I’ve never been a fan of “dry January” believing that it is not which wine you drink that matters but how you drink. As the long dark nights drag on and the weather is dull, we all need a bit of comfort at the beginning of the year. Moderation is of course important but there is so much more to wine than alcohol and calories.
Did you go overboard during the festive season? I am sure that you all used the occasion of Christmas and the New Year celebrations to bring out some rare treasures; Facebook and Instagram are full of your beautiful pictures of impressive bottles. We too used the holidays to drink some long cellared Thienpont bottlings with friends and family. During the holidays, I read a wonderful article by Andrew Jefford, the thinking wine drinkers’ writer. British but based for the last decade in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, he gets to the heart of many of the most fundamental truths about wine. He was talking about Christmas wines, but his words can be extended to a larger context and I’m going to share with you some of his thoughts as they are so beautifully expressed. They should give us all pause for thought during the beginning of the year when we are surrounded by New Year’s Resolutions, Diets and Dry Months.
Jefford’s main point is that it is not the wine in particular that matters, but wine in general, as a bringer of meaning and a point of rest and relaxation with friends and family during a period of darkness and cold. Here are some of the attributes that Jefford believes wine has that are often overlooked.
Wine focuses light. Winter is a time of illuminated darkness; a table set around glasses or a decanter of wine has the ability to focus, channel and magnify that light. That’s one reason why glass is always chosen for wine rather than ceramics: not only does it allow wine’s colour to be appreciated, but that colour is then set glittering by sunlight, daylight or candlelight. This is a moment all the more precious for being fugitive. Wine is sheltered from light in its bottle, since light will destroy it; its lambent quality as we finally consume it makes for a celebration of light itself, the source of all life on earth.
Wine draws drinkers together and often with those who are woven into our lives, those who are in the best position to help and support us. The sharing of wine draws us together, thanks in large part to its symbolic force in western culture. You do not need to be religious to be aware of the highly symbolic role that wine plays in the Christian Mass or at the Last Supper; wine is a central part of those final meals that we share with who are going away from us in time or space, for better or for worse, for a short period or forever.
Wine brings warmth or refreshment. Wine is the alcoholic beverage which, in unadulterated form, can either warm or refresh (beers usually refresh; spirits generally warm). In a metaphorical sense, too, wine brings restorative force to the midpoint of the year, with nourishing warmth in winter. Alcohol is essential to wine’s role in ‘making glad’ the hearts of its drinkers.
Wine is a piece of the world. It’s rare that we talk of “wine”: wine always comes from somewhere, and the best wines come from somewhere very precise and very particular indeed. That’s its fascination: as we drink, we perceive a multiplicity of distinguishing differences, anchored in place. When we put a bottle of Chianti on the table for Sunday lunch, we’re bringing the Tuscan hills to our table. We swallow mouthfuls of fermented grape juice created by vine leaves and roots from Tuscan sunlight and Tuscan rain, in Tuscan soils. Wine enjoyed during a meal gives us the chance to honour our world by gathering in, celebrating and championing some distant but cherished part of it.
Wine is a piece of time. Be it Christmas, New Year, a Birthday, an Anniversary, it is a kind of communal event: a point around which the year turns and by which we measure time passing. Wines in the main carry vintages, and the vintages of special bottles bear sometimes distant dates. Wine is therefore a piece of time in a way that no other item on the table ever can be. It’s hard not to cherish time: we have so little of it, and it slips by so fast. Wine helps.
Wine carries a signature. Wine is rarely a generic item, a commodity product; even simple wines carry a signature of some sort, and expensive wines carry sought-after signatures, signatures we revere. It is a crafted product of place. We drink the craft, too. The meal on our table wouldn’t be there without the work of farmers, but it tends to be the cook who gets (indeed deserves) the credit. It’s through the signed wine that we have the chance to thank the farmer: the artisan of seasons and soils.
For 2019, may we wish you all a wonderful year filled with wines full of meaning.
Fiona and all of the Thienpont Wine Team