Last week in between tryptophan stupors I did manage to taste through an inspiring group of samples from Eugen Müller, and that report is also new as of today. Right now I’m starting a Selbach/Merkelbach decathlon, which will take me most of the week and which is already running at about 6,000 words. ’20 is potentially the vintage of a lifetime at Selbach, and it’s delightfully slow going to gambol among them, albeit my gamboling days are behind me if my barking knees have any say in it.
But check out that Müller report. It was always somewhat in the shadow of the “big names’ surrounding it, but this group included a fabulous village (dry) wine, as well as the best “GG” dry wine I’ve ever tasted from Stephan Müller, as well as a new vineyard source for his excellent Spätlese. I always thought the estate was important, and still do.
Some friends were considering inviting my wife and me to have Thanksgiving with them. Being good parents, they ran the idea past their two teenage daughters before asking us. They were promptly shot down by the girls’ moaning “Not WINE PEOPLE.”
They cannot know how deeply I sympathize.
Wine is both enticing and imprisoning. I am aware that anyone’s preoccupations seem obsessive to people who don’t share them, so why is wine singled out? It can seem unfair. In many ways it is unfair, yet we bring it on ourselves.
But supposing our hospitable couple were, let’s say, members of a University meteorology department, and the couple to whom they contemplated issuing an invitation were members of the same department. (They could also be musicians in the same orchestra, umpires in the same baseball league, line cooks in the same kitchen; you get the picture.) Gather them together and it would hardly be surprising if the evening didn’t involve a whole lot of shop-talk. It’s expected, it’s a little tedious for “civilians,” and it usually passes without undue ennui or catatonia.
So why does such a particular stench affix to “wine people?” Why does that particular geekyness so adroitly suck the oxygen from a room? I am willing to plead nolo contendre, I resemble that remark, yet I don’t quite know the answer. Are “wine bores” really more boring than science bores or golf bores or car bores?
I don’t know that we are, yet I do know that “wine” carries some baggage all its own. Wine, I shall hypothesize, exists in a curious intersection of temptation, dismay, curiosity and suspicion. It can make people feel inadequate who have no business feeling inadequate. It makes people curious despite themselves. It prompts a reflexive certainty that it’s all some snooty game whereby a few people feel superior for no good reason. It’s also a conversational topic that, once started, is fiendishly difficult to turn off.
I’ve often been with non-wine friends, or people friendly toward wine in a casual way but not enraptured by it, and at times I’m asked a smart open-ended question – something like, “Why does this wine taste so good?” - and I know that if I answer that question properly I’m gonna be the guy who “talks about wine at a dinner party” for ten or fifteen minutes. But it was a smart question, and I liked the person who asked it. In the heat of the moment I usually set about responding to it, waiting for my spouse to kick me under the table. As I think about this little social puzzle now, for the purpose of this essay, I have a L’esprit de l’escialier that says I should deflect the question somehow. “Hmmm, that’s actually an essay question, so can we talk about it later one on one?” Not the best solution, I know: It ruptures the social momentum, and while the others might well protest No, go on, answer it, we’re curious too! I know their tolerance will go the way of a sliced apple.
I don’t know why this is, but most people who get into wine are eager to become engulfed in it. Of course wine is fascinating, of course its daunting complications are compelling challenges. And of course, it is singularly beautiful. It is rather a gorgeous derangement, but it’s also a reliable attractor; wine people will find one another and join socially, for little or no reason other than their mutual obsession. You know what I’m describing! There’s a lot of socializing over wine among people who often don’t proceed to what we might quaintly call “friendship,” because it’s all too easy for it to just stop at wine.
Paradoxically, I found this to be less of a problem among other wine professionals. If you’re in-the-biz, everyone around you is a potential “wine pal,” and the people you are drawn to see more of are those where other avenues of simpatico seem available. Seem, but aren’t always. Because it turns out that wine is so capacious it’s easy to hide behind.
I freely admit to my introversion. And something about us is that we tend to be intimacy junkies, or else this happens spontaneously because we like one-on-one (where intimacy comes easily) and dislike “socializing” (where it is next to impossible), but speaking for myself, I’ve formed most of my friendships based on wine as the igniter, but for those friendships to be sustainable (not to mention interesting and nourishing) they must surmount the obdurate wine-incarceration, that seems to want to quash any attempt to scale its walls and jump down the other side into freedom. Yes, wine is fascinating! I’ve spent forty five years in its delights. They have not palled. But get me together with like-minded souls and it is truly weird how hard it can be to force the conversation away from wine.
As wine bores go, a disproportionate number are men. I’m not sure why that is, except that wine is a convenient place to park ones passion, minus the risks of actual personal relationships. The trope of the wine-bore exists for a reason, but it also precludes our considering just how superb it is to be absorbed in the beauty of wine. I argue that as obsessions go, this one’s more attractive than golf or cars or, I don’t know, spelunking. Spelunking? Why not? Those young women who quaked in horror at having to sit through a meal with “wine people” may well have been engaged by someone who explores caves, but after twenty minutes of cave-talk they might have started to squirm. Going on and on about anything is tedious, and so the more salient question might be: What is it about wine that encourages that going-on-and-on-ness?
Let’s think about that, and let’s remember that when we’re the “wine person” in a situation we are also ambassadors from our world into the other “normal” world, and we do well to make our enthusiasm as enticing as possible – and less is more.