Tag Archives: Easter

The elephant test for wine

Photo from thelivingwine.com.

“I know it when I see it,” goes the famous quote from American Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart.  Stewart was talking about what does and does not constitute pornography, but the statement can go broader than that:  it can be applied to anything that comes down to a matter of individual preference.  I have always enjoyed a good glass of wine, but like many I’ve found the world of the oenophile somewhat daunting, with its stereotypical images of aesthetes with noses held high waxing pedantically about the subtleties of bouquets, the suitability of pairings, the ideal shape and weight of glass and why the ’59 is better than the ’61.  Wine culture seems by its very nature to be impenetrable, a secret club replete with its own terminology and secret handshakes.  As the steward pours out the sample and tells you to be mindful of the scents of currant and chocolate dancing across your palate with each sip, one can feel a spectacular sense of intimidation, or at least the longing to be trained as a sommelier (and possess a doctoral fluency in French) in order to appreciate wine the way it seems you are supposed to.  But good wine is like a good book, a great movie or a beautiful woman – you know it when you see it.

This past Easter weekend, my better half and I decamped to a brief tour of Niagara’s wineries.  It’s not something we do regularly, which seems a shame given that it isn’t a long drive away.  We have never pretended to be experts in vintages; in fact, the stuff we love to drink would probably be frowned upon by more seasoned wine patrons.  Our cellar, if you can call a wine rack in an unfinished basement that, is a mishmash of gifts from friends and relations and odd bottles picked up randomly throughout our worldly escapades, along with a few regular favourites.  We’d fumble for an adequate response if asked to speculate about tannins, oaking and aging, or the intricacies of merlots versus cabernet sauvignons and pinot noirs.  But we don’t care.  There are few things we love more than a good bottle of South African shiraz with dinner.  The smoothness of an adored wine heightens the elegance of a great meal, softens the mood and loosens the tongue from the awkward requirements of casual conversation about the weather and the plight of the Leafs, revealing a path into deeper, more meaningful interaction and connection.  That’s my attempt at a literary explanation.  More simply than that, it tastes frickin’ amazing – and it makes your food taste better too.

There is a growing resentment against what one would consider the finer things in life, and wine is often singled out, along with lattes, as a singular example of what separates societal castes – a distinction I’ve never bought into and have railed against in the past, as it seems largely invented by those aspiring to elected office.  Wine is not, nor should it ever be, the sole province of an elite few.  I can find no good reason why a guy who loves his Miller Lite and his double-double can’t appreciate a chardonnay as well.  Nothing prevents him from walking into a winery and trying a few different vintages (it’s usually free to do that).  Forget having to justify your taste with polysyllabic terminology and recitation of arcane lore – the question is just, as it is with anything, do you like it?  No?  Okay, try another one.  The possibility of discovery is tantalizing – you may uncover a true treasure, as we did over the weekend, a rare (for our region at least) 2008 ice wine shiraz that trickles over the tongue like rich nectar.  I don’t think that being able to appreciate that makes anyone a snob, nor should not knowing the history of the soil that grew the grapes or the entirety of Proust’s back catalogue prevent someone from trying it.  Wine, like culture, is there to be enjoyed by all, and the only barriers to that world are those we erect for ourselves.  You don’t need to know everything about wine to love it – to paraphrase Potter Stewart, you’ll know it when you taste it.

UPDATE:  One of my Twitter connections advises me that the glasses in the above photo are in fact champagne flutes.  Any port – pardon the pun – in a storm.

Whither Christmas?

Gretchen Wilson’s country hit “Redneck Woman” has a line boasting about how she proudly keeps her Christmas lights on her front porch all year round.  You’d think that folks were taking her advice literally.  One cannot argue that it hasn’t been warm enough to find an opportunity to remove them; temperatures haven’t dropped below zero in weeks and just hit record highs a few days ago.  St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow and yet a stroll through my neighbourhood reveals plenty of garlands, ribbons, wreaths and even electric deer standing proudly as if waiting for a winter that never really came.  I know it can be tough, un-decorating always is.  But at some point you have to let go.  At this rate the poor Easter Bunny is going to have to muscle out Frosty and Rudolph for veranda space – his nimble cousins have already made an appearance in my backyard.  Given the heat I think old Cottontail can take Frosty, but Rudolph has those strong back legs that could give him a real challenge coming down the stretch.

Admittedly, this Christmas was kind of anticlimactic, especially since, misleading Weather Network reports to the contrary, December 25th came and went with nary a hint of snow.  And there was a palpable lack of Christmas spirit among my family, friends and colleagues; everybody sort of went through the seasonal motions, but nobody sounded like they were really looking forward to any festivities.  The non-stop carols that kick in on the radio on December 1st sounded tedious by December 4th, and Justin Bieber’s tribute to mistletoe played unendingly didn’t help either.  (I did not hear “Fairytale of New York” or “Christmas Wrapping” once on any FM station, which is criminal.)  Our own decorations were a Griswoldian source of frustration, with two exterior pre-lit trees blowing over and smashing their bulbs at the slightest gust of wind despite my efforts to anchor them in place, a malfunctioning timer, strings of the infernal mini-lights on the big tree inside going dark in random patterns and a mysterious short blowing out the entire outside array.  And we won’t get in to the malfunction of our brand new oven in the middle of cooking Christmas dinner.

Despite the setbacks we put on the best show of holiday cheer we were able.  But there was something not quite right about the whole thing.  About December 28th it felt like we were still waiting for the real holidays to get going, although in truth, I was so fed up that I would have been happy at that point just to go back to work.  I suspect I’m not alone in that, and I wonder if perhaps that’s the reason there are so many decorations still adorning the nearby houses.  It’s like Linus waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to appear, not realizing he missed Halloween in the process.

My better half has observed that people seem generally unhappy lately.  There is a dourness about the world that is lingering like the worst hangover you’ve ever had.  Poverty is deepening, inequality is worsening and governments aren’t listening to their people, preferring to re-fight old and long-settled battles in lieu of facing the true challenges.  One half of the country hates the other half with a deep-seeded bile it is unwilling to tame.  It is not enough for us to win anymore, we have to see our foe sprawling in the dirt with his limbs broken and face smashed in, and the ground around him scorched and salted.  When did we become so vindictive?  Why this epidemic of hate-thy-neighbour?  Is it those solar flares?  Or is there an insidious cancer eating away at the human soul?

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic.  But as any alcoholic will tell you, admitting you have a problem is the first step to addressing it.  So many Christmas decorations still out baking away under 20-degree Celsius March heat suggests that there might be a longing out there that everyone doesn’t even realize they share – a hope for the spirit of positivity and unity that lights the world in its coldest months, and was suspiciously absent this past twenty-fifth of December.  There’s no reason why we can’t spend the remainder of 2012 working to bring it back.