Pleasure and Creation

Yum Take a look at this photo of the Manhattan and the Sidecar, adjacent and abutting one another. If you plan to look deeper you'll see two cocktails, each comprised of three essential ingredients—bourbon, vermouth and bitters on the one side, and brandy, triple sec and lemon juice on the other side. But I hope that's not the first thing noticed if you plan to look a little deeper. Let's appreciate the aesthetic.

Let's appreciate the vibrant aesthetic, the way the appearance of the drinks coincide. Let's step back for a moment and take in the visual; the peychaud-spirited color of the Manhattan and the muted vibrancy of the Sidecar's lemon infused brandy, and the way they, together, suggest an certain affinity.

Look at them together.

Why is it that the color and appearance of drinks, and wine in particular, isn't given more focus in the various reviews and descriptions we give them?

This occurred to me as I mixed a Sidecar for a friend yesterday evening and followed it with the stirring of a Manhattan for myself and noticed the colorful and vibrant affinity that these two drinks had for one other. Is it that the intensity of our palates' and noses' reflections on our drinks take precedent over the visual character of the drinks? Or is it the seeming inconsequence of a drink's appearance on our pursuit of pleasure that appears to relegate it to second fiddle status?

I think it's more the latter.

Take a look at any review of wine and notice that if the wine's color or appearance is even mentioned, it's rarely more than a quick notation. Meanwhile, the descriptions of the aromas, texture and flavors take up the bulk of the review. The fact is, despite the striking visual that a vibrantly colored wine can deliver, the pleasure this aspect of the wine offers can't match that we get from its aromas and flavors and textures. And if wine is anything, it's a pleasure delivery vehicle. Hence, color and appearance must play second fiddle.

In fact, if you get down to it, the appearance of wine is pretty darned predictable: Shades of red, hues of yellow, slight variations on pink
. When we observe the color of wine, the point is usually to simply check if it lives up to our limited expectations. But when we observe the aromas and flavors of a wine, there are far more possibilities for pleasure and delight we need to be prepared to decipher.

It's for this reason that the cocktail has far more potential to capture us through its appearance than wine ever can. And it's for this reason that the degree of pleasure we obtain from cocktails is derived in much greater degree from their appearance than wine can claim to give us from its appearance.

There is one more thing that makes the appearance of the cocktail much more important to our pursuit of pleasure than it is with wine: We, the drinker, create the color of the cocktail. The color of wine is merely found. The Manhattan is a perfect example of this overlooked aspect of the way we receive pleasure from cocktails. The Manhattan is made of bourbon (brown), vermouth, (clear) and bitters. Now, if one chooses to use Angostura bitters, the Manhattan will come off with a bright brown hue tinted by way of orange. Use Peychaud bitters and the same Manhattan will take on a tint of red. It's your choice. The appearance Cabernet Sauvignon is out of our control.

We are a creative species and creation is one of the things that gives us pleasure. Even though the wine we drink is not one of our own creations, the fact that it was "produced" by man is one of the things that gives it interest. But it's not quite the same as the interest and pleasure we get when we do the creating ourselves. Like when we mix a cocktail.

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10 Responses

  1. Jack Everitt - June 22, 2009

    Tom, from reading these recent posts of yours, I can tell you need to get out and drink more orange wine. Head to Terroir in SF and they’ll hook you up. You’re starting to worry me.
    (Okay, I’ve performed my 2 minutes of Public Service for the month.)

  2. Bexamin - June 22, 2009

    “The appearance Cabernet Sauvignon is out of our control. …But it’s not quite the same as the interest and pleasure we get when we do the creating ourselves. Like when we mix a cocktail.”
    Well said!

  3. Thomas Pellechia - June 22, 2009

    I feel the same way when I mix paint.

  4. zonk - June 22, 2009

    We can only really accept the color of a wine we open, then consider the bouquet and taste according to our pallet, and perhaps compare our reaction to critic’s or blogger pallet. At home you can drink a red wine a little cooler or a white a little warmer, but at a bar or restaurant you don’t get much say in that either.
    This isn’t a bad thing at all, but it’s pretty much a you pays your money and you take your chances type deal. You can’t get the waiter to add a little tannin or could you increase acidity in the bottle sitting open on your table.
    However the average person (if there such a person) can have far more control and influence over the color, aroma and taste of a homemade cocktail by direct manipulation of the ingredients and technique till you get exactly what you want (and get the I did this satisfaction). We can also have more influence over a cocktail from a bar… think “shaken, not stirred or onions not olives please”.

  5. Benito - June 22, 2009

    “The Manhattan is made of bourbon (brown), vermouth, (clear) and bitters.”
    Perhaps this is a typo or I’m misreading something, but are you using white vermouth for your Manhattans? I’ve always used the sweet red vermouth in accordance with the traditional recipe, which is sort of brownish-gold like tawny Port or Madeira. Occasionally I’ll fix a “Perfect Manhattan”, using half white and half red vermouth.

  6. Anneliese - June 22, 2009

    A glass of wine stands alone. A cocktail glass is always adorned by a slice of pineapple, a wedge of lime, an umbrella speared through a maraschino cherry and perched atop the rim. (That’s all I got to add.)

  7. lionas - June 23, 2009

    Very interesting article and the blog is beautifully decorated, where you take the material for publication?
    Thank you

  8. fredfric koeppel - June 23, 2009

    Actually, not all cocktails come with garnishes. A slice of pineapple?

  9. Morton Leslie - June 23, 2009

    Just because we don’t talk about the color of wine doesn’t reduce its importance. I think it goes beyond just checking to see if it lives up to expectations. Many times it affects whether we bother to put it to our nose or in our mouth.
    When I see opaque, bluish-purple ink in the glass I immediately look around to see if there is something else to drink besides a high pH, low acid, overripe, over extracted wine. When I see a deeply colored slightly purple Pinot I am initially disappointed and look for something that hasn’t been doctored. When I see an orange or tawny rose, I treat it with suspicion, usually look for another choice that is bright and pink. When I see a recent vintage of Chardonnay with a deep gold slightly tawny color, I think I know what will come next.
    This is not to say that all wines with these colors are bad, it just means that the majority of the time what you expect to see in a wine is set up by your initial visual assessment. In the same way, I find I am prepositioned to love a Cab with a ruby red color that is brilliant and bright or a Chardonnay that is a beautiful, light straw, almost green in hue.

  10. Dylan - June 24, 2009

    We look at everything as we would mirrors, simply projecting our own experiences and emotions onto their surface. In doing so we take the estranged and immediately make it personal. Welcome to the world of aesthetics, it is filled with subjectivity.

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