A recent event I had to organise for work was called the ‘Inspired Tasting’. It consisted of 102 wines all chosen by members of the wine trade who had visited Australia over the last two years – with the instruction that they each choose a wine that inspired them on their trip. A fabulous hook for a tasting – and just one of the many effective ideas dreamt up by my wonderful boss, the late, great Yvonne May.
Walking around the wines and reading the descriptions each person had given, it was fascinating to see how everyone defined ‘inspiring’.
There were vivid descriptions of wines enjoyed in the vineyard: surrounded by the vines it had come from, standing on the ground that had produced it and in the company of the man or woman who had made it. Others remembered a particular dinner where the wine was drunk and enjoyed with like-minded friends, where the wine helped to elevate the evening to another, more memorable, level. Still more talked of a moment of clarity on tasting that particular wine that helped them to truly understand the style, or helped them to debase an old preconception.
What was true of all of these descriptions was that they talked as much of a feeling experienced as of the wine that was tasted. That wine helped to elevate a particular moment in time, freeze it in their memory, and so enable them to share it with other people days, months or even years later.
It is this feeling that for me is the pinnacle of wine. Something that you look for often but only rarely find. On first sniff the hairs on your arms begin to stand up and then as you swirl the glass a shiver might go up your spine. It is when you realise you’ve been smelling the wine for minutes, lost in it’s scent, and you haven’t even taken the first sip. And then when you do, you close your eyes, a smile lifting the sides of your mouth. Time slows; for a minute you are lost, revelling in the experience of the taste.
But that is not all, there is one missing element. Someone else to share the experience, to discuss the wine with and enjoy it together. Wine cannot be inspirational on its own. You need to share that with someone else – and in the sharing can also come the inspiration.
When Alex and I were in the Hunter Valley last year, the young Semillon we drank on Brokenback Ridge would perhaps just have been enjoyable on its own. But when drank on that ridge with a stunning view over the vineyards, accompanied by friends and winemakers (and the odd oyster), it became something more. The combination of wine, people and place made that occasion truly special, even inspiring.
These special wines and their ability to resonate in your memory long after the last drop has been drunk may not come around everyday, but that is part of their lure – and part of what we monkeys are searching for with each new wine tasted. It is what makes wine so fascinating, intoxicating in both senses of the word, and, yes, so inspiring.