Why Are We So Obsessed With Wine?
Wine is somehow unlike any other beverage – there is something so evocative and romantic about it. It has the ability to strengthen entire cultures, societies and secret clubs devoted solely to its cause. It can make the smartest of individuals obsessive – even going so far as sacrificing their relationships or livelihoods to become better versed in its history, origin and makeup.
Books, articles, encyclopedias, movies, and even clothing are centred on this ethereal elixir – what about it makes us so crazy for it? Many wine experts and enthusiasts often won’t drink anything else – in a world of infinite choice, this practice can seem a bit limiting. When asked, their endless justifications for the fascination somehow seem perfectly logical.
It’s a drink that can be enjoyed with company of any kind – family, colleagues, friends, neighbours – and easily evoke a sense of camaraderie. It pairs effortlessly with food – one could argue – better than most other types of alcohols.
The diversity of wine is truly endless – even now, in a gluten free, vegan, and organic obsessed culture – there are styles that are more than meeting the demand of high maintenance consumers.
An archetype revered by wine enthusiasts is the notion of terroir – not easily defined, and with a myriad of interpretations. A simple definition could be “expression of place”. Wine has a special way of transporting you to the place it came from – proximity to the ocean, for example, results in a certain saline like quality that indicates fruit has come from vineyards that reside sea side.
Acidity, aromas and different expressions of fruit are indicative of the dirt the grapes were grown in, and as more research is done on soil types and how they interact with the vines, are resulting in fascinating findings. Certain oenophiles will tell you, simply by tasting a wine, what type of soil the vine was grown in based on how it expresses itself, as Alice Feiring, shares in her book “The Dirty Guide to Wine”:
“In a blind tasting, some of the well trained can actually ascertain some soil flavours. One of the easiest is fruit that comes from heavy clay, where there’s usually a chunky quality. Granite? There is often something about texture. Limestone? The quality of the acid comes through. Grow Pinot Noir on limestone and on granite in the same exposition and climate, you’ll get two different ripenings of the grape. You’ll get different sugars and different acid structures, different longevity and that translates into different tastes. Take this further and some can definitely ascertain an ashy finish from wines on basalt-derived soils or a rusty nail component in wines from soils rich in iron.”
A particularly unusual but increasingly popular topic among the wine community is the notion of synesthesia. As defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary:
“a subjective sensation or image of a sense (as of colour) other than the one (as of sound) being stimulated”
Wine can evoke emotion, bring back memories, make you think of certain songs, or bring visions of colours, words or letters. This is the phenomenon of synesthesia, and an increasingly important angle utilized in the marketing of wine. Look no further than social media to see how today’s wine celebrities wax poetic about the wines they are drinking. Classical descriptors of fruit or oak are becoming less common, some describing this style as old fashioned or pedantic. Instead, they are describing wine through emotion, symbolism or pairing it with music and movies.
Pascaline Lepeltier, France’s newest winner of “Best Sommelier”, discusses the convergence of sound, food and terroir on a recent trip to Georgia, resulting in an overwhelming sense of synesthesia:
“Two typical dishes were served, two or three traditional wines made in quevri were poured, while a couple of men were singing polyphonic songs, the patterns and vocabulary of which were unique to the Georgian territory. It was too overwhelming, and my extremely limited knowledge of Georgian culture limited my ability to understand. But I felt a connection, and I could not deny the possibility that synesthesia, or terroir in that case, could be experienced in songs or wines or food. That day I realized how much intuition and amazement could enlarge my vision; and my pleasure.”
A winemaker’s expression is akin to personal style; with endless variables that can dictate the resulting character of a wine. Will the vineyard be organically or conventionally farmed? Will the grapes be hand picked or machine harvested? Will the musts be inoculated or allowed to spontaneously ferment? If inoculated, what kind of yeasts will be used? Will any of the grapes be co-fermented? What types of vessels will the fermentation happen in? How hot or cool will the fermentations be, and for how long? How long will the wine age in barrel for, and if so, will the oak be new or old?
Wine has many devoted fans – many of whom believe it is the true synthesis of art and science. Winemakers are equipped with a toolkit; it is their choice how to use it. Some choose to use their tools extensively, others, allow their grapes to express themselves how they will. The ultimate goal for most – to create a wine that is a true expression of where it came from.
The beauty and complexity of wine always leads back to one notion – the people behind it. Wine requires an incredible amount of planning, labour and time – a thought often taken for granted, when sipping a glass of merlot.
Next time you’re tucking into a bottle of wine (Okanagan, perhaps?), take a moment to think about how incredibly thoughtful winemakers have the capacity to be – producing a beautiful bottle of wine is not as easy as it may appear. Take a moment to consider where it may have come from, and why the wine may taste a certain way – or different – than others you may have tried. Does it bring up certain emotions, memories, or visuals? What does this seemingly simple glass of fermented grape juice elicit for you?
There exist few other beverages or mediums that offer the same diversity of history, geography, art, science and people that wine does. Take a moment to consider these factors next time you open a bottle of wine.