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09.30.2007

When Wine Tastes the Best

Wine carries with it so much baggage that it can be hard to forget how to really enjoy it. Not that most wine lovers ever don't enjoy their wine, but when you love the stuff so much, it's hard to avoid having the wine be the focus of your attention. The fact that wine carries with it so much ceremony (cut the foil, pop the cork, smell it, taste it, pour) and so much information (the vintage, the producer, the vineyard, the region, the alcohol level, the grape variety, and everything else we know about the wine), makes it pretty difficult for the wine lover to enjoy wine the way that most wine consumers do -- without paying attention to the wine at all.

I've heard this condition likened to the situation of the movie critic or filmmaker who always finds it difficult to just "watch" a movie. But that's really what we wine lovers need to do, at least sometimes. We need to just drink wine without paying attention to the wine at all.

Because, as we all know, life is not about wine (unless we make wine for a living) instead, wine is about life.

I was reminded of this over the weekend, when I took an (unfortunately rare these days) jaunt away from civilization to go fly-fishing for a couple of days in the Sierras with my dad, who has recently recovered from a heart operation. I threw few bottles of wine in the cooler before I left, tossed in a bag of ice, my wading boots (yes, in the cooler, to keep the bottles from banging around) and headed out to the mountains.

After spending an afternoon fishing in the sunshine, catching several four-pound rainbow trout from a small private stream, and experiencing the first snowstorm of the season (replete with thunder and lightning) all within the space of four hours, we retreated upstream to the cabin that we rented and watched the snow continue to fall. When our boots were off and our hands were warmed up enough to operate again, I pulled a bottle out of the cooler, the label wet and slipping off, and poured some wine into porcelain coffee mugs which we sipped as we watched the snow fall on a moonlit meadow and a bunch of confused cows.

And that's why the wine tasted so damn good.

For a little while, no one cared what they we were drinking out of those mismatched coffee cups, it was just fantastic, and the right thing to have in hand while enjoying each other's company and while shaking our heads in bemusement at the beauty and unpredictability of nature at her finest.

And then the fishing guide asked what vintage it was, and I was back into wine geek mode.

But I didn't mind. I know the recipe for the best tasting wine in the world, it just takes a little work to get it right.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.