The New Scale
“To me a 100-point wine is as good as it gets”
I’m standing there, in the kitchen as is more than often the case in my house, stirring risotto. My cat Henry is chasing things we aren’t able to see, ghosts or the such (either that or he is crazy, but the ghost explanation is much better for us pagan biodynamic winos) and my wife is sitting at the table, watching me stir. We talk about what transpired during the day, or horses, or berms and swales, her being a civil engineer. We drink wine. It doesn’t matter what wine at this time. The wine is good. In fact this is the best a wine will ever be for me.
This presents a problem for me in writing to you if you think I’m recommending wine, dear reader, because it’s hard for me to convey an experience as a bottle of wine. I don’t taste in a lab nor do I care for these white tablecloth tastings where 9000 wines are arranged on tables that stretch over the horizon and everybody elbows each other trying to taste whatever burgundy is there before it has disappeared. If I’ve ever come across, on this blog, as a consumer advocate I sincerely apologize. I drank a beautiful bottle of Egly-Ouriet the other day with my wife and some good friends watching the sunset from my roof. I can’t remove the wine from the moment, nor would I want to. Nor would I have the same opinion of it if I drank it while some asshole with an oversized watch stood behind me while telling me to move because he was in a hurry and only came to taste a few wines.
To this end I have never used any sort of ranking system (excepting tongue in cheek). I have never given a wine nine thumbs up or fourteen stars or 17.23 points. I don’t do it with anything else I enjoy, so why would I do it here? Do you rate the meals you have eaten? How does a three star restaurant stack up against the first time you had breakfast with your future wife? Or, if you’ll permit me a little vulgarity, do you ever rate the best fuck (I’ll use “fuck” here because as Wallace Stegner once said “having sex doesn’t sound nearly as romantic as making love nor as much fun as fucking” and I agree wholeheartedly with this) you’ve ever had? Could a scale for these things ever include the vagaries of individual taste, the mood you were in, the details that your conscious mind isn’t even aware you like? Or is the memory of such things sufficient to make you smile when they pop into your head, unbidden during Saturday morning work meetings, or long commutes or that strange half-sleep right before sleep?
But everywhere we look in wine this type of scale has taken over. It’s a group of accountants where the sensualists should rule. It fixes expectations and confuses the act of enjoyment. It negates the act of discovery. Enough is enough.
So I’m proposing a new scale.
The old scale is too linear; it’s a flat-chested, rail thin model in a room full of thick jowled chefs. The new scale has more lines than just the one, more places to go than just up or down. The new scale spreads out a bit, becomes three dimensional, porcine. It starts to fold over itself, it looks like a gout ridden AJ Liebling stalking the brasseries of Paris. It may not be anybody’s idea of pretty, but it is a whole lot more interesting to be around.
Locating any particular spot on this scale is impossible after the fact. It is constantly moving. It remembers things, it has a history. It remembers drinking magnums of cheap malbec before you knew any better, it remembers that time you threw up on your friends door in college and your girlfriend cleaned it up because it was easier than being mad at you. It remembers that bottle of CRB you drank over puttanesca with your family after your grandfather got out of the hospital when he cheated death. No CRB will ever taste that good to anyone else, the scale knows this, unless it does taste that good to someone else.
The new scale drinks, the new scale eats, it doesn’t taste. Thousands of years of people sitting down and drinking wine with food aren’t to be taken lightly. It doesn’t fret too much about pairings. Good food cooked well with good wine and a bit of regional knowledge can go a long way. It doesn’t pretend to know what it’s talking about beyond what it likes. It tells friends and family, people who trust it, but figures other people can figure it out.
The new scale will eventually die. Living like Pantagruel will take its toll. It will keep smoking at the age of eighty after a stroke because it likes smoking, and what else is there to look forward to? Hospital food? We will have a proper Irish wake for the scale. Pay our respects, drink all night, cry, sing. Someone will confess undying love for someone else’s wife, someone will involve themselves in a fistfight with their brother because, well, sometimes that is just what brothers do. We will wake up hurt, still in disheveled jackets and dresses.
We will remember the scale fondly at first, but like all things we will forget. Sometimes we will remember, we will ask ourselves if in fact our mom’s chicken and dumplings is as good as our grandmother’s was, when she was alive, or if we’re merely being nostalgic. But we’ll forget that when we see her teaching our sister the same recipe, and maybe that recipe will be taught to her daughter and everything will make sense. We’ll remember what bread and wine tastes like, we’ll continue to fall into bed with our lovers after a meal, sated.
We’ll forget why we ever ranked these things in the first place, why we slogged through so much mediocre syrah as if quantity of experience could ever replace those moments when we got wine not as something apart, but part of.