My interest in wine developed long before I turned 21, as I’m sure is the case for many. My first experiences took place at family meals. The wine in question was never anything fancy, but it was a staple at mealtime just as much as was the bread or the cheese. When the table was set a bottle of wine was always brought out.
Champagne was saved for birthdays and special occasions, and the hard liquor was most often served as an aperitif for guests, but wine was an everyday event. I was occasionally offered a taste and secretly savored these small sips because I felt temporarily included in ritual that was reserved for the adults in my family. I eventually took part in the ritual myself as I got older, but I think my enthusiasm for wine was planted in those early mealtime memories.
There’s a powerful connection between wine, food and memory. Some of life’s most memorable moments and meals are enjoyed with a glass of wine. Wine isn’t just a beverage, it has the ability to create connections and evoke emotion.
It’s an expression of culture and history that is both personal and communal. The wine itself is an expression of its origins. The term “terroir” refers to the way that the soil and microclimate of an area, along with the skill of a winemaker, imbues a wine with a unique taste and character, and gives it its spirit. It’s an expression of nature and tradition that you can taste. In a sense, wine is a liquid memory of the place it comes from.
The particular qualities that make a wine great can be somewhat elusive and most certainly very subjective. No two people will always agree on what makes a wine good or awful, as each will have a different personal history that influences his or her experience with a wine .
What is it that makes a wine mediocre to one person and amazing to another? How can the same wine result in such different reactions? A chacun son gout? (To each his own taste?)
I think that wine, like food or art, is a sensory experience that cannot be reduced to its specific components. It is part physiology: our sense of smell and taste is a link to our emotions and memories, which explains what it is we like to drink and eat, and why.
It is also part cultural tradition: like the food of a culture, the wine of a culture acts as communal glue that bonds people together in a collective experience creating a sense of belonging and identity.
In the same way that being offered a sip of wine at the family dinner table made me feel a part of something larger, wine has an ability to express the relationship between a place, the people who live there and the traditions they share. This communal experience can be as large as an entire country, or as small as your own family. It is the intersection of taste, smell, memory and tradition that, for me, gives wine its enduring appeal.
Each wine also has its purpose and place. Sometimes a simple wine fits the occasion better than a more complex and aged wine. On a hot summer day a nice crisp rosé is all I want, a big red wine wouldn’t be nearly as refreshing or satisfying. When someone asks me what my favorite kind of wine is, I reply “that depends, favorite for what?”
The thing is, I’m not a wine sob, I’m not going to judge a bottle of wine on its price tag nor am I going to be ashamed of liking an unpopular or inexpensive wine. I drink wine for the same reason I eat food, because it tastes good and I like it. I don’t think anyone should be intimidated by wine. Learn to trust your palate and your desires; you know what you like. I don’t take wine too seriously. Like good food, wine is meant to be enjoyed and appreciated.
Are you a wine drinker? What are some of your favorite wine related memories?