A lonely scorched survivor

A lonely scorched survivor

Monday, May 13, 2013

The truth about wine

In Vino Veritas.   Students of Latin know that the preceding phrase means “in wine (there is) truth.” Scholars attribute the phrase to Alcaeus of Mytilene, a 6th century BC Greek poet. But since the quote has been passed on in its Latin form, rather than the challenging Cyrillic script of the Greeks, it has been more often attributed to Pliny the Elder, a Roman historian who, unfortunately, was sipping his wine too near Mount Vesuvius when it erupted in AD 79.

The implication of the phrase is that being under the influence of wine’s liberating alcoholic properties, one is more apt to be candid about what is on one’s mind. ("I said that?  That's not what I meant!")


Tacitus, a 1st Century Roman historian, orator and public official confirms such an impression in his book Germania that details his observations while living with the Germanic tribes for several years. “To pass an entire day and night in drinking (malt liquor or wine) disgraces no one.” Further, at their “feasts” (council-like meetings) he observed, “. . . they think that at no time is the mind more open to simplicity of purpose or more warmed to noble aspirations. . . they deliberate when they have no power to dissemble.” As such, the unfettered flow of one’s closely held thoughts and opinions would eventually be revealed, willingly or otherwise.

Wine, as many oenophiles know, was the beverage of choice at the Greek Symposia (for men only) and Roman Convivia (for women only), wherein topics of political and philosophical importance were discussed and debated throughout the night and into the morning hours while eating finger food and sipping wine. However, unlike the fully torqued alcoholic beverages of the Germanic tribes, the Greeks (primarily) and the Romans (less so) watered-down their wines so as to keep the intellect open and in check during those festivities. There are indications that the intellect was occasionally overtaken by topics and actions of a more corporeal nature.

Besides that literal interpretation, wine truths appear in other forms. There is the verity of a grape’s intrinsic character—that quality which underlies the wine into which it is made.

Each varietal is unique, and each reveals itself via its particular qualities of tannin, acidity, alcohol, body and dryness. That’s why, for example, Pinot Grigio tastes totally unlike, say, Sauvignon Blanc, and neither is remotely similar to Semillon or Viognier. And in the hands of a competent winemaker one can expect, with some exceptions, each of those wines to always smell and taste the way they do, glass after glass, time after time. This varietal truth and consistency makes the study and pursuit of wine appreciation not only possible, but also quite engaging. (For a variety of reasons, wines at the very low price and quality level usually fail in that respect.)

There is also a truth of a wine’s provenance (think appellation) , where, for example, in Spain’s Rias Baixas region, the world’s quintessential version of Albariño is produced. Since it rocketed on to the wine scene many years ago, Albariño is now being produced elsewhere, but the truth of its origins, and the unique way an Albariño smells and tastes in its birthplace is what separates it from its hopeful, but , nevertheless, somewhat lesser interpretation in other countries. They are good, but not like the real thing.

The same can be said of the wines from other appellation and the wines that are produced therein. Consider, for example, the unique profiles of the wines of France’s Cote Rotie, Italy’s Brunello and Greece’s Agiorghitiko (aka St. George). Nobody makes them like they do and better than they do. And that’s the truth!

And the last, but certainly not least important truth about wine is its reason for existing. While the buzz—that gentle, euphoric and altered state of mind—may have been why the ancients pursued the pleasures of wine, modern man now enjoys wine for a far more civilized reason—as a food item, but more specifically as a food accompaniment to be enjoyed with family and friends at the dinner table. Nothing does it better.





































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