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Friday, December 20, 2013

In vino veritas

Joe Shlabotnik, Flickr

In vino veritas is a Latin phrase that translates “in wine [there is the] truth". The expression, together with its counterpart in Greek, “Ἐν οἴνῳ ἀλήθεια” (En oinōi alētheia), is found in ErasmusAdagia. Pliny the Elder's Naturalis historia contains an early allusion to the phrase. The Greek expression is traced back to a poem by Alcaeus. (source: Wikipedia)

I learned very early on from observing my parents and their friends that wine drinking is a pleasure not to be rushed.

Around our family and friends, alcohol had nothing to do with inebriation - or so infrequently that it's not even worth mentioning (and then of course nobody would drive - not-so-subtle reminder here, everyone!)

If this is what you see, I hope you have handed
your keys to someone else long ago!

No, among us, wine was a great pleasure to be savored, honored even, one sip at a time.

When you make love to a wine (because, really, that's what it amounts to), you want to be a patient, attentive, delicate and respectful lover. You want to delight in every little wonderful bit of it.

First, you have to pick a bottle.

Not just any one will do!
Annapolis Valley, 2008.

Just like picking a lover, picking a bottle is a paramount decision: failing to choose the right one could end in a disappointing experience, and in love or in wine drinking, that has to be avoided at all costs.

So first, choose a bottle.

At this point I have to mention that the price, if sometimes indicative of quality, does not equate it, and cannot be used as a guarantee. A comparison would be the handsome and jovial person you met and who seemed full of promises, but who ended up being flimsy in bed; similarly, an expensive bottle with a pretty label and an enthralling description might very well slip on your tongue, leaving you with a "I felt nothing" kind of sensation.

It will be better in other seasons.Annapolis Valley, 2010.

Choose wisely, my friend.

The advantage is that with wine, you can Google names and ask around for information without it looking like neurotic stalking or excessive pickiness. So go ahead, read, read some more... and ask questions. Better yet, state your criteria (in wine, it is acceptable to start equipped with a precise list of what you're looking for. In love... not so much. Not openly anyways). 

You could approach "the expert" (whoever in the vicinity who seems to know wine), and say something along those lines: I am looking for a white wine, lean, dry, mineral, but fruity, to accompany raw oysters. 


I had my first French meal and I never got over it. It was just marvelous. We had oysters and a lovely dry white wine. And then we had one of those lovely scalloped dishes and the lovely, creamery buttery sauce. Then we had a roast duck and I don't know what else. Julia Child 

Which brings me to my next point: when asked what wine they prefer, the experts, and even the dedicated amateurs, will declare "It depends".

Annapolis Valley, 2013.

It depends on the season, it depends on your mood, it depends on what you'll be eating with it. A wine wrong for the circumstances, as interesting as it may be, will either fall flat or scream too loud. The right wine in the right circumstances (and at the right temperature), on the other hand, could leave you with a "special smile" and an overall feeling of well-being that is reminiscent of another kind of "afterglow" that has nothing to do with drunkenness. 

If you can have your good wine it with good food, good friends, and good music, even better.

Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken. Ludwig van Beethoven

Once you have the right wine and the right circumstances figured out, I have only 3 words:


Wine deserves time.

Wine deserves your full attention.

Maybe it's because I'm getting older, I'm finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event. You're not downing a glass of wine in the midst of doing something else. David Hyde Pierce 

And remember: drinking the wine is just the cherry on top. Because first, you have to get to know your "lover". Not unlike the dance of seduction, this requires a careful, progressive approach, that involves all five senses. You will pour the wine, not much, maybe a third or a fourth of the glass. Admire the color. The color can tell you a lot about a wine: the grape, the age. Then swirl it. Observe how it covers the inside of the glass, and how the droplets run down. Smell it. Try to figure out some of the aromas (you will get better at this with experience). Swirl the wine some more. Smell it again. If you really appreciate wine, the whole experience could almost stop there: you would already be entranced.

If the wine is really good, like this Saint-Emilion 
Grand Cru Virginie de Valandraud 2000, you might end up with your nose in the bottle once it's empty. No worries: this is perfectly normal.

When you are ready, when you know precisely what your wine looks and smells like, you can, slowly, go for what I will call "the first kiss". The first kiss is the small amount of wine you will take into your mouth, not to be swallowed right away, but rather to hold, and to put in contact will all parts of your tongue and palate; you are still discovering that wine, remember? Not only the taste, but also the texture.

