MNWB Book Club: Installment 1: What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking?

MNWB = My Nova Wine Blog, cause who types it all out anymore? LOL.

To be frank, I bought the book because Amazon recommended it to me as an easy read and a good primer on wine for wine education.  It has definitely started off that way, and I’m a voracious reader.  It is hard for me to read, and write about my reading, on work nights.  At least in the summer work life slows down so I can be a little more focused.

So today I’m focusing on the Introduction and Chapter 1.  In the introduction he sets out his purpose for this book, anchoring himself as someone for whom wine is a friend and someone who is interested in providing insight and education in easy ways for folks who like wine but don’t have certifications.

He starts off noting the value of family wineries and how important it is to know who grows/harvests your food, just like at a farmers’ market.  The connection with the winemakers/producers is key, as you identify the wine with the winemaker.  This is so important to me, as many of my most frequent haunts are places where I have met and talked with the winemaker and developed a relationship with her or him and made connections.  This makes me think of them as I sip a bottle of theirs, or as I drink a storebought wine, I think about what she or he does in order to make that wine distinctive.  The personal connection to the wine, winemakers, and terroir/place is important to the enjoyment.  He likens the drinking of wine to a conversation between winemaker and drinker.  I’m not sure I feel that way about it, rather, I see the wine as the third part, and something the winemaker is expressing and describing to me.  Theise is humanizing the wine and talking to the winemaker through this interpreter.  That really validates wine as art.

sci plus wine
Stolen from Wine Folly – I want this shirt.  Badly.

While Theise describes wine as a friend and companion, I do tend to see wine as an experience of art where the winemaker has worked to create something for me to experience and interpret.  This is why Theise promotes small-scale production wine over “industrial wine.”  I agree with him.  When WF2 Wife tells me that I can get grocery store wine cheaper, I remind her that it’s really about the experience and the quality and that is what I pay additional for – to know how it was produced and represents the terroir and the winemaker’s philosophy.  Same when husband recommends Target Wine.

Thiese and I diverge when it comes to wine as a thing of beauty, and he rejects “natural wine” for its flaws.  I think this is the common disagreement about art – should art be beautiful, or should it communicate and represent the experience of the artist?  There is little classical “beauty” in modern art, but there is representation of ideas and experiences that the artist is communicating to us.  If you are a classicist, you will likely reject natural wine because it has flaws and it does not strive for perfection, it strives for authenticity.  I like beautiful wine.  I LOVE natural wine.

Thiese talks about his journey to writing about wine and a desire to not write in the wine snob manner, but rather to communicate with us about wine in an accessible way.  I truly appreciate that.  I prefer a tasting bar employee and winemaker who share the work of growing the grapes in the dirt and pruning the vines and fighting the rain to all those phrases on the aroma wheel – tell me about how the wine got here, not the smell of sweaty leather saddle (blech.).

Thiese finishes the introduction with the assertion:

Wine is big and often inscrutable, but your arms are large enough to encompass it.

Ahhh comfort.  We may not become Sommeliers of Masters of Wine.  But we will understand something about wine, and we will enjoy it.  Yes we will.

Chapter One: That First Bottle.

What was your “Wine Moment?”  I remember mine.

It was 2006.  You may know this story.  Thinking my future husband loved wine, I took him to San Francisco and then Napa.  We went to wineries.  We drank cakebread, silver oak, and Elyse.  We had incredible reds – rich, complex reds, reds that knocked my socks off.  I fell head over heels in love with Cosentino The Poet red blend.  My wine moment, when I realized that wine can have layers and complexity that make it interesting, fun, and tasty.  My wine moment, moving away from 7 Deadly Zins and Shiraz.  And then exploring Virginia wines, including Winery at La Grange’s Meritage and Chateau O’Briens Cab Sauv and Cab Franc and Vintner’s Reserve.  That was 2007.

Thiese describes his wine moment, and how transformative it was for him.  He goes back to wine as a companion and a connection.  I truly see drinking a good wine as connecting me to that terroir and winemaker, rather than to the wine.  Wine is the vehicle, not the destination.  He talks about finding “the tiny little things,” He talks about finding “peak experience,” and quotes Yeats:

“My body of a sudden blazed

And twenty minutes more or less

It seemed so great my happiness

That I was blessed and could bless.”

Few wines have done that for me.  You know, the Arterra Malbec, the Chateau O’Brien 2012 Malbec in its first few years, the Walsh Merlot, Silver Oak Cab, La Grange GSM, a few more…

But when you really connect with the wine and it is transcendent because it really connects you to the terroir, that is the experience we are all after.

Thiese ends this chapter with a discussion of how he, as a wine buyer, trues to find wines where “soul may make a perch.”  That’s a great description of how the most amazing wines have been for me – things stopped for a moment and I was wrapped up in the experience of understanding what the winemaker/artist was trying to achieve and what the earth was giving to that effort.  That’s what I want to provide people as I let them sample wines in my collection.

As you read the intro and chapter one, what strikes you?  What was your “Wine Moment?” I see this book as a journey through his wine life, somewhat similar to what I’m trying to give to you in this blog.

If you haven’t joined in with the reading, please do.  Please order using this link (and support our wine blog):

What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime

and then comment and join in!

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