Reaching for Ritual

One of wine's secret pleasures is anticipation
Reaching for Ritual
Matt Kramer's favorite ritual pairs Burgundy with cheese toast. How about yours? (Jon Moe)
May 17, 2016

Does your wine life involve some sort of pattern, a kind of anticipation, that might be called ritual? Ours does. For many years now, life chez Kramer has a particular travel ritual involving not just wine, but one particular wine.

Readers plagued by retentive memories may recall that one of my most-loved wines is Volnay Clos des Ducs, which is a small single vineyard owned in its 5.3-acre entirety by Domaine Marquis d'Angerville.

Volnay Clos des Ducs is a red Burgundy, which is to say a 100 percent Pinot Noir, from a site that can only be described as unique what with its highest-in-Volnay elevation and its unusually chalky soil. What results is a red wine like no other in my experience: delicate yet powerful; long-lived yet never bullying. Anyone who doubts that soil—especially extreme soils such as are found in the Clos des Ducs vineyard—can inform the taste and structure of a wine need only taste this wine to learn otherwise. I love this wine like no other.

Knowing this, you can easily understand why serving Clos des Ducs is no casual thing. Nor should it be. Not when that sort of emotion is invested in what might seem to be, well, just another Pinot Noir. For me it isn't. Quite the opposite. For me, it's the ur-Pinot, the one that sheds light on all the others, if only from the contrast.

I mention all this by way of explanation about the ritual thing. Whenever my wife, Karen, and I return from an unusually long and definitely tiring trip—the 10-hour drive from San Francisco to Portland, the endless transcontinental, transatlantic flight from Europe to the West Coast—we arrive home buoyed by anticipation of the ritual to come.

We're tired; we're a bit hungry. But really, we just want to return to the comforts and pleasing routines of home. So after getting the luggage into the house, checking to make sure no damage has occurred and reassuring ourselves that all is well, we head for the kitchen to sit at our little table in front of the fireplace for our ritual: toasted melted cheese sandwiches (open-faced, with Gruyère) and a bottle of you-know-what. It's sublime.

I mentioned this not long ago to Guillaume d'Angerville, who took over Domaine d'Angerville after the death of his father, Jacques, in 2003. "I've never heard of Clos des Ducs being served with melted cheese sandwiches, but why not?" he replied. "It sounds wonderful."

It is wonderful, actually. It showcases the wine. Too often really great wines get served with excessively elaborate food, which saps a wine's impact and distinction. But the key, the real magnification, is because of the ritual.

These days we tend to think of "ritual" as a synonym for "routine," a certain boring predictability. It's anything but that. What differentiates one from the other is our emotional investment, the anticipated pleasure not just of the reassuring familiarity of what's to come, but of what that familiarity signifies.

More than many things in our daily lives, wine lends itself to reassuring, pleasing ritual. Sometimes these rituals are so familiar, so frequent that we don't even think about it, such as clinking our glasses with everyone else present before taking the first sip. Or holding a glass when someone makes a toast. Or opening a bottle of Champagne when guests arrive. Rituals all, if unthinkingly so.

But when certain wines mean something to you, either because of your profound love of a certain wine or producer (my Volnay Clos des Ducs thing) or because of a nostalgic association that the wine pleasurably and invariably invokes ("We had this on our honeymoon in Paris"), then the ritual is anything but unthinking. It's meaningful. It magnifies a moment, elevates an occasion.

I'm wondering: Do you have such wine rituals in your life? Do they involve a particular wine? A particular setting? A certain food or dish? For that matter, do you agree that ritual, to borrow from the Italian poet Virgilio Giotti, somehow bestows "the language of poetry for everyday matters"?

Or is it all just too stuffy and formulaic? You know my thoughts. I'm curious about yours.

Opinion

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