Wine and Beauty

Rod Dreher’s Burgundy inspired reflections on beauty and the sublime:

We brought with us last night a bottle of Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune, a Domaine Pierre Cornu Pernand-Vergelesses 2008 . . . It was $25. I tell you, that’s the best $25 I’ve spent in ages. The wine was amazing. Julie and I kept looking at each other across the table, not quite believing how good it was, especially at that price. And it just got better as the evening wore on, and it opened up. We talked about that wine most of the way home: how complex and beautiful it was, but how you couldn’t hold on to its beauty in your mouth, you had instead to experience it in passing. Hold onto the sip and the magic vanishes. It was in that sense like a live performance, one that changed throughout the evening.

We talked about how the pleasure and beauty of that complex liquid made us think about beauty in general . . .  Julie said that like with art, good wine can give the sense that you are “lifting the veil” to show how we are all part of a deeper reality. She said she feels that way in her garden, when she contemplates how so much beauty and wonder can emerge from tiny, humble seeds. All that creative power is bound up in the seed, but needs time and care, including the care of the gardener, to be brought forth into the fullness of its potential. So too, I think, with that Burgundy, which isn’t even close to being one of the great wines of Burgundy. Like all red Burgundy, it’s made with the Pinot Noir grape, perhaps the most temperamental of all grapes. Yet through some combination of grape, soil, rain, sun and the gifts of the winemaker, that liquid became a pathway to the sublime.

Consider that the village of Pernand-Vergelesses is tiny, with a population of about 300 souls. From that tiny seedling of earth and the people who work it, that gorgeous bottle of wine came. (And it’s not even close to being the best of what that small region produces). I drink a lot of wine that’s only okay, or just pretty good, and that makes me happy anyway. But every now and then, I run across a bottle like that Cornu, and it makes me so grateful that I have developed an interest in wine, which at its best, and if you are receptive to what it can teach you, will lead you deeper into the mysterious joys of living in the body. Art, broadly conceived, is like that — whether it’s the art of winemaking, music, painting, cooking, gardening…don’t you think?

I do.

Wine and Economics

The following observations from Freakonomics following on a story about a particularly brazen case of mid-level wine fraud in a British supermarket:

This last phenomenon [little incentive for any individual to sue for fraud over small amounts] is the same sort of collective action dilemma that mobile phone companies, credit-card companies, and the like have been trading on for years: they upcharge customers a few cents here and there—rounding the length of a dropped call up to the nearest minute, for instance, or playing with the spread on exchange rates on foreign transactions—but it’s below the radar screen of anyone but the most obsessively litigious or penny-pinching customer. It adds up to a lot of money for the company, but not enough is taken from any individual to incite a lawsuit. It’s thus a highly effective form of fraud . . .

It might seem, then, that the optimal opportunity for fraud is where (1) the damages to each individual are relatively low; (2) the number of instances is fewer than would make the case worth a plaintiff firm’s time; and yet (3) the business is large enough to make good money for the counterfeiter.

And while we’re approaching the subject of economics through wine, here’s another item from Freakonomics:

In American restaurants, I have always seen a glass of wine (perhaps 6 to 7.5 ounces) sold for at least 1/3 of the price of a bottle of wine (750 milliliters=29.6 ounces), so that the per-unit price of a glass is typically at least 1/3 more than a bottle.  In the U.S., it’s always cheaper to buy a bottle of wine than buy glasses if you are having 3 glasses or more.  In the Parisian restaurant we visited, the per-ounce price was the same whether you bought a glass (150 milliliters) or a bottle (750 milliliters).  Indeed, even a carafe (pichet) of 500 milliters was sold at the same per-unit price.  Why did the restaurant do this, given the costs of fetching the bottle each time and pouring glasses (as opposed to uncorking once and leaving the bottle on the table)?  Also, given the mark-up on wines at restaurants, the owner should have an incentive to get customers to buy more wine—to buy a full bottle.  I don’t understand what seems to be a pricing anomaly.

Two take-aways there:  First, if you’re going to have more than three glasses, just buy the bottle.  Secondly, is it possible that something other than the profit motive might have been in play and are we so conditioned to its ubiquitous operation in our society that we are truly befuddled when it appears to be supplanted by other motivations?

I Drink, Therefore I Am

I Drink, Therefore I Am:  A Philosopher’s Guide to Wine.  That is the title of a recent volume by Roger Scruton reviewed by John von Heyking at VoegelinView.  Here’s a sample, or tasting, from the review:

The oenophile is not a neo-Kantian transcendental ego who stands over and against the wine in a subject-object dichotomy, but the loving being-for-another whose olfactory organs stretch forth to receive wine, as a lover’s lips stretch forth to receive the other’s lips, and as Augustine’s soul stretches toward God.

It should be clear by now that the intoxication of wine, which engages the full personality of the oenophile, including the eroticism of his intellect, differs in kind from drunkenness as well as the effects of drugs like cannabis. Whereas wine inculcates an opening of the soul to another, cannabis and other narcotics induce the soul’s closure. The intoxicating conversation of a symposium of friends differs drastically from the “mutual befuddlement” of a group of stoned teenagers. Wine inculcates convivium, whereas cannabis aggravates the solipsism.