Writing about wine (like making wine, sales-repping wine, or buying wine for a retailer or restaurant) raises a serious occupational hazard: drinking too much, or, at the extreme, alcoholism. I was reading the Wine Spectator blogs yesterday, and I came across the latest post by James Molesworth, about a dinner with a buddy.
It’s subscription-only, so the upshot is that Molesworth’s wife was out of town, leaving him with the kids, and a buddy was in the same boat. So they dropped off the kids with their nannies and went out to dinner. It sounds like a great night, and I wish I’d been there, and I also couldn’t help noticing something that another poster on the blog noticed: Molesworth describes drinking three bottles of wine between two guys. I also noticed that he mentions drinking in different venues in different parts of town with no word of a taxi or a limo. Now, it’s perfectly possible that he only sampled each bottle, corking them to savor later as well. I’ve certainly done that myself. And it may well have seemed boorish to mention all this in the post; after all, the guy doesn’t need to defend himself. He’s good at his job; he’s a good writer. Also, please understand that I make no judgment of Molesworth. He wrote a nice post, and I’ve been a heavy drinker myself. I love drinking wine, and I love drinking lots and lots and lots of wine. In fact, I would drink a bottle a night if the consequences weren’t so great: in terms of hangover, yes, but also weight gain, irritability, difficulty in relating to my toddlers, loss of sleep, loss of energy, etc. So I’m struggling with it, trying to dial it back.
My point here is simply that if you take Molesworth’s post at face value—read what he wrote and assume he’s not leaving out key details—then this man is describing some very serious drinking, on the order of eight or nine glasses of wine each, depending on how you do the math. And yet, the focus of the post, as in almost all wine writing, is on wine appreciation and savoring wine with food and the like. We simply elide the fact that we’re talking about heavy drinking. To paraphrase the difference: The story that could be written as “With my wife out of town, I left the kids with a nanny and went out and got completely hammered,” becomes “With my wife out of town, I went out and sampled some exquisitely interesting wines.” To a degree, that’s perfectly sensible: There are lots of ways to get sloshed, and what sets wine apart is the near-infinite variety of sensory experiences it offers, and the inexpressibly complex joy it can add to the less complicated joy of intoxication. That’s the interesting part, finally. That’s the part we want to talk about, and think about, and learn about. Because the rest is pretty commonplace. Also, it’s likely that a bottle and a half doesn’t get Molesworth hammered; his tolerance is probably quite high. And again, I’ve been there: There have been times in my life when I could sit down alone at the dinner table and drink an entire bottle of wine in about 15 minutes and stand up cold sober. (Which completely freaked me out.) But I guess my point here is that I’m coming to see that this is a meaningful elision: By telling myself that every sip is about the joy of the flavors and aromas, that every new glass is an interesting experiment, I manage not to tell myself how much I’ve come to love drinking.
There are two brilliant writers, by the way, whose writing about wine doesn’t fall into this curious form of denial: Bill Buford, when he’s writing about Mario Batali’s awesome thirst, and Jim Harrison, when he’s writing about his own awesome thirst. Harrison is perhaps the most instructive: When he writes about a love of wine, he is also writing about a love of drinking, with all the messy human complexity that implies.