By Marco Giovanetti
When it comes to dining experiences, what drink is more culturally relevant than wine? Yet wine can be a simple or a complex beverage. It is the drink of celebration and ceremony, often seen to promote gracious and fashionable living. At first considered a gift from the gods, wine has long been considered a drink of choice for the elite. Yet today (as throughout the ages) in impoverished countries where it is unsafe to drink the water, people can safely drink cheap wine. Wine has also been used throughout history for its medical purposes.
There are over 400 published studies trying to connect wine to the French paradox: while the French diet is high in fat, the French people rarely get heart disease. Many believe this is due to attributes found in wine. In fact, wine has gained an international acceptance as being good for you while providing a satisfying experience. Wine has also moved off of the dinner table and became a social drink.
In moderation, wine offers a wide array of health benefits: antioxidants in red wine have been found to reduce blood clots; wine is good for the circulatory system and slows the aging process; and wine is also a mild tranquilizer that can lower tension and anxiety. Many human pathogens are inhibited or killed off by the acids and alcohol in wine. As part of a normal diet, wine provides the body with energy, substances that help digestion, and trace amounts of minerals and vitamins. Compounds in red grapes are also proven to boost the immune system and help to prevent cancer.
While many modern diets are becoming more limited, wine is increasing in diversity. Grapes can be grown in many different climates and soils. Wine-making is also growing from a cottage industry to encompass global networks of consumer-aware vintners. And, while wine has a strong association with food, casual drinking of wine is becoming more common (for better or for worse!).
The wide assortment of wines available on the market can be bewildering for many people. While France may be the gold standard for wine, globalization has changed the wine industry. Most casual drinkers will likely not understand all the complexities of an expensive French wine. Today, most wine is bought for immediate use and not to be stored in a wine cellar.
Interestingly, global warming is changing the way grapes are grown. While grapes can be grown in almost all climates, the best are those grown in moderately cool climates. Grapes that grow in cooler climates have higher doses of acidity, which creates an interesting wine – the kind that makes your mouth water and begs for a second sip
There is a certain romance associated with a bottle of wine. A good bottle of wine is the end result of thousands of years of practice, experimentation and tradition. This is cause enough for celebration and an excuse to open a new bottle!
In contemporary society, wine takes two main roles; that of conveying youthful exuberance and that of conveying sophistication, status, brand and identity. Focusing on the latter, wine is among those consumer goods where we have the most choice. Selecting a wine means making a statement. Superficially, you could be showing off. In reality, you could be making a statement about where you come from or where you belong, or what you believe in. Think of the whole spectrum from organic wines, to budget wines to Super-Tuscans, cult wines or trophy wines from over-hyped Napa or Bordeaux vintages or vintners. But, do you drink Chilean wines just because you are Hispanic? Do you prefer certain wines for political reasons? Do you buy budget wine because you always looking for a good cheap deal or expensive wine because you think you belong to the elite? Do you only buy wine based on some magazine or figure’s 90+ rating? When do we see beyond the label? Can we?
We drink wine because we want to but also sometimes because we are told to. There has always been an inescapable mythology around wine. Nowadays, there is also marketing, and even science to back it up. Do you know why you picked up that last bottle? The situation might matter more. As Paul Giamatti’s character from the movie Sideways (2004) learned the hard way, there are times when a good Pinot Noir (in his case a Cheval Blanc ’61) should not be opened. Being alone at a diner is one of them.
You drink because you are part of, or want to be seen as being connected to a particular aspect of society. There is nothing wrong with that. Alcoholism apart, you do not drink because you need to, but because you want to. Beyond a gastronomic experience, it may be a cultural and political statement, or at least it looks that way. You drink because you exist, not in order to exist. In this process, you might become what you seek. Just be sure you know what that is. Wine is linked to empowerment, in intricate ways.
Wines of the week:
Domaine de Montcalmès Les Terrasses du Larzac 2010/2009. ( Both vintages available at the SAQ). Code: 12008325. Price:$37.75 for the 2010 and $36.50 for the 2009.
Vintage tasted: 2009. Complex with a pointy minerality with notes of rose peppercorns, juniper berries. In addition, notes of lavender, smoke, spices, leather and ripe red fruits. In the mouth, full body, very balanced with velvety tannis. Taste is saline with oaky notes intermingled with leather, copper iron, dry spices and flowers. Plums and red prunes also come to mind. Round and harmonious. 95\100.
Food Match: Lamb Tajine with dry prunes, carrots and other root vegetables.
Frédéric rivaton, Latour de France (Roussillon). Tombé du Ciel 2012 (carignan, syrah). Private Import. Importations Glou. Martin Labelle ( firstname.lastname@example.org). 514 973 7216. $22.90/case of 12
On the nose, a very meaty profile with ripe black fruits, earth and rocky minerality. In the mouth, round and voloptous with delicious ripe black and blue sweet fruit and more of that nature earthy character. Finale that reminds me of dust and leather.
Food Match: Focaccia with sun dried tomatoes,olives and grilled chicken.
Mumm Napa. California sparkling wine. Price: $35.25. SAQ Code: 11442672.
A nice nose of ripe red fruit with some tangerine and cantaloupe nuances. In addition, hints of vanilla powder. In the mouth, fruity with spice flavors. Good bubble size and very easy to drink. 90\100.
Food Match: Ricotta Arancini with tomato sauce.