Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Magical and Mystical Wine Ride

I’ve been thinking a lot in the last couple of weeks about how drinking wine makes me feel. How does enjoying a glass of wine impact my mood and my emotions? What are the physiological effects and what mental images does it evoke? I’ve specifically gotten fixated on the transportative (not a word in the dictionary, but tell me you don’t get it) and transcendental aspects that follow from a sip of some wines. Where can a sip of wine take you?

I’ve concluded that based on my own reality there are two basic versions of this experience. The first is what happens when you are taken to back to a place where you previously enjoyed the same or similar wine, where the wine is made or any place from a prior experience with it. This feels somewhat like free word association to me, and isn’t at all surprising. There are so many connections made in our brains between different sensory stimuli. Our flavor and aroma memory is completely connected to our tactile, visual and auditory memories to form a composite picture (memory) that might be recalled by any of the different parts of the puzzle. These experiences are likely quite common and so much so that they are potentially easy to overlook. Pay attention people!

The second experience is when the taster is transported to a place defined by the harmony of the attributes of the wine, a place of pure fantasy, intense depth, color, passion, emotion, etc. I don’t think I’ve had this experience, but I will admit that without my attention properly focused at every occasion I’ve enjoyed a glass of wine I may have missed it. If this is the kind of experience I can expect to live the rest of my life searching for I am happier for it.

So how did a hitch a ride on this magic carpet? A book. More specifically, a graphic novel. I have to thank my friend Richard Auffrey (aka the Passionate Foodie) for his reviews of the Drops of God series. He’s a voracious reader and a very, very passionate wine & food lover creating a consistently winning combination. The Drops of God is a serial graphic novel about a wine journey, actually many wine journeys, from Japan. The first three volumes have been released and I have been fortunate enough (it really is that good) to have read through all three. Richard’s reviews of the first three segments (Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3) contain spot on summaries and his own ponderings on the messages contained with the their pages. Here is my one sentence summary. The main character’s father passes away, wills him his prized wine collection on the condition that he can identify thirteen wines from only the descriptions provided in the will, and the ensuing journey of experience and education offers lots of twists and turns. Please read Richard’s summaries and reviews for the rest of the pertinents. I just don’t feel the need to cover that ground with such a solid resource just a click away.

As Richard points out in his reviews of volumes 2 & 3, there are quite a few words written about scores, ratings and critics. At each offering there is clear counterpoint though. What about personal tastes and the imagination of the consumer? It is possible that this is exactly what the author hoped to stir up for reflection and conversation. At first it was hard to get through these sections because of the tacit pretention, it made me wonder what we might have lost in translation, but ultimately I found other aspects to focus on. I would wholeheartedly recommend these books for any wine lover. They are a quick read, yet dense with imagery and points to consider over a glass of wine or two.

What I was most taken with was the metaphysical journeys that the characters, and especially the main character Shizuku Kanzaki, are taken on when they taste the different wines presented in the story. These journeys begin a mere twenty-five pages into the first volume and continue repeatedly. Presenting this type of imagery in a graphic novel is potent. The illustrations are detailed, nuanced and transportative for the reader as well.

Both types of journeys (recall and fantasy) are represented in the books, from visions of the vines of French chateaux visited in childhood, to the richly nuanced images of a primeval forest as part of the picture of the first of the thirteen wines; and finally, varying scenes representing the five great wines of Bordeaux at the end of volume 3.

As I got to thinking about the images from the book a few of my own experiences came to mind.

Any time I drink Riesling I think of my wife. It was the first kind of wine we mutually enjoyed. We both drank Boone’s Farm in college but not together, and thus the Riesling memory stuck. A certain flutter in my gut is typical when I get the chance to try a new Riesling. I rarely miss an opportunity. Maybe I now know why I like Riesling so much. I love my wife, so I why shouldn’t I love the first wine we enjoyed together?

I’ve also experienced a form of projection (a variation on the recall experience) where a wine from one region brought me back to somewhere else where I enjoyed wines made from the same grapes. I visited Provence in February 2011 and had the distinct pleasure of standing next to the vines at the ruins of the Pope’s summer house northeast of Avignon. The earth there is covered with smooth, rounded stones colored in various shades of tan and light brown. The vines are craggy and old. In February the vines are dormant and pruned back. They look like little trees with no leaves, the trunks of bonsai trees come to mind. Plots of land that look like this were visible in all directions from where I stood. During that trip I tasted wines from Cote du Rhone, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Beaumes-de-Venise, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and others that currently escape me. The red wines from those areas are made with from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and several other grapes. On that trip I was visiting with friends (adopted family) for a wedding and the whole experience was rich and full of emotion. 

Later in 2011 I visited Santa Barbara and tasted several wines from the LaFond label. The wines were blends of Syrah and Grenache or 100% Syrah, with some bearing similarity to some of the wines from the Rhone. At the first sip of one of the Syrah/Grenache blends I had this weird feeling like I had been “somewhere” before. It was my first trip to Santa Barbara so the sensation made very little sense. My emotions were being tweaked in an odd way. Standing at the tasting bar in that urban winery I was feeling like I was surrounded by family. The feeling was pretty weird. I had a sense of being taken somewhere by the wines, but I didn’t give it enough thought then to work it out. Only now do I fully understand what was going on. I felt like I was back in Provence. The aromas and flavors of the wines had taken me back to that place and the wines and people. What a trip!

I love wine, I drink it often but don’t have a drinking problem perse, but I can see myself coming to love the experience of being taken somewhere even more. This could be addicting and cause all sorts of trouble I would guess. It is clear that I can’t expect these experiences to be frequent or conscious if I don’t pay attention to what I am drinking and slow my roll (Kid Rock is playing in the background) so that I can be fully receptive to my senses and not miss a moment of any potential journey. I doubt I will get this all sorted out today.

Does wine take you on a journey? Have you ever been transported somewhere by a sip of wine? Leave a comment about your experiences with wine imagery. I’d love to learn more about how others are experiencing wines they encounter.



1 comment:

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks so much Jason, and I am very glad that you have enjoyed Drops of God. All wine lovers should check these books out, and maybe catch a new perspective on wine. I would love to see an American publisher try to create their own wine comic.

Not all wine needs to be so transformative, but it is a special event when it does. To me, it often seems to be related to the surrounding circumstances, to the people I am with, the location, etc. It becomes an experience, and not just a drink.