Every wine lover knows the anticipation of opening a new bottle and pouring the first glass. In that small quantity of liquid – and if you are going to swirl it in the glass to get the most out of it, it needs to be a small quantity – is, well, who knows what? There is anticipation certainly, puzzlement, delusion perhaps, refreshment, intoxication, hopefully exhilaration or admiration.
Wine is intensely social. It arose out of settled agricultural communities. Especially for the small grower it reflects the values of stability and intense loyalty to the local and to the land. Wine contributes hugely to human sociability, whether as a staple accompaniment to the daily meal or as a series of matched glasses for a sumptuous banquet.
As part of our social fabric, wine has a history, a body of knowledge and of course a language. The language is made up of the taster’s battery of words, plain or fanciful. Our feeble attempts to talk about these personal sensations are worth the effort, however much they can only convey a fraction of the experience We can talk about colour and clarity; first aromas, developing aromas; the initial taste in the mouth, the structure, fruit, texture, acidity and astringency; the aftertaste and persistence of the sensations; and, finally, how all this hangs together. All that in that one mouthful. And of course after a few glasses mild intoxication and sociability take over from the analytical. Too many glasses and we might as well have been drinking cheap lager.
Vineyard above Maury, Roussillon
People often ask me about my favourite wine. It’s an obvious question faced with the vast range of possibilities or perhaps just my reputation for going to a lot of tastings. I have an unspecific but genuine answer: I love the diversity of wine, the range of styles, the innumerable localities represented in the bottle, the constant discovery of new grape varieties and wines. Of course I have preferences which this website will show, not least the all too obvious love affair with Italy. One of my preferences is to give credit for well made, even exciting, everyday wines. If you have the money it’s relatively easy to drink and appreciate great wines. There are relatively few of them and the wine trade, annual guides and journalism will return to them time and time again for good reasons. There is something amazing about the very best. But then there should be – an extraordinary amount of care and resource has been spent on them. But it’s just as good, arguably better, to find the excellent everyday bottle. After all, that’s is what most of us are going to be drinking most of the time. So there is a big incentive to find these real champions of the wine world. So, however much I enjoy tasting top Brunello, Barolo or Burgundy, I am just as interested in the every day wines of southern Italy, southern France or Chile. As wine drinkers, we need both the great and the good.
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