I know, I have been quite silent lately. This is likely to continue for a couple more weeks. I will try to post when I can, and more importantly have something to say, but we’re not really drinking wine right now and my cousin is coming to visit so we will also be traveling a bit. Maybe that is why I am going a bit deeper today…
The exchanges with my cousin over the last weeks reminded me of something. We were talking about what wines he should bring for us. He had a couple of suggestions and we still had some bottles stored at my mother’s. It reminded me of those bottles, and it also made my excitement about the wines he is bringing rise. It reminded me of a discussion I had with my friend Tracy a while back, and that I had jotted down some ideas about it in one of my guest posts on the German expatriate website Go-Ra-Ra.
Wines have a unique and particular quality that I just find fascinating and it is quite singular to them: They are perfect bridges into the past.
You might say that smells, too, can carry this magic because they have the ability to transport us back to fond memories and special moments. For me, one immediate example would be the aroma that arises from baking bell peppers – it will always remind me of my beloved grandma making her awesome Stuffed Peppers.
That brings us to food, which seems to do that, too. When I visit Germany nowadays, the first thing I long for is bread and ‘Wurst’, insufficiently translated as lunch meats or cold cuts. It is what makes me feel at home. And don’t get me started on the taste of actual, real bread…
And finally, music appears to be similar: Every time I hear a particular song by The Killers, one that I obsessively listened to two years ago when working on a paper, I start re-arguing the case in my head all over again. And we all know these songs that make our hearts swell because of the connotations our brain has from when we listened to them for the first time, or many times in a row.
But there is a caveat: These three triggers for our senses cannot function as true bridges, because – in my book at least – they do not take the process of ageing or evolving into account. They lock in memory from the past, the way it was.
A bottle of wine from a particular year offers more than food, music or smells can offer: It offers me a taste of something that was produced at a certain time, and that did not stay the same. A substance that, just like me, has aged since it was first created. We both evolved and we both are not what we were at the time the wine was made.
But still, it brings back memories: The name of the winery will remind me of past experiences with it; the name of the vineyard might remind me of a hike in this particular hill. Or I might even have enjoyed this particular wine in the past, and just like me it has evolved since then and is not the same.
A bottle of wine gives me a chance to think of the grand scheme of things. What happened during this specific year? How did the German national team do? Or, on a more personal level, I might consider my life: Where was I at this point in time … physically … emotionally … spiritually? What has happened since? A lot of history, all captured in one sip, if you will. I love this about wine.
And there we are: This wine that transports me back in my head, it meets me in the here and now at the same time. It is a messenger from the past, that is not just a memory in my head, it is actually here. Ready to meet me and engage with me…
In that sense, a bottle of wine is like an old friend, that evolves with us, that grows with us, but still connects us to our past. So just like old friends, they are true bridges into our past.
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[…] You know I am a sucker for aged wines. I just love them, especially my beloved Rieslings. Wine changes a lot in the bottle, and any given day it will taste differently. But there is just something about these aged wines that draws me in, beside the history etc. I wrote about that a bit earlier, in my post called aged wines are like friends. […]
Oliver, as I understand, you store at home more of older vintages. How do you do that? Do you have a proper cellar in the U.S.? It’s a big problem for me, in Berlin…
Yes, we do store some vintages, mostly 2010 and 2009. So I am not that worried about storing them in perfect conditions because we will drink them in the next years. It is a bit tricky, but so far I have not had problems with wines that went bad. We store them in our cellar in a dark corner that has no fluctuation of temperature, and some are stored in a closet that is remarkably cool all year. I had friends in trier that stored wine in their kitchen for several years, and that did impact the wines quite a bit (we always said we are tasting wine as if it was already 2020). But for shorter periods, I don’t see a big problem. If I want old vintages, I usually try to order from wineries straight were I know they were stored in perfect condition.
Beautiful post, Oliver, and very eloquently written. “A bottle of wine is like an old fiend”: so true n so well said! A joy to read. Thank you.
You make me blush, Stefano. Thank you.
[…] just got word that my post about Aged Wines (see here) made me the Featured Wine Blog of the Day on the food website Foodista. Don’t believe me? […]
Very nicely written… And I know (as many others certainly do, too) exactly what you mean…
Fabulous post! I think we all have many similar experiences with flashbacks brought on by powerful memories being associated with different senses.
Something about the way you so eloquently wrote about this concept made me think of these wines as inexpensive therapy, taking us back to ourselves at different points in our lives and reflecting on past and present (and possibly, future). I think this is how I am going to justify the expense of wine in the future : )
Thank you so much! And that is a great point you’re making: Old wines as therapy…I am not sure it is an inexpensive therapy, but yes, it does help us meet our old selves…and relaxes us about them at the same time.
It was a wonderful read and the chance to see your philosophical side; this is how I think of our wine conversations. Wine is an experience that is just waiting to resurface at just the right moment. The aroma or nose that may trigger a sense of deja vu, or alas for me, when something in the back of my head always wants to compare every Pinot Noir wine from any country to a 1921 Richebourg. You have had some wonderful experiences and joys with your wines, and I look forward to the next time your Muse arouses you.
Dear John, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. A 1921 Richebourg, eh? I bet I would also compare every Pinot to that one…as you say, and as your blog so valiantly and nicely shows, there are so many interconnections between wine and events in our lives…be they grand or small. I’m looking forward to our next meet!
Love the picture!
I know…best buddies, like it says. :) That was a 2001 bottle or so…
I can’t find the really-really-like button. This is awesome! I love the part about a messenger from the past that is not just a memory… actually here…
Perhaps I’m sentimental about the friend-wine-connection right now because tomorrow (YEA! TOMORROW!!!) my dear friend from Hamburg is swinging by. We’ve got the food and the wine planned. I keep catching myself grinning like a fool whenever I anticipate our fun. I’m so excited that we’re going to meet again, engage again, drink some wine and build bridges together into some of the happiest days of my life–the time we spent together when we were 17 (so, so long ago!)
But, I don’t think it’s merely my sentimentality that makes me believe you did a really great job describing how the joy-pleasure of wine is like friendships. Very cool!
Tracy, what an awesome, awesome way to reconnect with your friend. Has it really been that long since you last saw each other??? Incredible. It reminds me of meeting my French exchange brother again after 16 years…I actually have a bottle of 1989 Riesling Auslese stashed away for our next meeting hopefully next year, which will be our Silver Anniversary!
Thank you so very much for your words. They mean a lot, and I am indebted to you for first encouraging me to write my thoughts down. It took me a while, but I finally felt this was the right way of putting it.
Have an amazing time with your friend!
I know… reconnections are incredible. On another topic entirely, so, you do speak French, at least enough to understand the gist of this interview: Some time ago we met this incredibly awesome sommelier in Canada (Ghislain Caron, who now works for the SAQ in Quebec). Not exactly a “friend,” rather an acquaintance (in the German sense of those words). He’s one of the most amazing wine-palette experts I’ve ever met. And humble. I wrote about him in my memoir–he was instrumental in orchestrating one of the best restaurant meals of my life. I just wanted to introduce you to him. I think you’ll like him.