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?