Monday, February 8, 2010

A Sense of Discovery...and A Dram of Scottish Wine?

Too often, wine lovers get bogged down in the whole obsessive business of chasing ‘great’ wine. And while this effort--which I’m sure all of us have (or currently are) engaged in--typically leads to the uncorking of some remarkable bottles, it also has the unfortunate side-effect of obscuring a whole other class of wines from our respectful view if we're not careful.

When I first got into wine professionally, I found myself slipping into this trap, and it began to feel like some sort of (with apologies to Kant and standard English usage) myopic vinological imperative to amass as deep a well of experience with the greats as possible. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself. In fact, wine professionals should be able to understand and comment on certain specific touchstone bottlings with a broad, well-considered sense of context...but not at the expense of everything else.

Eventually, I learned that the wine world is about much, much more than just a handful of famous names and iconic labels. It is, rather, about a sense of discovery, and a desire to understand and make connections between all the moving parts of that world, no matter how famous or unheralded one particular corner of it might be in relation to another.

This was driven home most clearly to me when I began getting together with a group of local wine professionals here in Philadelphia for occasional BYOB-style dinners and at which the game, as it were, is not to bring the most famous bottle we can find, but, rather, the most interesting. This has led to some revelatory glasses of wine that we wouldn’t have had otherwise: Dry Furmint from Hungary; sparkling and bone-dry Shiraz from Australia; a sweet wine from one of the smallest appellations in Italy, the tiny Loazzolo DOC tucked away in the Piedmont region; and more.

So why talk about this today? Because this morning I read the news that Scotland is just about set to release its first commercially produced wine, a Riesling. And while no one really expects it to be great, or even, for that matter, terribly good--even the producer, Chef Peter Gottgens of the Ardeonaig Hotel on Loch Tay in Perthshire, says, according to the article in the Scottish Daily Record, “‘I don’t for one minute think we are going to rival any of the great wine-producing areas of the world. But we are going to learn and have a great experience from it’”--that doesn’t matter all that much. The importance is in the effort.

I cannot think of a better attitude, and a more propitious place to start, than that: At the intersection of exploration and passion, where so many of us began our journey in wine.

No matter what you drink, whether it’s First Growth Bordeaux, Grand Cru Burgundy, or Scottish Riesling, the sense of wonder at the wine world’s breathtaking diversity, and a desire to explore every nook and cranny of the map, is the bedrock, it seems to me, of a lifetime of wine enjoyment. The great vintages of the best producers can be magical, and anyone who tells you that they don’t get excited whenever they are lucky enough to taste one is either lying or in the unfortunate possession of malfunctioning taste buds. But there’s more to a satisfying wine life than just those bottlings. Balance and context, in wine as in life, is the key to happiness.


Hampers on February 8, 2010 at 11:47 PM said...

Just gone through your blog "A Sense of Discovery...and A Dram of Scottish Wine?" and found it to be cool :) It was nice going through your blog. Keep it up the good work.

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