all heard the story ad nauseam. Inasmuch as it is a weekday on which Belinda has a day off from work – a joyous occasion – there is a celebratory air. Accordingly, I chose a “special” wine for tonight’s dinner – a Cote D’Or Aloxe Corton blended by that fantastic negotiant eleveur Louis Latour. There are but a few truly great negotiants eleveurs in the Beaune wine trade. They are Latour, Drouhin, Bouchard, Mommesin, and one or two others whose names do not come to mind as I write this. They all produce what we call pinot noir blends of world renown. Personally, the greatest wine I have ever enjoyed was the 1970 bottling of Clos St. Denis (Domaine Dujac) – just up the road a few miles. The 1970 Clos de Vougeot was also memorable and a product of the only real chateau of the Burgundian region. That region is unlike the Bordeaux area in that it is but a fraction of the geographic size, and produces but a third (if that) of the volume of fine wine that the Bordeaux region produces. Through the centuries the land has become so split up that hardly anyone owns enough land to consider themselves a chateau wine producing establishment. Accordingly the small landowners send their harvests to be combined and blended by negotiants eleveurs in the city of Beaune into the great Burgundian wines. Louis Latour is one of those.
I chose his Aloxe Corton because I recall enjoying it with lunch right after I visited his (and numerous others’) establishments in the fall of 1976. That is the last time that I tasted it, but I have a phenomenal palatal recollection, and I recall to this day precisely what all the wines I enjoyed on that trip tasted like. They were phenomenal, albeit young.
It is now almost thirty years later, and the point of this recounting of palatal history is that in the interim I had the privilege to enjoy hundreds of wines of truly delicious vinification, from numerous geographic regions of the world.
On that visit to Beaune in 1976 there was a grand WOW factor. Thirty years later, having learnt the more expansive lessons of wine appreciation across a broader area of this planet, that WOW factor wasn’t present this evening. The Aloxe Corton was actually a down scale experience. I enjoyed a better tasting wine at luncheon today by pulling a cork out of a bottle of Stags Leap Petite Syrah from the Napa Valley in California.
I made a vow today that I would not again select anything from Europe at the approximate price of $ 25 a bottle, because the Stags Leap Petite Syrah at he same price was infinitely more delicious, richer, deeper, more lush – in fact, exquisite. At that price level nothing beats the California opportunities if one shops carefully. The WOW factor of Aloxe Corton has a diminished coefficient of elasticity – it had not survived the interim years during which I promiscuously enjoyed so many wines of so many varieties from so many parts of the world. Maybe the WOW was in part the product of my being so much younger and more impressionable. Maybe it was in part just being there where the wine is produced and being caught up in the fall wine festival atmosphere of Beaune. Inasmuch as French wines are so vastly overpriced anyway, I am giving thanks for the blessing of being here where American wines are so incredibly wonderful as well as favourably priced in comparison to the French offerings. Only the Rhone varietals remain within the ambit of what I still appreciate amongst the French wines. And tonight’s Stags Leap petite syrah was the equal of any of them. The two are but different clones of the same varietal that was originally brought from Shiraz Persia to the Rhone Valley during the second Albergentian Crusade in the twelfth century.
There should be some way other than the disgusting and useless tasting notes of pedestrian wine yuppies to preserve the library of palatal recollections that people like myself have accumulated over so many years of enjoying the wines of the world. On the other hand, it would be only an archivist exercise, and of no practical use considering my major premise here – that the best glass of wine in the world is the glass of wine that I am enjoying now, at this moment. Remembering what the Aloxe Corton tasted like in 1976 didn’t help me to appreciate the Stags Leap petite syrah. It only helped me understand how underwhelming the Aloxe Corton has become in the context of my experience in the interim. Had I not sought to relive the oenological thrill of Aloxe Corton, I could have continued to remember it as wonderful. You must always move forward, as you can never retrieve a “moment” – moments are fleeting. The entire “lets make tasting notes” movement is but another way to extract money from yuppie anal compulsives who drink wine for the social imprimatur more than for the taste and the ambient circumstances. He who dies with the most wine tasting notes wins, I suppose. The principal problem with attending any function of such people is that they all show up wearing enough cologne to frighten mosquitoes away. It is impossible to sense/assess/appreciate the aroma of the wine through the clouds of Prada and Chanel.
They wear this stuff because they have been duped into thinking that cologne is something that stimulates sexuality in the opposite gender, a sort of pheromone. How utterly ridiculous. But there again, someone has come up with a way to extract money from the stupid/ignorant yuppie mentality. Soap and water works just fine for real people.
