Thursday, December 10, 2009

The grapes of wrath

Recently I made myself unpopular by spurning a bottle of Grover’s La Reserve as “singularly undrinkable”. What I meant of course was that I didn’t like it, but in the manner of wine-drinkers dangerous with little knowledge, I made it a problem with the wine. That’s just the tip of the personality disorder.

I can’t remember when wine, for me, went from being the thing you drink at Christmas in the wrong glasses to being what you drink, period. For that matter, I couldn’t tell you when or why my “hard drink” of choice became rum and coke or gin and tonic. I’ve never been a vodka person. Then one day it was all about wine.

I didn’t even have the excuse of being in the thick of the “wine revolution”; it just happened. Suddenly I had wine racks and bottles that meant more than “red or white”. I spent ages in wine boutiques picking them out. I courted eviction by rearranging bits of my landlord’s kitchen so I could store them properly. I worried about them in Dubai’s summer humidity. I changed my food habits to accommodate them. I did a lot of research and became insufferable on the subject, especially after a few glasses of it. I got caught up in it all for a while, until the sheer number of moving parts tired me out.

When you thought you’d finally grasped the grapes, you discovered unpronounceable Hungarian varietals. Just as you got some insight into the intricacies of France’s wine-growing regions and untangled them from the broader strokes of Napa Valley, along came an Argentinean Malbec, a Spanish Rioja or a German Riesling. Australia is even larger than France and New Zealand may be small, but it’s prolific. Then India joined the fray. When South African and Lebanese friends threatened to stop inviting me, I decided to give it a rest. They gave really good parties.

There was also the constant guilt that no wine enthusiast will admit to, the feeling that if you really liked the taste it had to be sub-standard. Whenever I started feeling particularly affectionate towards one – a certain South African Pinotage comes to mind – I would abandon it in a hurry without looking too closely at my reasons. Come to think of it, that bears close resemblance to other parts of my life as well, so perhaps I shouldn’t try shoving it off on to all wine-drinkers.

I now work with the fundamental truth of “I like it, I like it not”. The fancy language work I can do all on my own, and with a glass of water if necessary. Sometimes I just drink the syrup that somebody’s uncle made from apricots. I’m a better person for it, too. Occasionally, the snottiness I imbibed with the more difficult Bordeaux and horrifyingly mature Burgundies gets the better of me and I annoy a few friends, as above, but mostly I’m very relaxed, scrupulously agreeing with whatever my hosts think of their wine.

My fascination with the deliciously metaphorical concept of terroir has endured, though. And wine glasses, I love them, particularly the large works of art in which ruby liquid can swirl like dervishes, releasing entire Impressionist landscapes. I love that bouquet, the first multisensory tasting. A fresh bottle of wine is the calm of my flat before a party, warm light on wood, the pure sound of Leonard Cohen on my Linn before it turns into something louder, tea lights burning in a Zen holder that makes them look like they’re floating in the air, just as I am suspended in the solitude. This then, is probably the attraction for me. The rum and coke is always a noisy night out, but wine is personal. All the more reason, I suppose, for keeping my judgmental reflections to myself.

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