Where Do They Get Off Treating Wine This Way?
Over three decades in the fine wine business, I’ve watched what has historically been a focus on social status, upper incomes and ethnic traditions, evolve to spawn glossy magazines the size of phone books, monstrous encyclopedias and too many websites to count. Amongst all of these words, rarely mentioned is the great unspoken subtext of the studied enjoyment of wine:
It gets you high.
Not just comatose high – any intoxicant can do that. And I’m not including the cheaper labels that are basically alcohol delivery systems. I mean the nuanced, gradual, appeal to the senses – and every other part of the human body – in a variety of pleasurable responses as infinite as the range of wines the planet can deliver to your glass. The unspoken subtext is that different wines have different psychoactive effects, and a huge aspect of wine exploration is sampling these effects.
For most of my career, I have concentrated on personally serving individual clients. For many of them it has turned into a familiar relationship spanning many years, and it becomes almost natural to discuss the entire wine experience, including – in straightforward parlance – the qualities of the buzz. Does a given wine stimulate the cerebral, the social, the spiritual? And of course the obvious question – does it enhance all the physical senses? What recently brought this delicate subject to mind (and body) is that multiple reputable wine authorities have simultaneously and passionately acclaimed one of our acquisitions in these very terms.
We happened to get our hands on what seems to have become something of a cult legend in the UK, and the British writers were as proud of finding the wine as they were ebullient in describing the scents and flavors – and, it turns out, the after-effects.
A few months ago, we were told of a coming small allotment from a tiny vineyard in the Roussillon in southern France, the 2008 Domaine of the Bee. Purchased by two Brits in 2004 as more an “experimental journey…as opposed to a business ,” the 10 acres in 3 parcels bore 50-80-year-old vines of Rhone favorites Grenache and Carignan. Their annual yields never exceed 450 cases, which are carefully vinified differently every year according to conditions of the season. This 2008 was a “Wine of the Week” in the London Sunday Times (January 8, 2012), and even better, accompanied by a short blurb from the elder statesman of wine writers, Hugh Johnson, not a man prone to hyperbole. Writing in his quarterly Wines of the World Issue 35, he took a spiritual tone:
“Domaine of the Bee takes super-ripe classic… grapes to the point where if feels though not another grape, or grape’s worth of fruit flavour, could fit in the bottle. The intensity can be almost painful, but somehow the edges are all planed away. You bring out your killer cheese at the end of the meal, and wine like this is nirvana.”
As our research revealed production details of the 15% alcohol 2008 Bee – Grenache fermented in 500-liter new oak cask, Carignan in stainless steel (unusual for red grapes), aged 14 months divided into new oak, one-year-old oak, and 2-year-old oak barrels – we received yet an even more explicit endorsement from the London Daily Mail when their Olly Smith encountered the by-now-legendary Bee at a prestige tasting. Talk about wine porn!
“First sip – yes this wine is huge and ogres everywhere would roar with delight at its mighty hoof. But there’s something more to it than pure brawn. It’s a wine with complexity – from the symphony of spices that lingers once you’ve sipped it to the sheer exuberance of the fruit. This wine feels exactly like it should – warming wine from a hot place…Feel the buzz! Grenache meets Carignan in a head-to-head fist fight for supremacy. Joyfully intense, rich, fruity, tongue-spanking wine with spice and concentration…
And then the beautiful climax…
…to make your guests quiver and capitulate to your every whim.”
Having spent years slogging through reams of vino verbiage, I can’t remember a more blatant and enthusiastic embrace of the aphrodisiac physicality of the experience. Why so rare? Two reasons: traditional wine purists, be they makers, marketers, critics or collectors, continually seek validation by appearing to be more serious than their competition. It’s the classic conflict between the intellectual and the visceral, and wine snobs certainly prefer what they consider to be the more sophisticated, even if it’s just a public veneer. But my theory is more practical: in the world of swirling and spitting, the buzz never even enters the equation. And when sampling multiple wines, it’s impossible to discern individual after-effects, even if you wanted to. It’s almost sad, really…wrapping your hands around a delectable glass, without being able to wrap your head (and the rest of you) around every facet of a well-made wine.
This is why as an old veteran wine guy, I have become something of a contrarian in advocating focus on a single wine at a time. To really make a judgment, savour at least a full glass a good half-hour before introducing food to the palate. I also suggest saving a few sips for after the meal, consistent with Hugh Johnson’s recommendation. I think of it all as really getting to know a bottle, to fully appreciate all aspects of the fruit and the soil, the climate and the micro-conditions, the craft, science and artistry of the winemaster. Then your mind and body take over!
The 2008 Domaine of the Bee is the perfect artisan wine to convey the complete spectrum of the wine experience. This is more of a vanity wine, what you might be lucky enough to encounter when visiting a celebrated winery, perhaps off-hours, and having the winemaker offer to pour you the personal wine they make for themselves, not for the market. That’s an opportunity worthy of years of storytelling, as is the 2008 Bee. For more information, check it out at DrinkBetterWine.com.