It’s advantageous to know what you’re sipping, I understand.. vintage, varietal, AVA, sub-AVA, sub-sub-AVA, and whatever else you can shove onto a label. But can that hinder or dilute the honesty of your reaction? Yesterday in the tasting room, before the day started, we opened a bottle san label from the cellar. We had more than enough sense to discern it was Pinot, as Arista’s know widely and wildly vaunted for its Russian River and Mendo Pinots, but we had no idea of vintage or site. We stared at the bottle for a bit, tilted it to see if there was any visible variance in color. Not much. “So it can’t be that old,” said. Tony pulled the cork, poured a little for all of us, Andy and I prior to measuring a couple ounces for himself. We all smelled, or did the whole visually analytical “nose” thing. And, for sure, a Pinot. But the year, we didn’t know, and we loved not knowing, just guessing and playing with possibilities, and just enjoying the wine for a wine. So many times consumers coffin themselves in the specifics, labels and numbers, the year and if there’s a score attached. But not us, not yesterday morning, it was all about the sipping, the after-chat, and the observation of the wine’s response to oxygen, letting it open and swirling for a minute or more to see what the wine would do, what IT wanted to say.
I went home last night and opened a Malbec from Alexander Valley, from a small producer I don’t feel the need to here cite, and I didn’t feel the intrigue as with the Pinot.. there was too much knowledge of the wine, too much disclosure and specifics. There was a tag. So then I entertained, “Do we want too much as wine consumers?” There are days when people come into the tasting room, and either have an expansive familiarity with wine or just studied-up quickly, on wikipedia or something before flying or driving to Sonoma, Napa and pose the most specific of specific probes. “What kind of oak did this see?” Or further, “What coopers do you use?” Or further into a locomotive obnoxiousness, “What yeast strains do you use?” My question has always been, of course I never voice this, but “If you get the information, what will you do with it?” It’s more than a matter of “Why do you need to know?” What will you do with it? Is that important? Why not just enjoy the wine as a wine you’re drinking with those around you?
The label is just a label. It determines nothing about your connection to the wine. And that’s just what we found yesterday.. or at least I did, the void of a thin piece of adhesive paper on the bottle’s face added to the moment the exploration of what we tasted— magnanimous in the antonymous staccato of all sips, and the talk it catalyzed. That I’ll remember, not one of the bottles that came before and some number or moniker or acronym in some fancy font.
So I’m back in the tasting room today, again, and wondering what I’ll sip, taste, hoping there’s more surprise than expectation. But I know too much. I know the labels. I know the wines. There’s no surprise. I want yesterday repeated, but that’s wine wish (and you’ll find yourself having those, as you further in your wined story). The anticipation is its own buzz, its own dimension and “nuance” (ugh, hate that word), the narrative suggestion of what we’re here for; wine, acknowledging its punctuated identity, all voices and theses to the pours— exile in a wonder, wander, to the next pour, and I hope I don’t now what it is.