Finally, you will swallow that little sip of wine. Now is the time to pay attention to the "aftertaste", or what impression you are left with once the wine isn't in your mouth anymore. To really be able to tell, you will have to take a few sips, but soon enough you will know: this is either a good wine, a so-so wine, or a wine that you don't really look forward to drink again.

Remember that swallowing the wine is almost optional: don't they provide spitting buckets for serious wine tasting sessions? What you want to keep in mind is that when it comes to wine (and love, for that matter), quality wins over quantity. Always.

In the meantime, you will - gradually - have learned to "talk wine" just like some talk love: with a precise yet poetic and fluid choice of words that will take your own personal experience and make it available to all those who hear you retell it. 

Just read this description of a wine I tried recently at a party, the Rex Goliath Shiraz Giant 47 Pound Rooster (which was "okay", not much more):

"It takes a good day of aeration for the sweet to march away in shame to let the wine's backbone to come blinking out of hiding." (From www.cellartracker.com)

Annapolis Valley, 2013.

Which wines will end up on your "good list" and which ones will end up on your "naughty list" concerns only one person: you. As the French saying goes: "Des goûts et des couleurs, on ne discute pas" (There is no accounting for taste). I know I like my red wines dry, old, with a hint of truffle, mushroom, tobacco, leather, prune and/or fig. My white wines I like dry as well, with a mineral personality, plus some fruit depending on the grape. My lovers, well, I like them... er... 

Let's just change the topic.

If you are interested in learning how to taste wine, may I redirect you to this website (click here).

And for another tasty post about wine, click here.

Now if you will excuse me... I have a pinot noir to open.

Happy tasting!


  1. Like ballet, classical music, and opera, the appreciation of wine is an elegant pursuit that I have attempted but failed to connect with. I have felt envious reading this, yet deprived in many ways. My crude senses, I suppose, are just not attune with sophisticated pursuits.

    I ride my bike on the weekends through the Temecula Valley, Southern California's wine country. I love the aesthetic of the vineyards, and the stone buildings which house many of the wineries, but I always ride back home feeling left behind -- why I am I the ignoramus of the vine...?

    This may even inspire me to learn more, but it's wonderful to read of your appreciation for the gift of grapes...

    1. Beautifully written comment, Roy!

      The "elegant pursuits" you are listing are usually an acquired taste, so I wouldn't worry too much if you haven't felt "love at first sight".If you have the curiosity, then you can try and expose yourself to those "sophisticated" things, and I'm pretty sure sooner or later you will make great discoveries!

      I know I did not appreciate wine right away. It took time.

      You might want to try by just smelling it, and trying to figure out the aromas. (Then have someone else drink it while you have beer, haha.) I'm not even kidding!

      Please don't let anyone intimidate you regarding those pursuits; music and wine are there for our pleasure! :-)

  2. This was a super fun post for me - I love wine!! Over the years I have gotten much better at the savoring part! I tend to stick to the same wines but reading this makes me sort of want to branch out and try some new ones using your techniques!!

    1. I'm glad you enjoy wine, and that you are considering trying different ones! You might discover gems. Let me know!

  3. I imagine most of us have to kiss a lot of corks before we find our true bouquet :-)

    1. Haha!

      I don't think I have kissed many corks, but it's true that some first kisses taste better than others. :-)

      Fresh, lively, generous, supple, velvety, complex, delicate, not too sweet. Those would be qualities to look for... ;-)

  4. This reads like a love letter to wine and a beautiful one at that. I am far from expert when it comes to wines but I do love it. There is nothing like sitting back with a glass of wine and good company. It's one of life's little pleasures :)

    1. Oh, and it IS a love letter written to wine. :-)

      Such a pleasure indeed. Thank you for commenting!

  5. It is apparent that you really know what you are talking about! Thanks for all the information and I love that picture of you with your nose in the bottle!

    1. The more I learn about wine, the more I realize how little I know! Which makes the voyage even more interesting. :-)

      Thanks for coming by, Diane! Happy Holidays!

  6. I don't have a sophisticated palate when it comes to wine, and I never developed the vocabulary, but I do love to savor it. Discovering that it is actually HEALTHY is one of my favorite research findings ever! Well, that and dark chocolate. Sometimes I really heart science. :)

    1. All in moderation of course. :-)

      As with dark chocolate vs other "chocolates", I find that high quality wine has a better effect than cheap wine (based on the way I feel after; only a glass or 2 of cheap wine can give me a headache).

      Keep enjoying life's pleasures!

  7. oh my gosh, I'm loving all this wine love. I don't think it's safe for me to get lost in this kind of talk, lol.