The Romance of Wine - New York Times, Eric Asimov
I am a romantic about wine. I don't mind saying it, even though some people may consider that soft and unrealistic, lacking the sort of rigor necessary to avoid being manipulated by fairy tales and marketers.
Nonsense. Romance is the essence of wine.
Great wine by its nature is mysterious, unpredictable and perhaps ultimately unknowable. We understand a lot about it, and yet so much is unresolved. How does a wine express a sense of place, subject to minute differences of terroir? How does it evolve and become complex with time? I embrace these and many other uncertainties, which requires me to give up the illusion of omniscient expertise that is so often conferred to wine writers. Consider the sorts of questions that may arrive in one day's inbox:
1. "I just bought a case of 2010 Barolo. How long until they reach their peak?"
2. "I recently inherited a bottle of 1982 Château Figeac. When should I drink it?"
3. "Give me a $15 bottle that's good with spicy food."
I love to hear from readers, and to respond to them. But these are not questions that can be answered with full assurance. So I offer educated guesses.
1. "Wait 10 years, open a bottle and see what you think. That's what I would do because I like Barolo with some age. I might wait 20 years, though I already see people drinking 2010s in restaurants."
2. "You could open it tonight, next week, in a year or in five years. Nobody can predict what sort of shape one bottle will be in after 30-plus years, though theoretically an excellent St. Emilion from a terrific vintage should be superb now."
3. "What kind of spicy food? Maybe a good bottle of spätlese riesling, though it might be more than $15. Sherry? Hard cider?"
Almost every aspect of wine raises questions, which can only be answered with more questions or best guesses. When should I decant a wine? Is 2007 a good vintage? What sort of glass must I use for my chardonnay?
You do not hear questions like these about soft drinks, or beer. Good wine, more than any other beverage, puts us off balance because it refuses to behave entirely predictably. But with wine, just as in politics, uncertainty and complexity don't play for a mass audience.
A great wine, to me, is alive to the nuances of the environment and the vintage. It may show consistency in that the grapes come from the same plot of earth each year, and are subject to a producer's steady philosophy. But the wine itself will not be predictable. I find joy in a wine's efforts to express itself and its place of origin. It's like a live musical performance: Do you want a note-for-note rendition of a recorded piece? Or do you want to see where a band's unfettered inspiration takes it, for better or worse? I know what I prefer.
Books purport to "demystify" wine. It's all driven by a fear of making mistakes. But we should encourage mistakes; that's how we learn. I'm with the wine importer Terry Theise, who, in his excellent book, "Reading Between the Wines," called for "remystifying wine."
By embracing wine's mysteries, I don't mean that we should not seek to understand it in all its aspects. The science of wine is fascinating and should not be ignored. No astrophysicist ever lost the sense of wonder that comes from staring at a starry night.