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Drink it forward

[press & amphora]I have some guests from France this week, and as is my usual practice I intend to serve them no French wines over the course of their stay. This time, however, I’m going to be a little more challenging than usual.

Most of my French friends and relatives are not wine geeks. They like it, they drink it with enthusiasm, they can comment intelligently on it when asked, but it’s not something they care or talk about away from the table. Not so the husband in the current pair, who – while he does not rise (or fall) to the level of oenophilic obsession required to, say, have more than one blog on the subject – likes to trot out his best stuff whenever I visit them, and who has a slightly more eclectic range of tastes than is typical among that particular set of friends.

So this week, I’m inspired to push the boundaries a bit. And the biggest push will probably come from one of the so-called “orange wines,” perhaps from someone like Radikon or Zidarich: an extended skin-contact white, cloudy and tannic, with an aromatic and structural palette likely to be completely unfamiliar to them (certainly, the grapes and regions involved will be). In planning this, I found myself wondering what my expectations were for such an experiment. Because, of course, there’s at least an even chance that they’ll find whichever wine I serve far too weird to enjoy, in which case this becomes a very expensive failed experiment (these wines, as their advocates know, are not exactly cheap).

Wine travel (that is, travel at least in part for the specific purpose of tasting wine) nearly always results in just this sort of encounter. Unless one adheres only to the tried-and-true, which seems an awfully restrictive way to approach such a diverse subject, there will eventually be a wine that first leads not to questions of good vs. bad, but of essence and intent. “What were they thinking here? Is this how the wine is supposed to taste?”

For some – me included – this is an essential, valuable, and often wonderful facet of wine exploration. And it doesn’t even matter all that much whether or not I actually like what I’m tasting, though weeks of slogging through bottles and barrels for which I don’t care would be a taxing experience. The tangible benefit is the experience, the palate-broadening encounter with something that’s actually new. (Even though many of the wines that engender this reaction are actually more akin to something old, like Gravner or Bea.) Often, the most difficult part of contemplating such wines is finding a vocabulary to describe them. I look back over all my Radikon notes, for example, and wonder at the near-complete disconnect between allegedly-identical bottles; is it the wine, or is it me? I’ve come to conclude that it’s a little bit of both, viewed through the lens of an imperfect language, in an ongoing effort to achieve some sort of actual understanding.

With this in mind, I’ve realized I have to let go of the hope – or even the notion – that my friends’ eyes will light up with excitement (as mine often do) when they taste whatever oddity I decide to serve them. Unlike the winemaker, I’ve no inherent interest in convincing others of the merits of the wine. After all, I’m not selling it. All I can do is transfer the experience…“drink it forward,” if you will…and I’m going to have to be content with that. Whatever happens after that is up to them, not me.

And if, as seems quite possible, they don’t like it? More for me. There’s no bad here.