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A Wine Dialogue


On back-to-back nights this week, I drank wines of broadly equal price...and--if you were to consult the critics and their scores--broadly equal "quality." One was a cabernet sauvignon-dominant red blend from Washington state. One was a frappato from Sicily. For those who aren't familiar, frappato is a grape grown primarily in Sicily that produces a light-to-medium bodied red wine. It's believed to be a cross between sangiovese and another variety (as yet unknown).

For wines that should be in some sense similar in quality, I found them startlingly different. I picture myself being interrogated. "Explain that!" my interviewer demands. I'm not sure I can, exactly, I reply. "Try!"

OK. Wine number one--the blend from Washington. I visited the winery five or six years ago. Liked the wine. Liked the people. Bought a case. When I drank it this week I thought it was pleasant. And boring. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it. And nothing memorable about it, either. It struck me like the wine equivalent of elevator music. Pleasant background. "So you didn't really like it?" Oh, I liked it ok. But I had absolutely no engagement with it. One sip and I pretty much knew everything about it...or at least, it didn't inspire me to want to know any more.

On the other hand, wine number two--the Occhipinti Frappato--intrigued me very much. It drew me into a kind of dialogue...with me trying to peel back the layers and figure it out. The fruit was tart--perhaps red cranberries. No, was sweet--perhaps black cherries. There was tension and contrast. And there was minerality. Or was that salinity? There were definitely layers of flavor. It was light on its feet--but deep. "So you really liked it?"

You know at first, I wasn't sure. I knew it fascinated me, but I wasn't sure if I really liked it. But the longer my dialogue with the wine, the surer I was that I did really like it. Liked it not in a chirpy, off the cuff, casual "I like it" way. But in a thoughtful, satisfying way.

There are books we read that we pretty much forget as soon as we put them down. We may enjoy them while we're reading..but we don't find them meaningful. Sadly, I've read a number of these. And occasionally picked them back up later and been two or three chapters in before I realized I'd already read them. Then there are books that make you think...that stay in your head for weeks, perhaps months, after you finish them. That can also be true with art...with music...with theatre. And it's true with wine.

There are wines that draw you into dialogue...that make you think...that engage you. It's a quality that won't show up in the hurried 100 wines-a-day tastings that critics must do. It only shows up when you spend some quiet time getting to know a wine. And--as the Occhipinti proved to me this week--it's worth it. It's definitely worth it.

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