The Adam Gopnik article I've linked to over there on the right is just one illustration of how the world of wine can be fraught with anxiety and confusion. So too the world of wine writing. There is an implicit choice to be made every time you stick your nose in a glass, a side to be taken. Will I react (and write) as an expert, grading wines on a numerical scale, or will I refuse to quantify my enjoyment of wine and focus instead on the art of the trade.
I've written about politics long enough to know that at some level choosing sides is for suckers; and I don't know enough about wine to make such a choice. So I won't. I will attempt, over and over, to answer one question. What does wine do for me?
Yesterday evening, at the liquor store, I stopped in the tasting room to try a couple of new arrivals I'd seen in the Vintages catalogue. I had my notebook with me, and some numerical grading evaluation sheets I'd downloaded. I took my two glasses, a Poggia al Tufo Rompicollo 2004, and a Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva 2003 off to a side table because tasting in front of a line of other shoppers makes me feel self-conscious.
I'd had one glance, sniff and taste of the Poggia al Tufo and was trying to settle on the early impressions when a young woman approached me. She and her husband/boyfriend had been at the tasting bar, and had tried this wine as well, but couldn't decide on it. What were my impressions of it?
Here we were, fully immersed in a stew of wine anxiety. This woman was not confident enough in her own taste impressions to make a decision on the wine, and I was certainly not confident enough in one quick taste to have anything intelligent to say to her. As well, when she asked her question she was looking down at my evaluation sheet. She was looking not just for someone else's opinion, but for authority. She wanted me to be an expert for her. Finally, her boyfriend had not approached with her. He remained at the bar, and I thought I saw a scowl.
Here's what I said:
"Well, that was the very first taste I had of this new wine, but here is something I noticed. The very first smell of it has a strong lush fruit, like ripe raspberry, which is why the first taste surprised me because that fruit did not come through. Instead it has a much lighter body than I expected and is quite tannic. But I like that."
And then, in the pause while she considered my opinion... "Does that help?"
"Actually," she said, smiling widely, "that was a perfect description of what I tasted as well. Thank you."
So, now go back and reread Gopnick on the power of suggestion in wine tasting.
I was certainly being tested. Did I get it exactly right? Who knows? I was just giving my honest first impression. So what does wine do for me? It gives me a moment when I can impress a woman right in front of her boyfriend, for whatever reason.
And that's enough for now.