April 17, 2012

A Quick Lesson on Wine and Life

17 April 2012 | by Andrea Frost

I was having dinner in a small bistro with a special friend who was in town for a wedding. The last time I saw her was in London, her current home, before and after my visit to France last year.

Whenever we’re together, we bombard each other with intense and thoughtful discussions about life and all its joys and complexities. These conversations for us are some of life’s joys, and at times, some of its complexities. We understand each other’s successes and messes and unique perspectives on the world, and our time together has helped me invent my own views on life.

For example, after encouraging each other to leap between careers, countries and experiences over the last decade, I am convinced that you should try everything and go everywhere you want to. Experience is not gained by reliving one year twenty times over. I have also realised there are many poorly designed and outdated concepts still circulating as the dominant model. It doesn’t make them good, just ubiquitous. So, if the model doesn’t fit, don’t sign up. Better still – create your own version. And, despite what The City says, there are few deadlines that are real deadlines: mostly the noise is made up of small pressures from another time. Ignore them if you want to. Take your time if you need to.

Come to think of it, our catch-ups are part salon, part dinner.

She handed the wine list to me. “You choose,” she said. “And then tell me something about it.”

I chose a Grüner Veltliner. “It’s grown mostly in Austria but it’s spreading to the new world. It’s very buzzy right now – sommeliers love it.” I knew this would appeal to her voracious appetite for emerging trends, something she does for a living for one of the coolest companies on the planet. “But aside from that, it’s actually a great variety. All dry and crisp, sort of minerally and spicy, fabulous with food. A gorgeous way to start.”

It was lovely. We were all excited about it, sommelier included.

She reminded me of a request she made in a bar in London last year, after I returned invigorated by wine and life from France – to give her a mini lesson on wine.

“Just a quick one,” she said looking at her glass of Grüner Veltliner again, a variety she now loved, I suspect, not just for its flavour but also because she experienced a little more of the magic of wine discovery.

“Really? Here?”

“I just want to know more about it.”

“Darl, asking for a quick lesson on wine is like asking for a quick lesson on life.”

“Perfect, I’ll take both.”

We laughed. And I got to thinking – what I would say if I had to give a quick lesson on wine?

So, although there are many who know better and more, here are my thoughts…

Don’t drink only with wine people, not because of the clichés or caricatures – these are mostly irrelevant now – but because they will make you nervous no matter how much they say, “If you like it, that’s all that matters”. Learn from experts and taste in casual company; eventually the best parts of the two will merge. If you want to learn about pinot noir, taste only pinot noir to understand all its variations. Trying to learn about pinot by comparing it to shiraz is like getting a lesson to show that red is different to blue. Ask questions, especially of winemakers. They’re generally too humbled by Mother Nature and passionate about what they do to be anything but welcoming. No-one minds, in fact they love to talk. Re-try your preferences and aversions often – things change. The wine in your glass is only one part of the story; go to the place, taste the food and talk to people if you want to find out the other parts. Like you would of a friend, look for the good in the wine, don’t always seek out the faults, but know that not all wines have either. The wine has things to say; listen to how you react to them, that’s the right answer.

Oh, and one last thing: if you are stuck on anything – in life or wine – remember that everything and nothing matters. Especially if you find someone you can share your joys, messes and a nice glass of wine with.