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Drinking Out Loud

Reaching for Ritual

One of wine's secret pleasures is anticipation
Photo by: Jon Moe
Matt Kramer's favorite ritual pairs Burgundy with cheese toast. How about yours?

Matt Kramer
Posted: 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.

Rick Jones
Mesquite Texas USA —  May 17, 2016 1:27pm ET
Our favorite wine couple, out on the deck, Solena 2012 Grande Cuvee Pinot Noir, chuncks of smoked Edam, slices of Anjou pears, strawberries for dessert. Sadly this exact combo will only happen two more times as I only have two more bottles.

Paul M Hummel
Chicago, IL USA —  May 17, 2016 7:26pm ET
We always welcome dinner guests with at least one glass of bubbly. Just the best way to start.

And if its lamb on the menu, its Bordeaux in the glass. And aged burgundy with the foie gras.
Ricardo A Maduro
Panama —  May 18, 2016 2:01pm ET
Hello Matt,
You've hit a sweet spot there.
Rituals and routines.....what is life without them?
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc while overlooking the ocean on a warm sunny day, with sautéed sea bass and large prawns - top it all off with freshly squeezed lemon juice - share all that with your best partner and you have just created a life lasting memory.
Uff.....I'm having a saudade moment here.
Jeremy Matouk
Port of Spain, Trinidad —  May 19, 2016 10:14pm ET
Mt ritual is having a special evening dinner and deciding which Barolo to complement the meal. Having decided, the next part is to decant the wine to allow the noble nebbiolo to breath, usually for 2-3 hours and release its wonderful complexity of flavours, . After that the enjoyment, comprising familiarity and surprise are a real treat.
Raymond Archacki Jr
Wethersfield, CT USA —  June 9, 2016 9:01pm ET
Matt - I agree with your comment that great wine often gets paired with elaborate food. My wife loves to cook and entertain but we're so busy prepping, serving and conversing that a great bottle is over looked and gone before we spent any time with it. So I learned to serve "decent" wine with dinner parties and save the great juice for quiet moments with simple fare..

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