Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

The sublimity of wine

Last night Julie and I went to dinner at Spring Mill Cafe, a wonderful French restaurant not far from my office. Chef Michele Haines had a special Bastille Day menu and program. One happy result of Pennsylvania’s stupid liquor laws, at least from a consumer’s point of view, is that it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a liquor license. Result? Many, many restaurants are BYOB — bring your own wine. This allows diners to bring whatever they like to drink, and save money too.
We brought with us last night a bottle of Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune, a Domaine Pierre Cornu Pernand-Vergelesses 2008. We’d never had it before, but we’d so enjoyed another Beaune that Susan at Moore Bros. had sold us that I took her advice and bought a bottle of Pernand-Vergelesses last time I was out there. It was $25. I tell you, that’s the best $25 I’ve spent in ages. The wine was amazing. Julie and I kept looking at each other across the table, not quite believing how good it was, especially at that price. And it just got better as the evening wore on, and it opened up. We talked about that wine most of the way home: how complex and beautiful it was, but how you couldn’t hold on to its beauty in your mouth, you had instead to experience it in passing. Hold onto the sip and the magic vanishes. It was in that sense like a live performance, one that changed throughout the evening.
We talked about how the pleasure and beauty of that complex liquid made us think about beauty in general (we do that from time to time, in the presence of good food and wine). Julie said that like with art, good wine can give the sense that you are “lifting the veil” to show how we are all part of a deeper reality. She said she feels that way in her garden, when she contemplates how so much beauty and wonder can emerge from tiny, humble seeds. All that creative power is bound up in the seed, but needs time and care, including the care of the gardener, to be brought forth into the fullness of its potential. So too, I think, with that Burgundy, which isn’t even close to being one of the great wines of Burgundy. Like all red Burgundy, it’s made with the Pinot Noir grape, perhaps the most temperamental of all grapes. Yet through some combination of grape, soil, rain, sun and the gifts of the winemaker, that liquid became a pathway to the sublime.
Consider that the village of Pernand-Vergelesses is tiny, with a population of about 300 souls. From that tiny seedling of earth and the people who work it, that gorgeous bottle of wine came. (And it’s not even close to being the best of what that small region produces). I drink a lot of wine that’s only okay, or just pretty good, and that makes me happy anyway. But every now and then, I run across a bottle like that Cornu, and it makes me so grateful that I have developed an interest in wine, which at its best, and if you are receptive to what it can teach you, will lead you deeper into the mysterious joys of living in the body. Art, broadly conceived, is like that — whether it’s the art of winemaking, music, painting, cooking, gardening…don’t you think?

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posted July 15, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Just out of curiosity, were you an Inquisitor in Spain in the 15th century? Because there is no good wine in Morocco, and this blog tortures me like the rack.

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posted July 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I feel the same way about jazz. Not all jazz of course. :-) But I have more than once been humbled and in awe of the beauty and above all the creativity of great jazz musicianship. A deep appreciation wells up within me as I reflect on the Creator and the tiny glimpses of His beauty that is revealed in musical improvisation, rhythm, and harmony.
I’ll never forget the evening my wife and I saw Kurt Elling at the Kennedy Center. The concert followed a wonderful meal at Sonoma ( during which we also found a transcendent (in our opinion) bottle of wine: a Silver Palm Cabernet Sauvignon (can’t recall the vintage).

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posted July 15, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Rod, would you consider keeping a journal of the wines you try? Heck, you could even make a second blog to chronicle your œnological adventures. I would really like to read and follow such a blog.

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posted July 15, 2010 at 5:25 pm

“[Y]ou couldn’t hold on to its beauty in your mouth, you had instead to experience it in passing. Hold onto the sip and the magic vanishes.”
This is Blake’s “He who kisses joy as it flies/Lives in eternity’s sunrise”. I’ve long thought that our problems of overindulgence lie precisely in trying to hold onto the moment, not savor it as a passing glimpse of eternity.

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Roland de Chanson

posted July 15, 2010 at 6:02 pm

I too relish the twofold pleasure of wine: first in the sipping then in the passing.

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posted July 15, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Since this piece is about wine, I have a question. Has anyone tasted the Georgian wines now being imported to the U.S.? (Georgia, the country, not the state.) Have been told that this area of the South Caucusus is the original wine-growing area. And due to the embargo by the Russians of their wine in 2006, the Georgians have made significant progress in improving quality. Apparently, Russians favor a sweet wine, as opposed to the dry wines which are demanded in Western Europe and North America. Also, there is an interesting fermenting process, the kvevri. If anyone could provide informatin, I would appreciate it.

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posted July 15, 2010 at 6:58 pm

This article made me crave an ice-cold Bud.

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posted July 15, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Rod, I love red wine, and I love the vicarious pleasure — the joy of discovery — I get from your wine postings. Come on down to C-vlle for the fourth annual North American Wine Bloggers Conference next July!

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Rod Dreher

posted July 15, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Ken, thanks for the invitation. I don’t know enough about wine to dare to show my face at such an event. But I sure would like to drink with y’all.
Mark, I appreciate the kind words, but I lack the knowledge, the experience and the confidence to write a wine blog. I wish it weren’t so!

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posted July 16, 2010 at 1:17 am

No!-That’s exactly what would be great about it. You would be creating a written documentary of a novice wine-lover learning more about wine and growing to appreciate different complexities. More importantly, I would only have one place to go to find a list of all the wines you’ve recommended 😉
captcha: of scotches

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