I just returned from a weekend with friends in the glorious Barossa Valley. We had delicious lunches, we sat down and tried incredible wines, we laughed with cellar hands, we met one winemaker who invited us out the back and opened hundreds of dollars worth of wine and vintage tokay (aka muscadelle) for us to drink as he imparted his (slightly inebriated) life lessons.
At one point, Tim said (and I paraphrase) "I like wine, but I can only see it as something to accompany food. I can't get excited about it on its own". This is a fair point. With cooking, we can taste meals and be inspired to try it ourselves, we can experiment with different ingredients and combinations, we are free to make all manner of mistakes and enjoy each one, we can feel the thrill of creating something that makes people happy. With wine, however, we're limited. We can only taste what others have made, and (most of us) will never be able to make it ourselves. With wine, we can only be observers*.
So why wine?
It is because wine can offer us a glimpse of perfection. I was once an apple picker, in Kent, England. I climbed out of my tent, shook the ice off the fly, and started picking apples at 5am each morning. I distinctly remember standing in front of a tree as the sun rose, plucking an icy cold, still dewy apple from its branches, and biting into its crisp, juicy sweetness as I stood there in the orchard. I wasn't thinking about pairing the apple with a sharp cheddar, or baking it with cinnamon and nutmeg. It was simply perfect, nothing more.
We'll never be able to make an apple, or an avocado, or design our own basil. We'll never be able to make our own mountain range, or beach, or desert. What we can do, however, what people have been doing since people were around to do things, is create art that echoes the sheer inexpressible beauty of the world we live in. I have stood, transfixed, in front of Monet's Waterlillies because it has the power to reach through the centuries from when it was painted, reach beyond the canvas and oils with which it was made, and offer me a glimpse of the divine, of the same fundamental joy that pervades every apple orchard, every mountain range.
So it is with wine. There are some wines, and some moments, when they go beyond being a tasty fermented grape juice and become something more. Moments when the flavour held within a glass is so much more than can be explained by french oak and old vines, when it is something so joyous that you feel privileged to share it. True, you can't then go home and try to make it yourself, but then not being able to make your own apple doesn't in any way reduce your ability to enoy it.
*Bugger it. Let's have a wine recipe:
Ingredients (serves many):
- Tasty, tasty wine
Go to the desert (you can substitute a mountain, beach, or city rooftop if your local supermarket doesn't have desert). Take one part wine, combine with friends. Crusty bread, cheese and homegrown cherry tomatoes can be used as a garnish, if you want.
Serve on rickety folding chairs with starlit outback skies.