I haven’t the discipline to be a writer. In my head I am writing a huge essay on global warming’s need for alternative energy but my thoughts are being interrupted by other essays forming in my head demanding that I tell them. Simultaneously I want to get on with other more practical projects. I have several partly finished sculpture masques, a vegetable patch needing attention, and a ”build-a-boat-in-the-garage” want as well. But I digress.
Today’s subject is strange coming from the son of a woman proud of signing a pledge to temperance. You see I want to write a little on wine. At the same time I fully understand how we need to accept the danger of alcohol to our community. It is generally less obvious today than it was in my youth that alcohol causes harm. In the days of six o’clock closing, men, (it was always men), would rush from work to the pub. In the hour, or less they had, they would drink quickly knowing that when the pub closed they wouldn’t get more until the next day.
The alcohol they consumed was more than their bodies could process and when they got home what happened next depended on how it was. Fights and verbal abuse rang around the neighbourhoods. Today we don’t see that public display but we still have abuse and absenteeism because of it. Alcohol is dangerous. I get that.
Let’s get back to earlier times in Australia and my brief story on wine. Victoria had a very well established wine industry until it was hit by phylloxera. With grandparents living in the Yarra Valley area I was told how this little mite had caused the demise of the grape industry. By the time I had grow up the wine industry was showing signs of recovery but it wasn’t until 1952 the first large scale winery Orlando started in South Australia in 1952.
In the 1950’s it was possible to find Claret in retail outlets but the bulk of the wines of the period was turned into sherry. “Plonko’s” were the only people who drank wine by choice. Sherry was sold in half gallon flagons and many households had one, “for the women to drink” as real men preferred beer.
I never developed a taste for beer like a true Australian. Possibly that was because of my mother’s influence, possibly because the smell of a pub was uninviting to me, but mostly because I found I could not drink much of it before I became bloated, and before that blotto, trying to keep up with a school I had been coaxed into joining. (I never liked drinking in schools, but that is another story.)
The wines of the 50s and 60s, may have been good. (That is when Penfold’s Grange got its name for quality.) The wines I became familiar with were ones with European names of French, Italian, or German wine. Riesling, Hock, Chianti are white. The reds, commonly called claret, were named Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Rhone. As young adults were consumed some terrible stuff. There once common names are best not remembered. Most of it was horrid.
I tried my fermentation skills using sultanas whilst at school. I used my school locker to secret the brew away. I based my learning on some partly studied magazine article, or perhaps it was an encyclopaedia. I soon became aware a sterile environment is more than a clean place so unsurprisingly my experiment failed.
In reality wine making is quite complex and best left to the experts. However I prefer wine that is made very simply. I try to avoid wines made using finings of egg, or milk products because some left over material in the bottle is not a sign of bad wine. The big wine makers can produce millions of litres all tasting the same. All looking the same as well but when compared to wine made to celebrate the grape it is lifeless.
In this life I have lots of regrets. Just two are the most hurtful. I regret I have a tin ear for language. So I cannot properly pronounce the names of great wines. The other regret is my poor sense of smell. (In teenage life I had lots of spontaneous nosebleeds that would not stop and my doctor decided to cauterise my nose.) Burning my nasal passage stopped the bleeding but it also stopped me smelling the roses. It also means I cannot detect the subtlest scents. This means I miss much of the best aspects of wine.
Throughout life, little by little, I have tasted some of the worlds most famous wines through fortune, the generosity of friends, and downright indulgence. I have learned best wine does not have to be expensive. I does, though, show it has a life. The grapes it has been made from can still be tasted. They can be felt in your mouth. They can be seen in the way the “legs” form on the glass. It is possible to smell different aromas and sense different flavours in your mouth. Good wine does not have to have lots of medallions. I doesn’t have to be the most expensive wine it the house.
I have also tasted wines from some of the best regional wine growing areas in the country. The styles of wine are at best regionalised. In recent years we have deliberately made trips to centres of excellence just to sample their wine. Wine growers are passionate about their vines. They care about their grapes in a way I had not imagined. The industrial growers may have a different view but the ones that care will happily point out the features of the grape in this row, or that part of the vineyard what is so special about the grape there.
You will have gathered I like wine made with passion on the spot by the vintner. If I have learned anything the best wine is rarely bought over the counter from a major retailer. I needs to have matured in the correct environment. Not too cold, never shaken, but still and stored away from light on its side for years. Aged wine is a rewarding drink best served with simple food and pleasant company. The wine bottle drained like this has done a fine job.