Meditations on Wine, with Thoughts by Great Authors

{ed note, this is a re-print of an article I wrote for a former blog}

I often get asked why I have such a deep fascination for wine (as if collecting 1,500+ bottles represents some sort of problem!).  I can understand some bewilderment if one thinks of wine as a drink, something akin to soda, beer or a martini.   But wine’s allure does not come from being a drink, let alone because it is an alcoholic drink.   Wine (I am talking about wine made by artisans, not agricultural, mass produced plonk) is inherently a deeply contemplative, philosophical beverage; a bottled messenger representing specific people, times and places and also provides a natural connection to the bounties of the land.

“There is evil in every berry of grape” says the Koran, which plainly gets to the heart of the reason why throngs of radical Muslims are always so angry at the world!  We all would have been better off if Mohammad had the council of Shakespeare, who in Othello states  “Come, come, good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used; exclaim no more against it.”

Being Irish/Italian Catholic myself, thereby socially and genetically pre-disposed to be happy with an occasional drink, agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments of Benjamin Franklin who beholds the miracle of wine when saying “”We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

“Good wine is a necessity of life for me” said Thomas Jefferson, echoing my own feelings exactly.   Those who drink serious wines, do not really “drink” the wines.  They contemplate the wine, swallowing being an afterthought.  The infinitesimal nuances of a fine wine grab one’s attention and focuses the mind on the remarkable elixir’s complexity.  Thoughts of the year the grapes were picked, the tiny plot of land those grapes represent, the human souls who delicately took care that the grapes transformed into wine completely naturally, going into the bottle representing only God’s hand through nature.  Understanding this, one can understand why Pliny the Elder said “It has become quite a common proverb that in wine there is truth.”   How could there not be?

When Hemingway said “Wine is the most civilized thing in the world”, I think he was referring not only to its upbringing, but also to its impact on the human mind.  As Benjamin Franklin said, “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.”  It is not just that a glass or two of wine “takes the edge off”.   More than that, it relaxes and opens the mind, encouraging deeper contemplation of the world.   Ovid nailed it when he said “When there is plenty of wine, sorrow and worry take wing”, but it is not through a hedonistic escape that it provides this relief, but through its encouragement of clear, philosophical thought (think Socrates and the symposium’s of wise, ancient Greece).  One can think wine almost magical in these results, especially when one considers Homer’s apropo conclusion that “Wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.”

So, next time you see my tasting notes, realize that the notes represent an experience of thought, not of debauchery.   Be happy for me when you see a tasting note on an older wine, for as Luke said in 5:39 “No one that has drunk old wine wants new; for he says, “The old is nice.”!   Lest you think I drink too much, rest easy, knowing that I long ago learned the lesson stated at one time by someone I know not, “God in His goodness sent the grapes, to cheer both great and small; little fools will drink too much, and great fools not at all.”

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