Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Plaisirs de Vivre: Why Drink?

If seems like an absurd question: Why Drink?

Yet when editor Celine Tremblay of the Montreal-based magazine, Plaisirs de Vivre, and I were travelling through Macedonina earlier this year visiting Greek wineries, she told me about her philosophical conversations in Paris with French wine writing elder statesman Henri Elwing and challenged me to give a practical, American reply to the question. Here are my thoughts on the matter as they appeared in the October issue of Plaisirs - minus the neat graphic interpretations:

Some people are born to wine. Others of us come to it.

The first time I drank wine was a blind tasting – in a manner. At the time, I was still a country teenager, out walking along a dirt road in the very narrow valley where I was born. An older neighbor’s truck bumped toward me and stopped. George leaned out the open window and extended a brown paper bag – a “poke” in our local vernacular – with the paper twisted around the neck of what must have been a bottle.

“Want a drink?” George asked.

“Sure,” I said.

Although ours was a dry household in the 1950s, a couple of times before I had tasted bourbon with a little hot water and rock candy as a special treat when my dad and another neighbor celebrated Christmas. This tasted different – not as fiery as whisky and certainly sweeter.

George told me it was red wine.

I would like to claim that I can still remember that first taste and have since divined its manufacturer and provenance. But I don’t, and I can’t. And it would be several more years before I became a regular wine drinker and still more years before I began to write about this special beverage.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about the attraction of alcoholic drinks and why I drink what I drink, while others drink something else or consume no alcohol at all. Here’s how I see it:

Beer is for refreshment.

Spirits are for relaxation.

Wine is all about pleasure.

I drink all three – a beer after mowing the lawn on a hot day, a Manhattan or a Bloody Mary when I sit at the bar before dinner or to chat with friends. But when I want a drink to savor and contemplate, or one to have with food, it has to be wine.

To me, wine has always had a romance to it. The first episode in this romance came when my brother David gave me a three-pack of Bolla wines – Soave, Bardolino and Valpolicella. I had heard of none of them – this was in the 1970s when most Americans thought of wine as something winos drank – but the names sounded exotic and magical.

So I bought a book on wine – one in the Time Life series, I believe – and I became enamored. The names Hermitage, Meursault and Haut-Brion bedazzled me, as did the photos of the châteaux, the chais and the vines. I pored over maps of the Cotes d’Or, reading the names of famous terroirs that I would walk through decades later, as enthralling in person as they were on paper.

Nothing is as romantic as sitting across the table chatting with an interesting woman – preferably my wife – while having a great meal and a great bottle of wine. But a close second is being at a similar table with a winemaker, sharing her or his thoughts and theories about terroirs, fermentation and the wine and food liaison.

Why drink? Is there any beverage so complex and changeable that it almost has human qualities? Can any other glass carry such a romantic retinue of shared thoughts

and experiences? Wine is the sole drink that brings us both rapt anticipation and the warmth of memories.

Why drink? Wine is the drink of Gods, and it makes us feel like one of them.

Until next time....

Roger Morris

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