March 26, 2012

How to enjoy wine … it’s all in the company

26 March 2012 | by Andrea Frost

It is one of wine’s anomalies that for centuries people have reveled in the heady pleasures of wine, yet insisted mainly on recording its technical aspects as if these were more important than the resulting joy from the drink itself. Yet it is the pleasurable effect of wine that drove it’s initial expansion from its accidental invention in Georgia in 6000 BC to the thing that most of us look for when choosing wine today.

Yet still, we go on with all the talk.

I concede that some of it is important and often interesting. What is information but context to amplify and add interest to your subject? But if it’s pleasure we really drink wine for, then, just as a guide to life appreciation should be more than a lesson in biology, a guide to wine appreciation should be more than a lesson in vinology.

I wondered recently what it is that you really need to enjoy wine as opposed to just knowing about it. The list was long so we’ll go through it together over time.

For me, one of the most important – but least discussed factors – when it comes to enjoying wine is company. Who you deem to be good company to enjoy wine with is as personal as your views on the afterlife. If the wrong company can put a bad taste in your mouth, imagine what it can do to your favourite wine.

Good company must include good conversation. More elusive than the perfect wine, a good conversationalist oozes a unique mix of listening and talking, flattery and authenticity that is increasingly hard to find. Too much talking and you do all the drinking; not enough and it becomes hard work.

In this case you might prefer your own company over bad company, and this is fine too. Important, even. It’s a fading virtue to be able to take enough pleasure in your own company to enjoy a wine with it. Better still, it means that you will forever be able to enjoy both wine and life, no matter what your circumstances. It’s also good practice at being good company. If you don’t like your own company, don’t expect anyone else to.

I also think drinking wine is made much more enjoyable when consumed in a spirit of generousness. Not to be confused with excess or gluttony or showy displays of wealth, a spirit of generousness is a willingness to explore for the pursuit of pleasure itself. It’s different to buying from the top of the wine list with scant appreciation for anything but bragging rights. It’s about having enough curiosity about the good things in life to peek behind the curtain and, when you do, knowing the pleasure is worth every cent.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when considering your company, choose your wine as you might a companion. A good wine will be more than a drink. A good wine will engage you, make you conscious of it and take you places. Some wines have chambers of flavour that make you feel like you’re being led underground and let in on nature’s secrets. Wines made from soils as old as earth make you consider all that might have happened since. Other wines can be so seductive one sip and you check to see if anyone can tell. A good wine will provide as much engagement as any drinking companion.

Good company – wine, yours, or otherwise – is rare and to be cherished. But if you are unable to influence the company, you might want to take some of Hemingway’s wisdom: “An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools”.