Pheromonal stimulation occurs mainly amongst insects and animals. A sow assumes the coital position when she smells the hog’s breath. That’s something Clint Eastwood understood when he named his saloon in Carmel, California, The Hog’s Breath Saloon. DUH! What did you think Hogsbreath referred to – motorcycles? HAHAHAHA! Pheromonal protocols assign duties and give direction to assignments in ant colonies and bee hives. Pheromones stimulate appetite, but the stimulation is so subtle that no modern ultra clean over cologned American or European would recognize a pheromone if inundated in a cloud of pheromones. Let me give you an example of how pheromones work.
Several hundred years ago it was the custom amongst the “upper crust” to pass a bowl of something cold at mid meal – cleansing the palate for the next course was the announced purpose. Utter nonsense then, just as it is when pretentiously done today. When it was done way back then, it was absolutely necessary for its effectiveness to stimulate appetite that the cold bowl of whatever it was be passed by a teenage girl, preferably a virgin – except that teenage virgins are so hard to find – with her arms bare and no adornment in her hair. Her proximity when passing the bowl produced pheromonal experiences amongst the diners, not the contents of the bowl.
I am of the opinion - and I am not alone here – that as for the human female, her sexual signals cannot be evaluated by reference to farm animals and insects. What cologne you wear, and how much of it you inundate yourself with, will not get you sex. The human female is too cerebral for total olfactory sexual responses to get her there. Pheromonal influences don’t suffice. Forgetaboutit!
While the human female has her sexual requirements and proclivities, to be sure, other considerations – especially in an urban setting – will carry greater influence. Considerations of a man’s character and personality, his values and potentiality as a prospective mate and caregiver carry greater weight in any context except purely recreational sexual intimacy. In addition, it is a mistake to think that some mise en scene behavior or aroma – especially out of a cologne bottle – is likely to stimulate sexual urges. That’s just advertising bullshit. If you really want to start a woman on the road to intimacy, learn to cook. The aroma most likely to lead to sexual intimacy is a great sauce, meats roasting with herbs, spices and garlic, soups and stews that infer warmth and generous secure wellbeing. It doesn’t stimulate sexuality, but it does stimulate sensuality. Sensuality is a perception of wellbeing sufficient to permit and elicit a letting down of the guard, a relaxed and secure comfort level that enables –not compels – a woman to move in the direction of desire. A reasonably clean, very nice, caring and sincere male who can cook can make it in torn walking shorts and a pullover shirt with food stains on it. The aromas that arise in a well worked kitchen will go a lot farther to getting a man to yes than any perfume, an expensive wardrobe, an expensive automobile, a Rolex watch or any of the other trappings marketed to yuppie imbeciles. And taking a woman out to eat, while occasionally welcome and enjoyable, is nothing compared to being able to feed her at home – yours or her’s, it doesn’t matter – with a grand meal that was prepared entirely by you. And if you really want to score points, let it be you who cleans up after dinner.
As a chef, I recommend to any man who wants to add this capability to his life repertoire, that he develop about six dishes that he can really prepare wonderfully, without having to have a recipe card or cookbook in front of him – just do it over and over until it is as commonplace as pulling on your boots. This won’t work if you’re a one trick pony. You don’t want to become known as Mr. Beef Stew. I suggest the following for beginners: Roast Chicken (herbs, garlic, lemons, spices, olive oil (always put lots of garlic and herbes de province in the cavity of a chicken – the aroma while it’s roasting may be the only aphrodisiac) – roast it on a bed of sliced onions and sliced lemons with a touch of water or stock in the bottom of the pan); Beef Burgundy with mushrooms and capers; minestrone soup with escarole, grated parmigiano reggiano and crusty bread (a meal in itself – nothing else needed); pasta and meatballs made from scratch (see my recipe in Homage to Meatballs); a great Nicoise salad with crusty bread (also a meal in itself); shrimps creole; cioppino (a seafood stew a la Portugais). All these recipes can be reached on the Internet at www.recipesource.com . When you have mastered these, you are ready for a level of romance of which you never even dreamed in your wildest imagination. If you’re dessert people, it’s perfectly alright to buy dessert. A fruit tart or a Sacher torte with champagne for dessert is magical. For not more than $ 25, you can buy a really delicious California champagne.
There are no rules for the wines you enjoy with meals. Drink what you like. Red wine goes great with seafood, and white wine goes great with anything as well.
Ok. Now that you understand how this all works, the spirituality of it, the contexts in which it all may be put to its highest and best use, get your sorry butt out there and appreciate everything.
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