by Clare Tooley MW

Love Wine

Have you met your vinous soulmate? No, not your drinking partner, though we all need one of those, but the wine or wines with which you have connected to such a degree you feel perhaps you were chemically and emotionally connected in a parallel dimension.

Wine can create the mingle and raise the roof on the party, but the perfect chemistry is made in the combination of mind, memory, and sensation. It’s all about connection, and it doesn’t always happen. There are many ‘misses’, though thankfully, fewer heartbreaks in the cellar than there are in the bedroom. Bottle incompatibility is as common as people mismatches, disappointments as frequent, misunderstandings as daily. I was introduced to a Cabernet Sauvignon this weekend that I hope never to meet again. But on meeting your wine match, there’s a rush, a momentary insanity. Akin to the first brush of skin, there can be an electricity in wine tasting that mirrors the beginning of love. We talk about energy in wine and are looked at askance. But it’s a truth; as invisibly blatant, as visceral, as irresistible, as unforgettable as the connections between people.

Wine offers us unexpected moments; the spirit-lifting, inner wave of blood-rush to the mind. Sometimes familiar, the wine leads to our core library, our memory-stash wrapped in opaque sheaths of muslin, unbound by a fleeting jasmine on a Riesling that calls to mind one summer’s day. Or a wet leaf and graphite edge on a claret that unlocks an immense cabinet of friendships, the glass inviting the precious Bordeaux chapter to be re-read, syllable by sip. Sometimes unfamiliar, the first taste of something entirely new ricochets you to a place of Adam and Eve-like beginnings. I met a Sake this week, its aromas of white mushroom and verbena so beckoning it has me reaching for textbooks, courses, and bottles, intrigued to get to know it better.  Both often trigger a need to share, to vocalise the pleasure. Even the heartbreak of the unrequited, unreciprocated is better than staying silent. Take the risk. Tell them.

Or not. Unfortunately, writing about wine from the heart is fraught with potential ridicule. The vocabulary of wine affairs is easily scoffed at, the brief encounters with bottles can turn saccharine, expressed à la romantic fiction: “I want to be your luminescence,” said Boal to the girl. But her teeth absorbed the aching sweetness and drilling acidity before her mind could react to the thrill. The Madeira’s moment passed, it’s Seville orange marmalade and caramelised nut brittle, might have awakened her to its ancient lineage and life-giving succour, but instead she nursed her toothache and moved on. “Let me hint at our beauteous future,” said the primeur Pauillac proudly, but the inside of his mouth smarted and puckered, raw edged from a week of barrel sampling. The claret’s kiss left him cold, its bramble leafiness and monolithic power might have impressed him forever, but instead he swilled, spat and left.

But for all the potential nonsense, the flamboyant flim-flam of purple prose, there are moments of what I see to be profound recognition when tasting wine. Conveying that experience to others seems important. And since we will never tire of love stories, the love of wine too should remain timelessly in fashion. For me, they are the moments of homecoming. It happens. An aroma, a texture, a touch, a sip that starts a dance. A ruby, amber, golden, silver-spun, pearly liquid, frothing, purring, roaring into your sensory space. Usually when served blind, one is blind-sided. It has taken me years to embrace the thrill of tasting wines without their labels, despite believing implicitly in being blinded by love. Late to the game, my mission now is to encourage others to revel in it too. Recognising a connection to a wine presented blind is an endorphin triggering moment. There is a thrill to being led to the safety zone of knowing when you started out from a place of disconnect. There is also a real calm that envelops the nervous system as you are brought home by the flow. When you realize you just know.

I think a great deal about what being ‘brought home’ means. The greatest love gift and privilege my parents have given me in life has been to set me free. It is clearly on my mind now as I encourage and watch my sons plot their steps leading away from, not towards me. I wish for myself and for them a pelagic life, unhindered by topographical boundaries, unfazed by social structures, curiously open to free waters and the unexpected. There is a reason I gravitate always to the ocean. And yet. I wish for them a sense of place too, firm footing, a bank of marker-memories to give them confidence. Like my stone staircases, shutters, tobacco, wet pavements, and savory wines. Stained glass windows, compline, a cloth deckchair in an apple orchard with hot tea. Gingerbread cake. A labrador’s soft head. A thousand triggers, as unique to me as my fingerprints. My preference in wine is also land-locked, root-bound, soil and dirt directed. I tend to fall for the wines that swagger with local confidence. The Rooibos tea and smoked earthiness of a south African Pinotage, the brine and leesy lemon of a Galician Albariño, the ferrous, sanguineous tang of Aglianico suggesting slaughter, the marzipan coffee roast of Mission, the starched linen of Graves Semillon, the citronella mosquito candle wax of an Argentinian Torrontés, the speckle-bruised apple green moss of a Loire Chenin as stony wet as its river.

These are acquired tastes. They are memorable, meaningful even in the sense they are present for a reason, but not necessarily markers of pleasure to many.  Nor do they bring everyone home, nor to the lip of love. The more wines we taste, the more notes we take, the more progress we make along our own path inwards towards our internal compass. Let’s not pretend otherwise. That soul-stretching moment towards recognition, love even, is entirely personal. Sometimes unreciprocated, sometimes unrequited, occasionally perfectly aligned. But all we can do, all we should do, is shine our own light on the wines that fill our glasses and hope the reflections catch the attention of others. May we, the wine lovers, seek to draw others in to love the object of our desire as profoundly as we do.

Photo by Christopher Beloch on Unsplash