I can’t – or won’t – remember exactly when I last shed a tear or two over the loveliness and mystery of a bottle of wine (too long ago, in fact). But I can say when last I snuffled a bit and dabbed the corner of my eye when reading about wine. Yesterday.
To quote the World of Fine Wine magazine, “Terry Theise is an American wine merchant who specializes in Germany, Austria and Champagne…. He says that his career ‘is a model of what successes are possible given a combination of utopianism, fanaticism, and poor business sense’.”
In the current issue of that finest of all wine magazines, in an article called “Glimmers from the year in wine”, Theise writes with passionate and caring eloquence about – what exactly? About profundity in wine and what it means, about winegrowers living in harmony with their surroundings; about how “for so many new young wine lovers there are so few authentic things left in the world that they hardly learned how such things might be recognized”.
Theise describes how young people nowhave “even less access to the great benchmark wines than I did 30 years ago”. They have a huger range now of fascinating distinctive wines, he says, but without some experience of the great classics as a foundation “wine becomes just another ephemeral and incoherent thing”. “How do we learn orders of salience? How do we glean which things are trivial, which are worthy, which are important and which are crucial? How do we recognize greatness when it arrives? And how do we account for the way it makes us feel?” He tries to answer some of these questions.
What is so moving about Theise’s long meditation is the lack of pretentiousness, his avoidance of sentimentality while engaging with concepts like “beauty”, “love”, “authenticity”. There’s an almost artless honesty and nakedness with which he writes about things that he takes seriously, the way he connects wine to life. He speaks of the “larger values”, and is clearly disappointed that he sees so little written about these values (“at least outside this magazine”), unlike in his youth when “it was fine to respond powerfully when a wine was powerfully beautiful”. Today, he says, “I see people trying to be the first to break the news…, I see people asserting their points of view…, I see plenty of consumerist rankings of wines, but I see very little revelation, or even just passion.”
I particularly enjoy Theise’s defence of sitting quietly and alone with a wine sometimes, rather than drinking socially and talking about the wine. And when he describes how he as an introvert responds to introverted wine: “I also think there are gregarious wines and also introspective wines, and I love those autonomous little beings who don’t look up when you enter the room”.
He describes at length, very movingly, two elderly brothers making the same modest, honest, true, fresh Mosel wines they’ve always made. Theise sees the harmony and integration in their lives (and their wines); “they need very little and are thoroughly happy”. He writes at length about a visit to the Ott family in Austria, and how “I was a little weepy when I drove away”.
It’s difficult writing genuinely and emotionally about wine and life, and life-in-wine like this, but Theise pulls it off, and I feel that I learnt from reading his words. As I have before. A few years back I reviewed his little book called Reading Between the Wines and expressed the wish that it could be made compulsory reading for wine students. The book, and an article like this one, would only reach the hearts and minds of a small number, perhaps – but for them it would be a revelation, or a confirmation of something that is driving them into the world of vineyard and cellar, of climate and culture, soil and history.
I think there are sadly few people here who get the World of Fine Wine, for which Terry Theise has written a good few pieces, all as valuable as this one (the magazine is expensive, unfortunately). The best advertisement I can give it is that it is probably the only wine magazine in the world that thinks that wine is also about what Theise calls the “larger values”. It also, I have to admit, likes scoring wines and has a regular feature on investing in in the stuff, but still. It makes copious room for something a bit deeper, for those for whom wine is, at least sometimes, something more than a beverage rating something or other on a 100-point scale.