WineInk: The Contemplative Drinker
“In the U.S., we think of wine as a luxury,” Richard Betts, a formerly Aspen-based sommelier who has gone on to great things, producing both wines and Sombra Mezcal, used to council in seminars. “But in Italy it is more like a grocery, as they drink wine with every meal. It is just a part of life.”
Since I first heard that analogy, many years ago, I’ve admired it. Both for its defining description as well as the delightful suggestion that wine is an essential element of everyday living for Italians. La Dolce Vida, as it were. But in recent weeks, I have come to reconsider the sentiment of Betts’ tenet just a bit.
You see, as we have progressed further into our new reality, luxury has become more difficult to come by. Things that we used to take for granted as luxurious experiences — meeting friends for a fine-dining experience at a new restaurant, tasting menus, chatting with chefs and somms about what is on offer on the menu or wine list — just don’t happen anymore. They are starting to seem like distant memories existing only as images in old iPhone photographs. And travel is now more a chore than a choice.
But I have found that if I open a bottle of wine at home, and really focus on it, I can find a little luxury in a glass. That by sitting and paying attention to what I am drinking, and savoring each smell of the wine, each sip, it can take me to a place of deep satisfaction, far removed from the travails of the current era.
I’ve noticed, perhaps like you, that my wine consumption has risen in recent months. But I haven’t been giving much thought to what I have been drinking. Oh, sure, I drink red with my pizza and open something white to pair with my fish. Standard stuff. But I found that dining and drinking at home each and every night has become more habit and ritual than the luxury it should be.
In January, before the shutdown, I had written a piece in which I encouraged readers to immerse themselves in a glass of wine. To take a moment to explore, using all of the senses, just what that wine was. I wrote the following about an experience that I had with a particular bottle:
“By paying attention to what I was drinking, by stopping long enough to read the label front and back as I opened the wine, by caring what kind of glass I was using, by being conscious of the temperature of the wine I was pouring, by looking at the color of the wine, by considering where the wine came from as I swirled it, I had a whole world of possibility and engagement open up to me. And that is all before I even put my nose in to inhale the aromas or tilted the glass for the first sip.”
This week I opened a bottle of Italian wine. Nothing special, just a $15 primitivo from Puglia, a 2017 Masseria Li Veli. A wine that might even be considered a grocery wine by some. I poured myself a glass and picked up the bottle, scanning the label as I swirled the wine. I had read a bit about the family that made it and my mind began to wander to Southern Italy, where the Falvo family grows indigenous grapes like the primitivo I was about to drink.
Primitivo is the Italian version of zinfandel and, as I examined the wine, I saw it was a dark ruby red and that the alcohol had left tears on the inside of the glass. I took a sip and let the rustic red fruits play across my tongue. There was sweet and spice at play as I swallowed the wine and my mouth felt the dryness of the tannins. It was the first time in a while that I had taken time to notice the wine in my glass.
And the revelation went beyond the experience that I wrote about in January. It actually felt like a luxury. I appreciated the fact that, with a glass of wine, I could remove myself from the tenor of these times. And, for just a moment, I chuckled thinking back to what Betts had to say.
For I had found luxury in a grocery.