A friend recently handed me a passage that stopped me short and shook my soul. The words have filled the space of my days since and rendered me quite unable, at this point anyway, to cobble together generic tasting notes to help you shop.

If you’re looking only for advice on an interesting wine to drink next, you’re not quite out of luck: I mention a terrific wine toward the end of this column. But honestly, I’m not much interested anymore in being an advice columnist, or even a journalist. As useful and noble as such roles can be, they usually profess a rational, pundit-y comprehension I don’t believe in (although I often subconsciously fall prey to the temptation to fake).

The lines are from Rainer Maria Rilke, the Austro-Bohemian-Swiss poet whose attempts to capture the uncapturable formed a bridge from the 19th century to 20th and from the classical to the modern eras.

“Read as little as possible of literary criticism,” Rilke wrote to Franz Kappus, as published in Letters to a Young Poet. “Such things are either partisan opinions, which have become petrified and meaningless, hardened or empty of life, or else they are just clever word-games, in which one view wins today, and tomorrow the opposite view. Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism.”

Wines, effortlessly, elucidate without explaining. Like poems, in Archibald MacLeish’s famous formulation, they “should not mean, but be.” Any critic, to be of lasting use, will try to emulate that spirit, which means emulate the spirit of the very subject he examines. My favorite critics – Lester Bangs, say, or Pauline Kael – are the ones who try  to avoid Rilke’s trap by ignoring the supposed line separating creation from critique.

Kael, the provocative film critic who prodded moviegoers to trust themselves and venture fearlessly into everything a film had to give, is on my mind too right now. A broad selection of her writing as well as a new biography are to be published within the next few days.

Kael brought to her experience of a film her entire being, which meant her body – birth, sex, death – as well as mind. At its best, her criticism hurled you into the abyss of your own catastrophe; it slapped and slapped until you finally woke up. At its worst, Kael’s writing was a bossy harangue. But it all came from personal enthusiasms and an awareness that the movie is but a signal that your life is at stake.

I’m pretty sure this all brings me to an actual wine. It’s one I drank, alone, over the course of two nights this weekend. A lot of wine people like to say wine should not be drunk alone but I think sometimes it should.

This was one of those times, for it was the “infinite solitude” of the thing that struck me most: The way I could have a naked, silent, direct moment with one and only one thing in a given moment – a rare opportunity in such a distracted, noisy age.

The wine is the 2008 La Croix Peyrassol ($15, Mariner), a Provencal blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from a producer whose rose is one of my favorites, year after year. It had sat in my basement for a couple of years (the currently available vintage is 2010), and I scooted down there last Saturday to find a match for an octopus stew.

From the moment I pulled the cork the wine spoke straight to my heart. Like “Nashville” for Kael or Lou Reed for Bangs, it seemed to offer everything I needed: The voluptuous with the firm; the sweet joined to the savory, that grail combination so moving in agrodolce or Southeast Asian cuisine; a sneaky insider knowledge alongside a homer-in-the-bottom-of-the-ninth heartwarming cheer; youth and age.

Out of habit I scribbled some notes (plums, cassis, wild thyme, kahlua, lavender, licorice black, licorice red) and then stopped myself, mindful of Rilke. I don’t know how to tell you this. If I were one-tenth the writer my heroes were (and had a more liberal arrangement with my publisher), I’d lavish 8,000 words on my experience with this wine. That would be fun, though I’m not sure whether it would be true.

The only thing I care about is the being-ness of an object, or of a person or experience. Everything else is just distraction. So I’ll just say that La Croix Peyrassol is unique; that’s all it needs to be. It possesses the ineffable substance of truth.

Rilke wrote, “Only love can touch and hold (works of art) and be fair to them – always trust yourself and your own feeling, as opposed to argumentations, discussions, or introductions of that sort.”
If you can afford $15 for a bottle of wine, you can own a bottle of La Croix Peyrassol. Whether you can love it is up to you.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog, soulofwine.com, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]

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