I suspect that every former student knows the small joy of being assigned three poems for homework in a literature class. A few short paragraphs instead of a novel for the week. A reprieve! Ten minutes of reading, and on to more pressing matters, which may or may not include mindless TV. But later, desire to slack notwithstanding, I would often find my mind circling back to an idea inspired by one of the poems. Great poetry does this by suggesting something enormous and meaningful, then leaves the reader to develop an interpretation based on their own experience and personal history.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that “wine is bottled poetry,” and wine can engender a similar state of hazy contemplation. A first sip -- even a disinterested one -- may give way to a second more inquisitive venture into the glass. Ultimately, the greatness of a wine is measured by its ability to continue engaging with the person who drinks it, hinting at places visited long ago or meaningful meals shared with others.
This kind of amorphous introspection -- be it inspired by poetry or wine -- has a tendency to attract a particularly fussy type of romantic. Newcomers to either arena can expect furtive conversations in a unique technical language. Terms like forest floor, supple tannins, iambic pentameter, and structuralism become the proxy vocabulary for mutual appreciation. Even though this seems pretentious, it is also somewhat understandable. Most people are drawn to wine or poetry by the emotional responses that they can elicit. And it is embarrassing to fumble around with such matters in front of others. So, a scaffolding of language is constructed to contain the heart of the matter.
For all of these similarities, wine is unlike poetry in one crucial way. The enjoyment of wine is an act of destruction. Poetry can be reprinted, and the act of reading it does nothing to diminish other’s access to it. With wine, not only does it begin to expire upon opening, even its decline is unique. No other wine in the world will taste exactly the same as that particular bottle on that particular day. And once drained, there will forever be one fewer bottle produced in that year, from that land, and by that winemaker. This may seem dramatic and melancholic, but it only elevates the potential for beauty. And it makes a demand of those who appreciate this kind of beauty to share it with others.
Not every wine, just like not every poem, is worthy of this much consideration. There are many more hallmark card writers than poet laureates. And that’s a good thing, because constantly contemplating the incomprehensible nature of existence would be exhausting. Sometimes, probably most of the time, you need wine to pair with mindless TV, not an existential discussion. But when you come across a wine that reveals itself to be more than the sum of its parts, grab another glass and find a person to share it with. Resist the inner wine-nerd who keeps suggesting terms like minerality and structure, take a risk, and try to put to words what the wine really makes you feel. It may just be the stuff of poetry.
A Bottle for Thinking and One for Drinking
For the curious, the last bottle that made me wax poetic was a Domaine de l’Arlot 2005 Clos des Forets Saint Georges. A Pinot Noir from Burgundy. In keeping with the spirit of this post, I would say that this wine gave me the feeling of promise. Something akin to the electricity that comes from brushing hands with a crush but without the attendant anxiety. Perhaps passionate satisfaction is the best that I can come up with.
As to a wine that pairs well with mindless TV, Kunde Zinfandel is a good one. This seems like a knock on the wine, but it isn’t. This wine is fruity, tasty, balanced and a great value. Besides, who wants to think about the mysteries of the universe while watching Scandal.