At a (not so) recent Vancouver American Wine Society wine dinner, I couldn’t help but think that wines are like people – incredibly difficult to describe.
There were the obvious characteristics: colour, body weight, and levels of tannins and acid. This is what we observe in official wine school. This is what you get in tasting notes from the wine experts.
If you applied it to a man, say, you’d get something like blue-eyed, brown-haired man of medium build, grumpiness balanced by acerbic wit. If you observed and practiced enough after attending human school, you could perhaps also add that said man had cerulean blue eyes of med+ intensity and 156,000 strands of med++ brown hair.
Doesn’t tell you much about the person, does it? Was he the type you could bring home to your parents for family dinners? Get along with your eclectic mix of friends? Someone who enjoyed conversations over meals?
We were seated at a long table, sipping through a flight of nine wines paired with a multi-course meal served family style in communal dishes passed around. As we sipped, I asked those around me, ‘How would you describe it?’
I like it.
I prefer this one over that.
Actually, that’s a lie. It was more like this:
I love this.
I love that more.
I love them all.
(They were good wines, and similar in style)
Fair enough. But I’m a writer. If I had any hope of writing about wine, I needed to find words that described it in ways that conveyed something in what I was sipping. Not just to those who’d been to wine school. Not just ‘I loved it’. Something you could imagine if you weren’t there, tasting along with me.
Then it occurred to me. What if wine were people? How would we describe wine then? So I start. I am a straight female, and being that I’m in love with wine…
“If wines were men, Cabernet Sauvignon is the man I dream of marrying. He just smells so good!”
The lady to my left is up to playing. “He’s good with tools.”
“No… he’s more than just handy with a toolbox –”
“He’s good with POWER tools.” The lady on the left diagonal to me joins in.
“Yes, that’s right! He’s not just good with tools, he’s good with POWER tools.”
And did I mention how he smells so fabulous? He’s the kind of man who can chop wood – with an axe! – what with his affinity for oak. With age, his hair turns silver, not bald, giving him an elegant charm. He might be rough in youth but mellows with a depth of sweet savouriness that can only be developed with a bond of passion and dedication.
Now Pinot Noir, as much as I love Pinot Noir, he doesn’t exist. I don’t dare dream of marrying him, let alone meet him. He’s strong, yet gentle in wondrous ways. He’s the gorgeous, thoughtful man who sweeps you off your feet in the bedroom. Outside, he’s the rock star – everyone wants to be near him. Then you discover something surprising. Why, he ballroom dances! But, he doesn’t exist. Because men who are as sensitive as he – what with his thin skin and inability to thrive in most environments like Cabernet – well, they burn with jealousy when you need down time in the tropics and are positively intolerant of your writing retreats in winter wonderlands. Anyway, have you ever met a man capable of power tools AND secretly glide gracefully across a ballroom? No, I think not.
Grenache was a good guy. He may not be the alpha male or the most desirable, but he’s the kind of guy who gets along with all your friends. The kind of man who does well at parties – friendly, warm, heck, he lives for the sun. It may take him longer to ripen on the vine into a smooth, worthy husband, but when he does, he’s a keeper. Because even if he does gain (body) weight, he always remembers to bring the alcohol on the way home from work.
“Syrah,” adds the woman to my left, “Well, Syrah is the man you THINK is Cabernet Sauvignon, once you’ve had a few drinks.”
So true. Sure, he peppers his conversations with a little spice, but he can be mean and astringent when not mature.
We laugh, including the Pinot Noir, as proclaimed by his lovely wife to the right side of me, and seated on my other diagonal.
We are tipsy now, sipping from our ninth glasses of wine. We liked some more than others. It was hard to describe why. But just like men (and women), we wouldn’t want to live without wine to bring such pleasure – even joy – to our lives.
Now, normally, I’d highlight my favourites and even attempt to explain why. Instead, here’s an essay by writer and author Zadie Smith on the difference between pleasure and joy.