Devotion – The Blog Post I Can Not Write
As soon as I saw the new theme for the Monthly Wine Writing Competition #7, Devotion, my very first thought was “hmmmm, this will be hard, or more precisely, extremely hard”. The problem is that when I hear the word “devotion”, the immediate mental picture is of a giant cross at the very best, or no picture at all – but I can assure you it ain’t the picture of a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ever since the theme was announced I was struggling to find the connection of “devotion” to the wine world. I’m sure the examples of the true devotion are abundant in the wine world. May be even more than in many other trades, the success requires a lot of sweat, blood and sacrifice. Not been a wine historian, but rather only a very appreciative and dedicated consumer, I don’t have those stories of sweat and blood handy, and searching the Internet and rewriting someone else’s stories is not something I usually do, thus search for the connection between wine and devotion became literally a daily routine. To no avail.
I thought that I will start my post with the analysis of the word “devotion” – yes, the linguistic analysis. Oliver did it it perfectly in his post for the #MWWC7, as he was struggling with the theme in pretty much the same way as I did. Oliver took the Latin route for the meaning of “devotion”, so I can still refer to the English meaning of the word. Here is a nice representation of the Google search for the definition of “devotion”:
Yes, love and loyalty (or dedication for that matter) sound like the right way to go here – but if that is the direction, I would simply use the word love, and not devotion. Nope. It doesn’t connect.
So as today is a pretty much the last day to submit the entry, I still don’t have it.
But let me give you somewhat of an interesting twist here. Let’s put the word “devotion” aside for a minute, and let’s go back to the wine. Think about two sides of the wine world (not exclusively two – but let’s simplify here). On one side, winemaker should be willing to make an honest wine, the wine he or she will be willing (and proud) to offer (sell) to any consumer. On another side of the spectrum is the consumer who should be willing to buy the wine. Let’s make this statement even more precise – the consumer who should be willing (and eager) to drink the wine. Do you think we can find devotion on both sides here? Does it take devotion to make the best possible wine? Yes this is an easy case, I would say (and it was perfectly presented by Jeff at FoodWineClick in his photo essay about devotion of the winegrower). And how do we get to the devotion of the wine consumer? While this might not sound all too fitting for the term, but one should be devoted enough to the wine world to be willing to open the bottle – any bottle, a cult (DRC, Petrus, Screaming Eagle), or the most obscure, of unknown grape and producer; the wine which costs thousands, and the wine which costs $1.99. Open and give that wine a chance, step over the preconceived notions (“ahh, I don’t drink California Chardonnay”) and make an effort to understand the wine for what it is. Is that a behavior of the wine-devoted consumer, an oenophile? We are not talking here about people who buy the wine as an investment, with the sole purpose of selling the wine once its price will increase – those people are devoted to money, not to the wine. But for the oenophile, the wine is approached with an open mind – that doesn’t mean that the one should equally love all the different styles and tastes – but that one has equal respect to them all.
And let me tell about devotion of the winemaker through the eyes, nose and palate of the devoted oenophile (yep, myself in this case).
I brought the bottle of 1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir from Chicago about a month ago. I was in the store, shopping for the older vintage wines, and I couldn’t resist to buy such an old wine for $25 – yes,this is how much this wine was.
I didn’t want to hold it for too long, so Valentine’s Day seemed like a perfect opportunity to open a special bottle of wine (yes, I should’ve wait for the Open That Bottle Night, but we are always traveling over the actual OTBN day, as it generally falls on the kids’ school vacation).
When I told my friend Zak (who owns the wine store) that I will be opening the 1966 California Pinot Noir for the Valentine’s Day, his reaction was “why? You understand that the wine will not be any good, just keep the bottle as is for the decoration”. My thought was “I can always keep the empty bottle as a decoration. I have to give this wine a try”.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect. 1966 Pinot Noir from California? Not made by the star winemaker at the state of the art modern winery? The only thing I knew about the wine that it was made at Louis M. Martini winery. And Louis M. Martini doesn’t even make Pinot Noir wines today! Okay, let me come clean here – I had an additional reinforcement of my hope. I remember my wine class on Californian wines at the Windows on the World wine school, where after we tasted the line of California Cabernets, Kevin Zraly said “this wine is made by the Louis M. Martini. They make make excellent wines, and they could charge a lot more for them, but they chose not to”.
Louis M. Martini was an Italian immigrant who came to the United States in 1899. After working in the wine trade for a while, he opened Louis M. Martini winery in Napa Valley in 1933, as Prohibition was ending. Last year, the winery celebrated its 80th anniversary. You can read the history on the Louis M. Martini winery web site, but I want to mention that Louis P. Martini, the son of Louis M. Martini, went on to become one of the pioneers of California Pinot Noir and Merlot, and he was inducted to California Vintners Hall of Fame in 2008.
Let’s get back to the wine. It was the time to open that 1966 bottle, so I armed myself with the waiter’s corkscrew and the two-prong cork pull. I even had a thought of using Port Tongues, but that sounded a bit too fancy. Foil was cut, and I was presented with pristine looking cork top. Considering that appearance, I used the the regular waiter’s corkscrew, only moving it very slowly. The cork struggled only a tiny bit, and came out as a whole – and just look at this cork! I had 5 years old wines, where cork was in the terrible condition, never mind 48 years old wine!
So I poured the wine into the glass – beautiful red brick color, with an orange hue, reminiscent of signature Barolo color. I was really concerned about the first smell – hoping not to find a sauerkraut or vinegar there – and the nose was perfect! Yes, the herbal flavors were prevailing over the fruit, but nevertheless, it was a very pleasant nose without anything disturbing. The first sip – wow. This wine is beautiful! Yes, lots of herbs – sage, eucalyptus, may be even lavender, but also with the nice plum component, and most importantly, balancing acidity. An extremely complex and thought provoking wine – but in the perfect elegance of all the components. The wine opened up a bit more, showing a bit more sweet fruit notes – and then it was gone – we finished it all. Truly spectacular and almost unbelievable – but it was real. I would love to compare this wine to the old Burgundy – I guess this is what it will taste like, if I’m lucky.
And you are looking for connection to the today’s theme, devotion? To me, it is simple. To make the wine which will last for so long and stay in such a perfect condition (go back and look at that cork again) requires a dedication, it requires the full devotion of the winemaker, it requires the unconditional love to what you do. And this wine had it all.
Raise your glasses, my friends, for the true devotion of the winemakers and oenophiles. Cheers!