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Let the Good Wine Take a Back Seat

Last night I went out for dinner with a couple of colleagues from a business strategy course that I've been taking for a while. One of them has taught me an awful lot in the past couple months, and I've been working with them both to create a presentation that we successfully delivered to a group of 34 of our fellow students today.

Naturally, I brought a good bottle of wine to dinner, and we drank it while getting to know each other better, and talking about the challenges and opportunities we each face in our businesses. The conversation was animated and engaging and just flowed, to the point that the waiter had to remind us a couple of times to look at the menu so we could order. And we were some of the last patrons in the restaurant when we left a few hours later, still engaged in conversation.

As we hopped into the car, one of my dining companions offered the first comment about the wine that had been made all evening since I asked the sommelier to cool down the bottle a little bit for us before he poured.

"That was a really great wine tonight," said my friend. He was right. So good in fact, that it simply did what great wine should do: become part of the fabric of the evening.

While I derive great pleasure from the intellectual aspects of wine, and enjoy talking about it, I also enjoy just being able to ignore it.

But ignore is not quite the right word. In these situations I enjoy every sip from my glass and appreciate the changing character of the wine as it warms slightly and aerates through the evening. But this enjoyment takes place in the background, slightly receded from conscious thought, and distant from the conversation. Like a pleasing background melody from faint speakers we find ourselves humming after a while, wine can be immensely pleasurable when it isn't in the spotlight of conscious thought.

Like a movie critic that has a hard time turning off the analytics even when he takes his daughter to the latest animated film, I'll admit that such moments aren't nearly as frequent in my life as they used to be. But I do know the formula to produce them (good food + good conversation + good timing + good wine, all with people who love wine but don't geek out about it), and I always jump at the chance to enjoy them.

Sometimes wine makes for a better dinner when it's not the dinner-table conversation.

Comments (17)

michael appleton wrote:
06.06.09 at 6:08 AM

Fantastic! And so true... Those are the best nights. May we all have more like them

06.06.09 at 7:54 AM

Gopd point, Alder. After I finished the last exam that would lead to my Diploma from the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust (a two year program) last June I didn't write a tasting note for six months! Then, at Christmas at Le Bernardin, Aldo Somn (International Sommelier of the Year) decided to blind taste me on several wines! I got them right, yet it was a good warning to keep senses sharp.

As I read your experience, I remembered the pleasures of just letting wine be wine!

Josh wrote:
06.06.09 at 10:11 AM

You've captured the essence of why I love wine, and put it into words in an eloquent, elegant way.

These vignettes are my favorite posts of yours.

Carrie wrote:
06.06.09 at 2:34 PM

Great perception of having a dinner with "people who love wine but don't geek out about it." I must have been a wonderful dinner!

Dylan wrote:
06.07.09 at 5:08 PM

I was going to try and add something of my own to what you said, but it would only fail to capture it the same way. This post was inspired by a recent moment that truly resonated with you--anyone following this blog for more than 2 posts can pick up on that in the writing you enlisted here. Great job capturing the experience wine can offer when it serves as one of many connections rather than being the main event.

Ed Thralls wrote:
06.07.09 at 6:59 PM

Wow. Very good perspective of a very good evening. I feel the same way, though never took a step back and thought of it in this way... but, it is so true. Thanks for calling it out.

John Skupny wrote:
06.07.09 at 11:38 PM

bravo, touché, that is really what it is all about, and not just with wine...it seems like it was a truly resonant moment for you... but not obvious.... the shared experience of anything sensory that is not overt but enhances the moment, that is really unique. You will find this same 'moment' with your children or partner, likely many times over…with others on occassion, a good bottle helps. And it has nothing to do with being blind or monumental.

Chris Robinson wrote:
06.08.09 at 12:04 AM

Hell there are some days you just feel like a beer - and you don't have to think too hard about that. One of the things I notice a lot in the wine industry is that the end of the day is usually beer time. Maybe after all those hours of making and selling and talking you do just want to get away from it all for a few hours.

Ann wrote:
06.08.09 at 3:01 AM

Love the "geeked out" comment... so true.

Liz Caskey wrote:
06.08.09 at 7:04 AM

I totally loved this post--and agree! Given that wine is completely a sensory experience and has a personality, words are many times inadequate to describe it. Sometimes, just letting it "be" and reveal itself in our mouths and without the necessity of verbally channeling our opinion is, in my humble opinion, one of the purist ways of experiencing its essence. Especially if everyone at the table is on the same wavelength!

Best, Liz

Sondra wrote:
06.08.09 at 8:40 AM

Great post! I often think that wine's greatest gift is to bring people together enjoying conversation and friendship. We can savor the moment without having to describe wine's nose or texture, instead let the wine be the lubricant, and as you said, the fabric, for the flow of a great time together.

Doug Wilder wrote:
06.08.09 at 3:34 PM


I agree wines that become part of the fabric of the evening are most enjoyable. Counting on a wine to be the main event can sometimes fall flat unless there is a table full of enraptured enthusiasts. I am helping put together a special evening for a client where we will be presenting a quartet of very rare, highly rated Pinot Noir out of magnums. My biggest fear is some of the guests won't fully understand the wines, or care that the winemaker will be in attendance.

Sometimes I will pour a glass of wine and it just becomes so enjoyable to drink, rather than analyze that I find the bottle is nearly empty in short order. I always think to myself "wow, how did I manage to do THAT?" Balance and subtlety sometimes win out over power and intensity...

Marco Montez wrote:
06.09.09 at 10:27 AM

Well done Alder... top notch post. Moments like this don't come too often for myself these days either and they usually come as a surprise. When it happens though... it reminds me of where my passion for wine comes from.

Neil wrote:
06.09.09 at 10:42 AM

...funny- A guy I work with was telling me a story yesterday about a certain group of friends that he's sick of hanging around with because all they do is talk about the wine they order for half of the meal. As he told the story, I started to think.... wait, is he talking about me? I finally blurted out.. "Do I do that?" Fortunately he said, I don't (I usually move on to religion and politics after five minutes of wine conversation... which has it's own trappings..., but anyway, I digress).

Then today I read this blog post.

Definitely a "note to self" for all of us wine geeks... Need to be aware of our surroundings and make sure we're engaging all of the party, lets we wind up drinking alone...!

stacywoods wrote:
06.09.09 at 11:23 AM

Absolutely spot on!

Hank wrote:
06.09.09 at 1:33 PM

This is precisely the reason I find it so difficult to write about wine -- so long as a wine is competently created (i.e., not markedly flawed), the "story" of drinking that bottle becomes so idiosyncratic (what did I have it with? Who was I with? What was the weather outside? etc.) that I can't really write a "review" of the bottle; it is a review of the experiences I had drinking it.

Does this make sense?

06.11.09 at 1:41 PM

An evening spent with family and friends is about them. It's not about the wine or the food. Your guests want to see you, to talk to you. It's not a wine tasting. A wine-geek dinner is another thing, but most people just want to enjoy the evening.

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