I love beer. I really do. But when it comes down to it, I love wine the most. I have often been asked to explain why I love wine so much. Fellow wine lovers understand certainly, but I believe that wine is worth defending as one of the great beverages of human history. It has been prized in all great human civilizations, so it is worth examing its draw and appeal. As I see it, there are five fundamental reasons why I agree with Thomas Jefferson, who called wine “a necessary of life.”
1. It has an ancient, glorious history.
Wine has been enjoyed, even prized, by kings, wealthy merchants, monks, priests, and lords — even by Jesus himself. Aristotle, Plato, Confucius — great philosphers of the ancient world even told stories and parables about wine. And there is a reason for this. Wine is delicious and intoxicating, and it comes from an erudite, skilled process of wine-making. Grapes left out in the sun do not magically produce drinkable wine. No, it is a long, studied process that has been perfected over millennia. The Romans and Greeks associated wine with the gods, and Christians do as well (given the copious references to wine in the Bible). There is a reason why the greatest characters and events in human history involve wine: it is also great.
2. It is delicious.
I went through a stage in my life where I was very religious (the stage is over, trust me). I can remember strict preachers railing from the pulpit about the evils of alcohol. While some of their arguments were fair enough, one of them never really held water (wine?) with me. Many of them would argue that alcohol does not even taste good, so the only reason people drink it is to get drunk. Well, I always found it hard to swallow that argument. I thought it tasted great!
I have always found alcoholic drinks to be delicious, from the very first time that my father let me have my first small sip of wine at about age 10. Wine is delicious to me. It carries a profound, complex flavor that activates all zones of the taste buds. Wine can be sweet, semi-sweet, or bone-dry. It can have tannins, or be acidic. Each grape variety has its own, individual flavor profile. Wine contains all of the flavor of grapes, and adds rich, ornate elements. Wine is delicious, in fact one of the most delicious foods and drinks in the world.
3. Its intoxication is unique and intellectual.
Pure ethyl alcohol affects human beings in basically the same manner: it produces the known stages of intoxication (drunkenness). But who drinks pure ethyl alcohol? We consume drinks that use plants, fruits, vegetables, and grains to produce ethyl alcohol. When yeast eat the sugar in those foods, they excrete alcohol. And I have a theory — as yet unproven, but based on sound chemical principles — that different types of drinks cause the drinker to experience different emotions.
There are thousands of phytochemicals in the vegetation that alcoholic drinks are made from. Science has identified and defined some of them, but the vast majority of them are unknown. Now, we know that phytochemicals affect people in many real, strong ways. In fact, most Western medicine is based originally on these phytochemicals. So, I believe that the different phytochemicals in the plants from which different alcoholic drinks come, affect the drinker in different ways. Anecdotal evidence tells us that gin, tequila, scotch, wine, and beer each make us feel a certain way. And when I drink wine, especially red wine, I feel intellectual, gregarious, and spiritual.
4. It encourages human interaction and discussion.
The stereotype is that beer makes you loud, and tequila makes you fight. But as for wine, the stereotype of people having lively, cultural discussion over dinner, seems to ring true. Sure, for every erudite professor sipping a fine Bordeaux in his oak-paneled study, there is also a grisly, stinking wino in the gutter.
But for most of us, enjoying a nice wine at a dinner gathering brings friends together, and stimulates warm, intellectual discussion. And unlike some other drinks, wine is meant to be sipped slowly and leisurely with food, in the company of good friends and family. This separates it from almost all other alcoholic drinks.
5. It encompasses a wide range of varieties and flavors.
I am a big fan of Islay scotch, and I fully recognize the differences between Scotch made from different regions (appellations). And I know that other types of alcohols come in different varieties. For example, beer has so many flavors, types, and mouthfeels, that gastronomical experts have, in recent decades, come to appreciate beer as a fine drink that can be paired with food. But no other drink has the sheer range of varieties as wine. Grapes, regions, appellations, flavors, applications — there are so many possible wines with complex flavors to choose from, that you can pair any food on earth with the right wine. And that range of flavors lends itself to food, which is another aspect of this facet of wine.
So, wine to me is so much more than an alcoholic drink. It is a lifestyle, a mindset, an entire worldview. And while I am very open to learning and adopting other cultures, habits, and lifestyles, I will always cling to just a few elements of my Western culture. One of those elements is the flourishing of rationalism and linear reasoning (to which I am also open to add Eastern circular thought), and another is wine. I have grown to appreciate Chinese drinking culture as well, and while here, I will do as the Romans do, so to speak. But I will never lose my love and passion for wine.