The Voice of Wine

Do you recall the experience of being on the receiving end of a message so beautifully rendered and conveyed that it moves you; that it moves your mood and disposition to another key—up or down—and forces an audible awe from the depths?

The message delivered by the greatest wine you've ever tasted, spent time with and even shuddered upon tasting can't do this. And this is the limitation of wine that makes it a voice of accompaniment, not a standard bearer for authentic and momentous shifts of disposition.

This is a somewhat sad revelation for those of us that grant wine a place of significance in our lives. But the sad fact occurred to me today upon having spent time with an authentic pleasure, then following it up immediately with another, of a different type.

This is not so much a lament of despair for wine thought once to be more significant than I now know it is. I think that without wine to accompany moments of significance and simpleness, those moments would not stick in our mind as more important or transcending than they might otherwise have been. But  in the end we celebrate an accompaniment.

Wines do deliver a message. If you don't feel the absent Mistrals when you sip a cold French Rose on on a warm summer evening when the wind picks up with the descent in temperature then you have no business spending time with your own thoughts. But that message isn't nearly the same in character or as potentially moving as the intense preciseness of Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" heard late at night, in your car alone on a dark byway or, again, alone late at night as you wind down, or with your lover when not a spec of light kills the silence.

The creamy, otherworldly, elegant intensity of a 1985 Grande Dame may make an otherwise spectacular moment into something surreal and devotional, but it can't transform your disposition the way a reoccurring nightmare does upon it untimely and disturbing return or the way a reconfirming second kiss explains instantly and succinctly that she really is amazing.

This is the limitation of the voice of wine.

It's an expectations game. And here's what's important about all this: When we realize that wine, even at its best, is really no more than an accompaniment to things, moments, people and messages with greater potential for significance and articulate speech, we make wine into a far more useful messenger. We make it into a chorus; a choir. And that's a lot more than can be said for nearly every other inanimate object you know of.


6 Responses

  1. fredfric koeppel - November 29, 2008

    Tom, you’ve written about this idea before but never so eloquently. The obsessive collectors, the geeks, the wine rocket scientists should take your words to heart. Wine is a beverage, a beverage of everyday consumption or potentially the greatest beverage in the world, but it’s not Bach’s Art of the Fugue or Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, it’s not the Divine Comedy or Paradise Lost, it’s not the Pieta or Guernica, it’s not, as you say, the kiss that confirms a lifetime of love. But wine is, bless its heart, a measure of our enjoyment and pleasure in the implementa of life itself, the eating and drinking and sharing, the recognition of our burgeoning, the implication of our decline.
    I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  2. Mark Romano - November 30, 2008

    I’ll drink to what you wrote so well.

  3. am - November 30, 2008

    ahem. Was this a post coital post? Whatever, I second your emotion!

  4. Dylan - November 30, 2008

    I wrote about this recently, but I didn’t write it as you have. People have always been, first and foremost, the top priority of my life. Friends, family, even strangers–the world is a less colorful place without being able to take in their contributions to your life around you, intentional or not. As for the wine, it’s as you stated, wine is glue. Wine is something that friends, family, and well, even strangers (I recall certain article about a plumber and a crush of yours) can share in. Certainly, if not to form a bond, to heighten the memories made of bonding.

  5. ramblin' Wino - December 1, 2008

    Good post Tom! I agree. To me wine is for pleasure. And you’re right! If wine was the chief pleasure, the center of experience instead of the an accent to it, mine might be a pitiful life. Wine is after all preserved grape juice that was meant to accompany food. It’s the things that humans have added to accompany wine over the centuries that have given it more meaning.

  6. Mitch Tarr - December 9, 2008

    I just noticed this and have to shout out that I receive hundreds of winery emails every month and would absolutely faint if one had that type of language. Most send me a nice template (read poorly designed) newsletter which instantly puts me to SLEEP.

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