This is my first foray into the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (known as #MWWC to those who participate), which (rather unsurprisingly) is a monthly creative writing challenge to write a piece on a topic chosen by last month’s winner. Last month’s winner, The Sybarite, chose the theme “values”. I’ve long read and enjoyed the entries for the #MWWC and thought that it was high time that I gave it a whirl. So here goes…
We talk about “value” a lot when discussing wine. Trouble is value can mean different things to different people; it is intrinsically subjective. This is because the very concept of value is tied up with our beliefs, experiences, means, morality and pretty much everything else that makes us up. The Germans have an excellent word that sums this concept up, Weltanschauung; there isn’t really an adequate literal translation, but it is effectively the way that you perceive and understand the world. No two people will have exactly the same Weltanschauung hence why I say that our understanding of something as complex as “value” is a subjective matter.
So, how does my Weltanschauung affect my perception of value in terms of wine?
Firstly there is the question of money. How much does wine cost? Clearly the economic principle of supply and demand is the biggest single influence on how much something costs. It is this principle that leads to top estates in Bordeaux being worried about bumper harvests rather than pleased, as excess production leads to a saturation of the market and depresses prices. For some people it seems that how much a wine costs is the be all and end all, it becomes a status symbol, a demonstration of wealth and power. However, I personally try not to get too excited about how much a bottle of wine costs. What is more important to me is value for money. I was once told that any idiot can spend a hundred pounds on a bottle of wine and find something excellent. The real challenge is when you are looking to find a decent bottle of wine for mid-week and you don’t want anything that will break the bank. That’s why I like looking for new grapes and new regions. By daring to wander from those well-trodden paths you can find those hidden gems that are a fraction of the cost of more established names. Therein lies the beauty of the game, something I can truly value.
How else can we “value” wine then? Well, we can value the experience that we gain from enjoying it. The whole reason most of us got into wine in the first place is that it can enhance an experience and your enjoyment of it. A nice meal is a perfect example; matching food to wine is, for me, one of life’s great pleasures. I love going to restaurants and enjoying the tasting menus and accompanying wine flights and seeing how the chef and sommelier have tried to match their respective crafts to give a deeper gastronomic pleasure. Similarly in my own culinary experimentations I relish the opportunity when entertaining friends and family at putting together a menu whereby the sensations of both the food and the wine are heightened, augmented and enhanced… hopefully!
Furthermore we can value and admire the effort and artistry that goes into making wine. Everyone who enjoys wine should make at least one trip to a vineyard to understand the subtleties, vagueries, science, judgement and plain hope that goes into making a bottle of wine. The passion that winemakers have when producing these wines is evident to anyone who meets them or reads about them. They have to get to know their vineyard, the soil, the vines and their surrounding area intimately in order to harness their potential. To my mind it is always worth remembering and valuing their hard work as we sit in our lounges sipping the fruits (literally) of their labour.
But there is another, softer, harder-to-quantify, way that I value wine. This is to do with the situations that we use to drink our wine. No wedding is complete without a glass of Champagne to toast the happy couple; no Christmas dinner is quite done until we have a glass of Port with our cheese-board. It is often remarked by people that I know from overseas that one of the things that took a while to get used to on acquainting themselves with Britain was just how prevalent alcohol is in social situations. Most gathering with my friends tend to involve alcohol at some point. Alcohol is a social lubricant, it relaxes us, uninhibits us, encourages discourse and creativity. (I should point out here that I am acutely aware that there are problems with alcohol too – I am referring here to a responsible and sociable attitude towards alcohol, which most people exhibit, most of the time). Some of the fondest memories in my life have involved gatherings with my friends and family where we have enjoyed a nice beer, a good glass of wine or a gin and tonic.
For me, I value wine based on the sum total of all of the above aspects. I think if you look to a wine’s value as only being its monetary worth then you are rather missing the point.