Sunday, April 10, 2011

A beginning, a middle, and an end

A fine wine is a spectacle in narrative coherency and highly articulate originality. The cliché suggested here is that of the first chomp into a vintage Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs, a shock of Granny Smith radiating into ripple upon ripple of umbra and penumbra of the vicissitudes of the cuvée, in Champagne.

And how does it wear? It will shock some to entertain the suggestion, that what a wine's flavours are, is quite secondary to its appreciation, and they are in any case, substantially connoted by its structure, and how that structure behaves. Proportion is anterior to coherency, in any fine wine, as we are likely to reflect upon again. Discover that, and its flavours and aromas fall into place like clock-work, in palate space and in time. Ar-omatics and colour, clarity and tex-ture induce the investigation, and in a fine wine will not default on appli-cation to the palate. Its character is revealed in how these qualities are distributed and sustained.

If we are to ascribe a fault to a wine, it has to be attributable to the wine, not to our preference. This is invariably the most difficult appreciation for the connoisseur to master. A parti pris
drives criticism as sadly in this field as in any other. One can and does fault vanity in the winegrower, for vulgar ambition in the wine. One can fault the year for its manners, although vintage comparisons are often arch and ostentatious; but one cannot fault a wine for a callous where its terroir has laid it. One could and might, complain if it were missing. Who wishes not to know the touch of a strenuous harvest, or the scrape of alluvial experience, is not yet ready for living things.


  1. Hello:
    Hungarian wine can certainly be very fine indeed, although the vintages that are of the highest quality tend never to be exported. In the UK, these wines are often looked down upon as inferior to the better known labels but nothing, in our view, could be further from the truth.

    May we you ever stray far from your computer?

  2. As you may have guessed, I am half Italian. In fact, my brother, the poet laureate, is making a great effort to find the castle in Italy that bears our family name; for now, it makes an appearance in a short story in his new book--one story, about our dad, brought me to tears one night as I read in bed next to Susan; she was finishing Fagles' translation of The Odyssey (A beautiful book, I might add, to hold in one's hands. And read, too!). When reading, not too long ago, The House of Mondavi I learned that people, well, some people, in Italy, would often add wine to their cup of morning coffee. Excuse me now my learned friend while I go pour. AH! It is already after noon; so I raise my cup to you and your's health and happiness.

  3. Dear H & H, Hungary is not alone in tending to keep its best wines at home; this is certainly true of most growing regions of Italy, and most particularly of Piemonte and the Veneto. But the fine-to-extremely-fine critics at this language's benchmark wine periodical, "Decanter," have discovered and admired the wines of Hungary in some depth, which should assist in increasing allocations for the UK.

    One hadn't intended to create the impression that a reader is obligated to attend upon every presentation; of course there will be an exam, but not until the anniversary date, sometime hence. Think of us as a pistachio, and we'll both be happy. You may gather a few at a time, for your sake, and for mine there has to be some reliance on the allure of the underlying "nut." :) But, to answer your question, one has thought of turning RMBL into a weekly publication at some point.

  4. I've never known an Italian to permit the bifurcation you propose, Bruce. :) That is, one is Italian, AND possibly additional, but not alternative and certainly not commensurate things .. But I stray. Yes, I'd sensed you were Italian; I've been rhapsodising on your sudden pizza for the last week.

    As to the custom you report, yes, indeed, readers should know that this comes with the soundest indigenous credentials. A lady I know from Alba always finishes her glass of a tannic red, at the end of lunch, by pouring the remainder into coffee, and there is much harmony and inherent affinity in the berries to encourage this. I prefer not to, myself, not so much out of deference to either beverage but because I like investigating them more for what they are, on their own.

    As for your wishes, they are always opportune and sunny. Have you looked in Puglia for this castle?

  5. One has discovered and explored the strengths and depths of many fine cellars in Hungary. Yet, the bull's blood noble in character and rich in color lacks the delicacy of a Burgogne, the graceful strength of a Bordeaux, and the fascinating depth of a Tuscan. Without offending, One sees the Magyar as a great wrestler and the Gallic-Tuscans as versatile gymnasts who, when music is played, become Firebirds. the other comments and yours, Cher Laurent, are tannic-tinged majesties.

  6. David, you initiate a train of thought in which anyone would be pleased to join you at length. But, first, I appreciate your bringing such local experience to the question that you can assess my own response, on my behalf.

    I have resorted, very comfortably, to anthropomorphic metaphor for the structure and behaviour of wines; few things could be more natural and, sometimes, effectively illuminating. I do not question your allusions here, except that "Gallic-Tuscan" is insufficiently localised for my comfort -- but, there is no abuse of comfort in this use, where the comparison is fair for the Galls AND the Tuscans.

    I am still left, if I may, with an implicit prejudice based on preference, in responding to what, in your experience, must probably have been some of the finest vintages of Hungary. Could you join one in the conception that the wine of the place is the foundation of its gastronomy, and then appraise the wine from the point of view of whether a credible culinary excellence has grown up under its prodding auspices, year in, year out, for generations? Put another way, I cannot anticipate that my beloved Pinot Noir of the Clos would present itself so gainfully in Magyar dining, as at lunch with you in Beaune. I would find, in Hungary, the beauty of the place which our study of the gifts of the earth has educated us to anticipate, indeed to desire, and pursue to treasuring ends.

    Finally, keep up the good work of travel for us all!