One of the things that competitive and other big tasting line-ups can’t begin to accomplish (to take the extreme example of how not to deal with sensual experiences like wine) is situation. All those complexities like why, how, where, with whom, with what food, etc, etc. Perhaps the real wonderfulness of an alcoholic beverage is that it can be a humble adjunct to such situations, adding a little spice to the mix. Surely all winelovers know this, really .
Of course, there are occasions, sometimes no less wonderful, when the wine itself can be the focus around which the other things gracefully, gratefully, fall. But always, when the experience is in any way profound, or even complete (surely that’s a modest form of profundity?), it is the whole, the total experience that matters. That transforms the glitter of copper into the gleam of gold.
Certainly, as I grow relentlessly older, one truth about wine becomes ever clearer: it can never really exists. So all that someone else’s tasting note or judgement can do for you is give you an idea about a range of possibilities it will have for you. And I’m certainly thinking about more than things like food and wine matching. Sommeliers and others should consider wine and mood-matching!
It’s pretty obvious really, something we all know, even if we don’t draw the obvious conclusions often enough. I certainly had an idea of it in relation to wine even before I became seriously enamoured of the stuff, and interested in its complexities. I remember, for example, in my latter 20s, when I was living in England (not properly interested in wine apart from it being a nice thing to sometimes have with dinner), and making fairly frequent visits to Italy, discovering Frascati. We visited the little town above Rome one lovely autumn afternoon, and sampled the – seldom more than modest – wine. It was a marvellous day. I seem to remember walking at least partway back to Rome (probably a little drunk, but certainly happy) and calling in at the Tempietto in Montorio, a perfect little building (see right) designed by the fine architect Bramante – perhaps the first great piece of Roman Renaissance architecture, but one that I’d previously known only from books.
More to the point. It was such a good day that we decided to splash the very little discretionary money we had on a dinner out. (Strangely, my best holidays were when I had least money – youth and hope were great compensations!) We found an open-air restaurant just off Piazza Navona, in a little square surrounded by (I think) 16th and 17 century buildings and walls, lit by fiery flambeaux in wall sconces. And of course we drank Frascati, and of course it was still one of the most wonderful wines I’ve ever drunk.
I tried it again back in England, under grey alien skies, and it wasn’t the same, and never could be, of course.
But, of course, it’s not only the great experiences that demonstrate this important truth, but also little satisfactions (and of course great and little disappointments too). Hence this bit of confessional journalism (more like a proper blog, I suppose, than I usually produce), and it was prompted by a different, and minor sort of gestalt experience. Should I even detail it, I now start to wonder?
The context: a difficult week in many ways (chasing car insurance, helping a friend with a difficult dog problem, worrying about a forthcoming overseas trip, organising a fortified wine tasting in Spain, and the irritation of getting a Schengen visa, etc, etc). Focus of my evening was, I admit, to be a 90g bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk choc. Not haute cuisine, and not part of anyone’s healthy diet, but it was what I suddenly lusted after in Pick’nPay.
Drinking started with a beautiful chenin from the Winery of Good Hope, all of whose chenins are always worth drinking. I recently sampled, with Angela Lloyd, the 2013 “entry-level” version, going by the winery name plus “Bush Vine” – thoroughly recommendable good value at R55. This one was the top-level Radford Dale Renaissance 2011 – more complex, of course (and more expensive, and deeply satisfying; an excellent partner to a chicken salad.
Not great for cheap chocolate, however, and brandy seemed a good idea for an excessive evening (accompanied by an enthralling novel lent me by Mark Solms – more soon about my visit to Solms-Delta), Ann Pratchett’s Bel Canto. But it shouldn’t be a really good brandy, I decided, and the Barry and Nephews Muscat Pot Still Brandy luckily proved a perfect partner to the chocolate (no doubt partly thanks to its overt, distinctive fruitiness), though it’s not a brandy I’d easily choose to sip by itself. But I must say, generally, that I’m increasingly impressed by the versatility of brandy in accompanying food – especially the sorts of food that table wine has trouble with.
Thus prompting this little disquisition on how the right partnerships on the right occasion breed success.
To accompany this sudden spurt of writing, however, something more ambitious and conclusive was called for, so a tot of a great Cognac: Frapin XO Grande Champagne. A marvellous way to continue some self-indulgent sensuality, but very possibly the Muscat brandy had been the right partner for cheap chocolate, to great effect.