We are all constantly at risk of treating every experience as a lifeless one, based on false, fixed notions of ourselves as consumer-subjects and whatever comes before us as product-objects. This is not your fault or mine, but it is our fault, for as a race we have built a network of economic arrangements exceptionally useful for the progress of societies and, unwittingly and unhelpfully, applied its template to how we think, how we feel, how we sense.
This is not an appropriate transfer of technology. Arranging your inner world to mimic the outer one is as good a definition of insanity as I know. Just as “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” to a 21st-century human who struggles to filter and absorb the culture’s flood of information while also earning a living (two activities more similar than not), everything looks like a task to be completed and filed or a boost to a paycheck.
Desperate and beleaguered after a hard day of getting beaten up by all that mess, don’t you just want to sit on the couch and let the TV sing you lullabies? Or, maybe, have a drink?
Buy a bottle of wine and pour some of its contents into a glass. Sip, and unless you’re careful your reaction to it follows the consumerist mode: This pleases me, or it doesn’t. Just as you replied to your email, shopped for new tires for your car, and untied your shoes when you got home, you’re gettin’ it done, which you’ll continue to do until the only thing left to get done is you, and then you’ll be … done.
So here’s one active practice for rebutting the world’s argument that you just shut up and obey, keep your bearings sufficiently lubricated to sustain the cogs of the spinning machine, and preserve your sporadic flashes of dread, insight and joy for private moments that don’t upset anyone else: Come to know the wines you like.
Know them not academically, but biblically: as living entities that deserve relationships with other living entities.
We can’t do this if we treat a bottle of wine as an isolated object that was mysteriously teleported to the shelf of the shop where we bought it. We can only do it by placing the wine in some sort of real-world context. Hence my current emphasis on the significance of a wine’s region, and hence my query several weeks ago to a number of wine people about the world’s most crucial places wines are from.
And hence, in the responses, so many mentions of France’s Loire Valley, a collection of places that imbue their wines so purely, directly and diversely with the flavors, aromas and sensations of where they’re from. It is difficult to drink these wines and remain aloof or mechanistic about what you have drunk; increasingly difficult, at each sip, to resist being brought into a world, to feel the reality of a life as whole and distinct as your own.
Nikaline Iacono, who manages the beverage program at the terrific arts/community/food complex at Frontier in Brunswick, needs to focus on the compatibility of the meals her creative restaurant serves with the wines she loves. And so, the Loire: Chateau La La Morniere Muscadet Sur Lie Vielles Vignes 2010 ($13, Devenish), racy and bright. There’s no better wine for raw-or-close-to-it seafood.
Muscadet can be thrilling, but so much of the region is geared toward volume (mechanized picking, too early) that you need to be on guard against blandly industrial, story-less liquid. Domaine de Bonnet Muscadet La Levaudriere ($11, Wicked) is another personable exception, simultaneously sharp and charming.
Whoever’s up for more muscular white wine, surprisingly matching a honeysuckle richness with chalky bedrock, there’s Vouvray. Champalou Vouvray Sec Tendre, Cuvee des Fondraux ($18, Nappi) from Kermit Lynch, or Domaine des Aubuisieres Fourquet Cuvee de Silex 2010 ($16, Wicked) are ideal introductions, though they’re not elementary. These are serious expressions of the noble Chenin Blanc grape. Couly-Dutheil Chanteaux Chenin Blanc 2010 ($27, Mariner) is confidently wild, waxy and musky the way Chenin with some bottle age can get to, with an Asian-influenced voluptuous drive of starfruit and lemongrass.
My mention of bottle age is deliberate: You can’t drink these wines without entering into relationship – without exploring, via multiple bottles over months and years, what happens when particular people try to communicate to you what the land they live on has the capacity to express.
Sancerre is the best-known sub-region of the Loire, where Sauvignon Blanc reaches its zenith. A legend there, Henri Bourgeois produces a splendid everyday Sauvignon Blanc, the Petit Bourgeois ($13, Easterly), where the slate-y, herbal, bracing qualities of this grape tell no lies. His Sancerre Bonnes Bouches, at $26, is just at a more evocative level, but please try the Bourgeois Pouilly-Fume en Travertin ($29), where everything I love about the Loire – the smoky, gunflint-tinged drive, the well-dressed elegance, the subtle nutty and spice components – come together.
I’ve come this far and not even mentioned Loire reds. Cabernet Franc, grown on either side of the Loire River to yield either Bourgeuil or Chinon, is capable of so many manifestations that I just get utterly captivated, and feel I need no other red wine in my life. (Although red Sancerres, which use Pinot Noir, are special: lacy, elegant, electrified and long-finishing like no Pinot Noirs I know. The Reverdy Sancerre Rouge ($23, Wicked) is exemplary, and tremendous with the fattier fish choices coming into season.)
The other day I drank the Domaine Bel Air Bourgeuil 2009 ($14, Devenish) with softshell crabs, and had such a lovely experience. Flavors of violets mingled with those of cracked black pepper, setting off the earth tones of the crab magnificently. On paper that sounds dissonant: What was I doing putting a red wine near crab?! But in real life, exploring relationship, I took on the responsibility necessary to be surprised. Outside the rut of expectations built and met, that’s the best thing there is. It’s the reason I’m alive.