July 25, 2019

Liquid Geography

I believe in the power of wine.

A cold winter night, logs crackling in the fireplace, I’m cozied up with an intriguing novel and a bold, zesty red Zinfandel.  A sweltering summer’s day, salt-kissed skin, a refreshing Rosé, and a seagull’s laugh echoing by my friends around me.  A romantic dinner for two with white tablecloths, my husband lets me choose a delicious Cab that’s slightly more than he’d rather spend but worth every penny.

My first true venture into this seemingly exclusive club was at the birthplace of American wine: Napa Valley.  Certainly wines were grown elsewhere in the U.S. before California, but no other region could have stood up to the likes of a 1970 Haut Brion.  The 1973 Stag’s Leap not only met this challenge, but won over two French Bordeaux primer crus in the now famous blind tasting, “Judgment of Paris”.  Connected by a series of friends and acquaintances, I found myself led through the legendary Stag’s Leap along with countless other vineyards and tasting rooms in this region who have honed their craft so spectacularly.

My newfound thirst (pun intended) for good wine and knowledge has blossomed into a serious and not-so-serious study.  Wine’s power is matched by its attainability.  This “club”, I have discovered, is neither exclusive nor elusive, nor prohibitively expensive.  The true definition of “good wine” is simply if I enjoy it.  My favorite Malbec is less than twenty bucks and is kept in stock at the local Kroger.

Like my tastes in everything else, I tend to buy at the higher end of the spectrum.  Champagne, although classically synonymous with celebration and luxury, “a glass of bubbly” has become my signature indulgence.  Indeed, the kings of France were crowned in Reims for eight centuries with this regional wine served.  I am undoubtedly also worth a royal treat, and life’s simple joys make any day the perfect occasion.

Wine has the power of liquid geography.  The combination of licorice, blackberries, smoke, and tar of a Pinotage fly me seven thousand miles back to impossibly gorgeous Stellenbosch mountains spotted with Cape Dutch architecture.  My tongue has likewise transported me across the globe to places I have not yet seen.  I have savored forest floor from old growth vines in the haughtiest vineyards on the left bank of Bordeaux.  I have been soaked by a heavy rainstorm from the deepest, smoothest Italian Brunello di Montalcino.

An aromatic bouquet of spring flowers met candied peach and citrus, and introduced me to an “Aha!” moment of that’s actually what I’m smelling and tasting.  This particular Vin Gris of Pinot Noir convinced me that tasting notes aren’t just fancy words written on the back label.

Wine, once opened, must be consumed. This fragile quality gives wine its intangible power.  To remember wine calls to mind an experience: at home, traveling, flowing conversation, beautiful views, loved people.  These moments are relished and reminisced, and the wine has become one part of an inexorably linked whole that embodies a memory.

My friends and I have a monthly wine night.  The theme rotates: varietal, region, or season.   We each bring a bottle and share a learning point about the vineyard, varietal, region, grape, or wine itself.  Ten doctors in a room together talking about something other than medicine: now that is a miracle.

I come home from a brutal evening shift and pour myself a glass of Chataneuf-du-Pape left over from dinner this weekend.  I sit on the couch, take a sip, and let the past ten hours fall away.  Frustration becomes sympathy; and slowly, then gratitude.  I believe in the power of wine.

By Michelle Caskey, MD