My friend Tom organizes mountain hikes here in Aspen, often assembling a dozen or so folks at a time so we can share rides to the trailhead and enjoy the experience together. Inevitably, someone in the group who has a fascination with wine seeks me out when he learns that I write about it for a living. On the trail, there’s plenty of time to have a long conversation, especially on the way down, when we have gotten to know each other, and are no longer gasping for breath.
This past year I got hounded by someone who hated the 100-point scale. I refused to get into a heated argument in a beautiful mountain meadow along Grizzly Creek. I let him rant, commented that I thought the meadow deserved at least a 97, got a laugh, and we went on amiably enough.
Last weekend I joined Tom and his ad-hoc gang for a climb up Upper Lost Man trail. A law professor wanted to get philosophical about our preferred beverage. I had made an off-hand comment about “our favorite art forms,” mentioning the music many enjoy here courtesy of the eight-week-long Aspen Music Festival and the food and wine purveyed in some excellent restaurants.
The Professor questioned whether wine or food could really be art. OK, I thought, this one is in my wheelhouse. We can have some fun with this. Besides, the Professor did not seem worked up, just analytical.
Sure, I said, wine and food can be art. It’s like ceramics. A plate or a cup to use with dinner, made well, is craft. But some ceramics qualify as art. Better yet, think about music. We all make music whenever we try to carry a tune or drum a beat. Professionals can turn that into craft. Artists who provoke our imaginations and emotions can make it memorable, and we call it art.
You can see the same divide with food. Most of what we eat is utilitarian, and a craft when a good cook or well-trained professional prepares it. The great chefs can create art, applying imagination and finesse to make us respond thoughtfully and emotionally.
Most wine is meant to wash down dinner, giving us some pleasure along the way. But great wine, with its complexity, depth and finesse, goes beyond gratification into something we can think about. We derive more from that. Sounds like art to me. The Professor thought for a moment, and agreed.
But, he wondered, what about those who don’t have a lot of experience with wine. Can they see the art in it? Is introducing newbies to great wine a waste of great wine? The Professor wondered if it was like introducing non-classical music fans to Mozart or Stravinsky.
Serving great wine to the uninitiated is one of my great pleasures, I responded. It has been my experience that you don’t need any special credentials to appreciate a 20-year-old first-growth Bordeaux or a 15-year-old Barolo. “They get it right away,” I said. “It’s not a waste at all. It’s one reason we love wine.”
With music, I find, those who are unfamiliar with the classical genre are first attracted to the sheer virtuosity required to perform it. With wine, what gets us first is the impact on the senses—the textures, the deftness of the balance, the complexity of the flavors.
True, there are those who don’t respond, usually because they don’t want to. The idea is so ingrained that classical music is not “their” music or wine is so snobby that they’re simply not open to the experience. But for wine or music, if it hits you where you live, you don’t need training wheels.
Jordan Harris — Niagara, Ontario — July 14, 2010 3:46pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — July 14, 2010 4:20pm ET
Adam Wallstein — Spokane, WA — July 14, 2010 5:02pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — July 14, 2010 5:10pm ET
Jeffrey D Travis — University Park, FL., USA — July 14, 2010 5:46pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — July 14, 2010 6:24pm ET
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento, CA — July 14, 2010 9:54pm ET
Scott Oneil — Denver, CO — July 15, 2010 9:50am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — July 15, 2010 10:09am ET
Scott Oneil — Denver, CO — July 16, 2010 2:57am ET
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