You Shouldn’t Have…

June 13, 2011

wine pressie

Enjoy...

A friend was visiting from out of town a few weeks ago. Upon arrival she plunked 2 handsome traditional-method sparkling wines on the counter for me. “You’ll love these”, she said as she wheeled her suitcase inside. Nothing more was said. I mention this because as I stare at my wine shelf (I have no cellar, for shame!) I observe a row of wines that, although were given to me, I feel I can’t drink. At least not without the people who gave them to me.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this juxtaposition: Someone gives you an outstanding bottle as a gift, with the caveat, “let’s open this some time together“. (Read: “don’t you dare drink this without me”) Now, I happen to be very fond of the people who’ve bestowed these wines on me and would be completely willing to share with them without even being asked… but, it feels less like a gift when the giver tells you what you’re allowed to/not do with it. It’s like your Gran handing you a fiver when you were a kid and saying, “now don’t go spending this on junk!”.

I fully appreciate the torture of parting with a good bottle and wanting very badly to enjoy some of that gorgeousness so generously being given away, but should you find yourself in this conflicted position, I offer some advice: Bring it to dinner instead. Or, invite the person over and open it together. If you must hand it over as an official pressie… do so condition-free.

meerkats

Sharesies! (Credit: Posters Guide)

As it happens, I opened one of those sparkling lovelies with said friend over dinner one night. The other one I took to a Sunday night kitchen party – where I was called a ponce (more or less) for bringing champers to a kitchen party… but the point is, I enjoyed it very much – in my own time and in my own way. I even shared it with other people.

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A Cult of Convenience?

March 6, 2010

A few months ago BBC 2 aired a documentary hosted by Philosopher Roger Scruton Why Beauty Matters. In it, Scruton explores the importance of beauty in our daily lives and its contribution to our overall well-being. He argues that Beauty is currently under attack by a cult of ugliness in art, architecture and music, and by the cult of utility of everyday life. And this, Scruton maintains, is bad for us.

Why? Because humans need beauty and uselessness. “Put usefulness first, and you will lose it. Put Beauty first and what you do will be useful forever”, says Scruton. Even Plato, we’re told, said that beauty was of a higher order, and that the world is understood primarily through our senses.

wine, plato & aristotle

Wine, Plato & Aristotle

So all of this got me thinking about wine.

Wine is one of those things that seems oddly out-of-place in our  modern, hustle-and-bustle, utilitarian world. Everything about it is slow, arduous, complex – from growing the grapes, to consuming the end product. It’s rather inconvenient business, but it is loved despite that – and maybe even for it. Perhaps because it satisfies, on many levels, our need for beauty.

Before I start philosophising on how wine might be the last refuge for ideals and beauty, I can’t help but wonder whether it too is being assailed by a similar plague: Convenience.

Let me first say, I am not against progress. But when the primary aim of progress is convenience, and in its quest replaces the very things we love about something , then I think we lose something important.

Screw Cap

Screw Cap Wine Closure (Credit: Time Inc)

Take screwcaps. They’re in many ways a practical improvement over the cork closure . They’re easier on the forearms, prevent TCA and cheaper & easier to produce. But… don’t you miss the cork? Isn’t the satisfying ritual of opening a wine bottle lost with a screw cap? Twisting that cap feels too trivial, or something… like cracking open a bottle of soda instead of something more deserving of our time and respect.

Same might be said for automatic wine-dispensing units, or FreshCase wine boxes – both designed to postpone oxidation and store larger volumes. It’s convenient to have an unending supply of wine on hand, and to know it will be fresh when you pour it. But, what about the beauty of a wine bottle? What about being able to see its contents, read the label and feel a connection with what you’re drinking?

Enomatic

The Enomatic (Credit: Grande Passione)

The Parker-Effect is another example of convenience overload. When wine retailers began displaying Robert Parker scores on their shop shelves, consumers started to buy wine based on his scores. Inevitably winemakers started feeling pressure to make wines that he liked – often irrespective of the growing and/or winemaking conditions available to them.

At what point does convenience start to degrade the very thing it’s trying to make more accessible?

These themes are not new. They’ve been argued and discussed by experts far more knowledgable than me. This post very much represents a personal opinion (and one that may actually bend a little once I transition into the industry myself). I consider myself practical, but I welcome inconvenience when it’s required and/or satisfies a higher need. Many things are going this way.  Food, for example, is slowing down – we’re cooking from scratch, buying local, doing away with packaging etc. Convenience, we are finding, is not always better.