Saturday, 1 May 2010

Some thoughts on Bordeaux, reputation and enjoyment of wine

Right, having successfully navigated what is a somewhat burly and unforgiving title I'm going to pontificate (safe in the knowledge of my pontifications relative pointlessness).
Recently I've been thinking (and reading) at length about food and flavour, this has segued neatly into the question of how much of flavour appreciation is present a priori, so to speak, in the actual combinations of chemicals that make up the flavours which we combine to great effect, and how much is linked to the recollection of mental states that smells and aromas conjure. To whit, would Proust's madelaines have tasted as good if he'd never eaten them before and had never had cause to taste similar items?
I'm of the opinion that there must be certain good flavour combinations, of this more later, as certain ingredients combine with a regularity that is uncanny across schools of cookery, however this can only take us so far, it would be the rare gastronome who was totally unfettered by the shackles of memory and culture (perhaps Oliver Sacks knows of one, but not me), as both of these create emotional memories, it is these that I believe invest certain dishes with their trancendental qualities, where we both eat the flesh of the dish, but also consume the spirit of the emotions it recalls. For me, roast Lamb will always bring me to mind Sunday lunches growing up with my family and buttered carrots are still distantly connected to my Grand Mother (no matter how many times I'm served them in restaurants..).
What ever does this have to do with Bordeaux you might ask?
Now as I see it we live in a world where perfection is not so much a nebulous concept, but a goal that is actively chased by many. Thus the nature of perfection has been whittled down from its initial stance as a fleeting moment where the planets align, the split second where mood, mind, wine and food all intertwine to create something utterly unrepeatable, to a more prosaic ideal, one that seems to be most often valued out of 100, and where quality is described as similarity to something that has previously been ascribed the status of a perfect example.
One of the great joys of wine is the intellectual challenge that learning to appreciate it involves, all that work in the pursuit of inebriation, the subtext for me is that the subject matter must be important. Looking at so much of the literature that surrounds wine it is clear to me that certain regions enjoy a disproportionate amount of coverage, which can only weigh the dice in favour of a favourable appreciation. By the time one (well the average wine amateur) gets a chance to taste their first first growth, they will have read about them extensively, pursued them through their 'lesser' neighbours and created a mental flavour profile for what is likely to be contained within that precious first bottle, long before we become properly acquainted with them they've acquired an almost mythic status. I believe that it is extremely difficult to fully separate the expectation from the reality when there is such weight of emotional and cultural significance in each sip. Which leads me back to where I started, that these extra, non physical elements of a wine are important, I think they actually play a significant part in our enjoyment of certain wines (obviously this is a for better or for worse sort of statement).
Finally to finish off, I should point out that this is by no means exclusive to Bordeaux, it's just the en primeur 09 campaign rather focussed my attentions on the region and got me thinking.

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