INTRO TO ZIEREISEN
Reading Robert MacFarlane’s introduction to Nan Shepherd’s masterpiece The Living Mountain, I learned of a new concept apropos to my work. He uses a word catascopos, which he defines as “the looker-down, who sees all with a god-like eye.” In the context of a book about mountains, he is referring to Shepherd’s preference for roaming among the mountains instead of making for the summit as a singular goal.
There’s another mountain writer I like: Kev Reynolds, author of a dozen or more indispensible hiking guides, excellent photographer, and often rapturous commentator on the mountain experience. He’s a rare sort of being; a thoroughly reliable guide to the trails and also a lyrical (yet not sentimental) appreciator of the ambience of the mountains. He sometimes expresses an insight in line with my own feelings, that the best views are not those from the top, but rather from the middle, where one has the twin gifts of upward distance and downward depth.
This is a useful sensibility for a wine writer, by which I mean someone who writes about wine as well as writing about wines. These are two individuals who travel together. The question for the reader could be expressed – which of them is the guide and which the faithful (and indispensible) companion? I find that my own immersive approach to wine writing is based, at least for now, on an architecture of discussion of the wines of individual growers. The tandem seems to work because it’s clear who’s in charge.
Yet if I approached these same wines as a Judge, from an all-seeing place of “catascopos,” I wonder whether the field of vision would shrink. (And please don’t admonish me that few if any wine writers view themselves as infallible judges; I know they don’t, but as soon as they’re yoked to the point-score they must agree to play along with a charade of omniscience.)
I’ll enlarge on this theme in future writing. For now the topic question might be, if one acts as a participant in the latent holistic environment of a wine (or group of wines), then any judgments that form are of a fuller and richer nature than if one approaches wine as a judge. An ancillary question is, does the business of judging wine tend to crowd out its richer gifts?
These questions were vividly displayed while living with Ziereisen’s wines for most of a week. Snap judgments would have been facile, and often incorrect. In the end I thought, if these wines were any more alive they’d be sentient.