The Sense of Wine

People often ask me why I write about wine and I usually say that it is hard not to want to know more about wine because it’s just so darn interesting. I then admit a secondary motive: it’s a good market for me. I think there are many people who would not read a book about economics or globalization who might read one about wine economics or wine globalization because they find wine, well, just so darn interesting.

This leads to the obvious question: what is it about wine that fascinates? It is a simple product, after all, just fermented grape juice. Been around for ages. What’s the big deal? For that question I have a simple answer: wine is sensuous and we live in times when sensuality is much sought after.

The act of drinking wine famously involves all our physical senses. To appreciate wine we have to admire the beautiful color (sight), breathe in the aroma (smell), appreciate its texture (touch) and flavors (taste). Sound is the only sense missing from list, which we remedy by touching glasses in a toast. Cheers!

But wine’s sensuality is more than physical. The five physical senses are just the beginning. Wine fascinates because it stimulates to our sense of history, for example, which connects us to people in the past and makes us think about the future.

Wine appeals to our sense of place, too, since it is something that we associate with a particular time and location, often with more meaning and precision than other products of daily consumption.

Wine is a natural product, its variations arising from forces beyond human control. It can also be a personal product, revealing a particular winemaker’s artful expression or a wine drinkers sense of taste.

Wine appeals to our sense of wonder, since we never really know what is inside the bottle until we open it, and our sense of humor, because we are so often surprised by what we taste. Importantly, it informs our sense of self. I find that many of my friends express their identities in part through their relationship with wine. My newspaper editor friend David Seago recently told me that “you need a good vocabulary” to appreciate a particular wine, a statement that told me that he was enjoying the interplay of wine, language, and an active imagination, which is a seriously sensual mix. The imagination is after all the most sensuous organ in the body.

In short, wine is a simple product with a complicated social role. We use it to stimulate the senses we value most. No wonder it’s so darn interesting.

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