Memory and wine make odd bedfellows. We drink to forget, right? Those hangovers from downing two buck chuck definitely did not build more gray matter. That second (or third) bottle certainly wiped out a few evenings.
But good wine, hell, even just unique wine, can be a time machine.
Just today, while showing bottles to restaurants, begging them to buy anything, I opened a near-forgotten favorite: Aurélien Verdet’s, Le Prieuré, Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. This 2014 Pinot Noir costs $33. The appellation lacks prestige, coming from a soil-stripped, wind-swept, hill top in Burgundy, France. The best fruit grows midslope. But this little 10 acre Le Prieuré vineyard matters. It went AB Organic in 1971. Ten years later, Aurélien was born. He grew up tending it, inherited it in 2005, has grown his holdings, and continues to make brilliant things.
But today, while I rattled off those facts to a wine buyer, my nose got stuck in the glass. A fire of white wood, black raspberry, clove, chalk, and stem burned through my nostrils. My brain plunged three years back. I forgot, but I had sold this buyer Verdet’s 2010 three years ago. Hell, I even wrote about it three years ago (read here).
My wife and I had just bought our first house then. And I felt fancy and had opened it to celebrate.
The account moved on to other wines. But my head kept trickling back. Like a sports’ bracket in reverse, it ambled to the first Hautes-Côtes anything Burgundy I had ever tried: Nuiton-Beaunoy’s, Le Mont Battois, Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, France, 2010 (read here).
Images flashed of my wife and I, exhausted, returning from vineyard hikes to that dingy little hotel in Beaune. A 10 inch TV hung from the ceiling. Everything was colored beige. It was 2012, winter, and we were midway into our seven month EU Austerity Drinking Tour. €12.00 on a wine was a splurge. But Nuiton-Beaunoy had a lot of words on the label. It must be good.
It wasn’t. I had written, “very lean, sprightly, but needs a roast turkey or chicken. The extreme strains of growing high up Beaune’s slopes denies this wine premier cru status, let alone standard Beaune AOC status. It is good (3 of 5) and completely true to its place and price, but not compelling.”
Ouch! Who is this jerk?
Nevertheless, it taught me to remember what an Hautes-Côtes was. Aurelian Verdet’s 2010 and 2014 share that hard-etched thread of edginess. They brought me right back.
Who hasn’t had a smell, sound, color, or voice flood back related, if disjointed, memories?
Now bear with me, but my Master’s thesis was on memory. Specifically, I tackled ancient Roman methods of remembering, known as the ars memoriae or Art of Memory. Basically, pompous elite men like Cicero memorized their fancy speeches by training their brains. They set up spaces with items, associated each item with a quote, phrase, or topic, and then walked through using the order of the objects to recall the entire speech.
Cool huh? Teleprompter’s and scripts are for the weak!
Our brains associate things, smells, tastes, appearances with memories to survive. Evolution demands that our heads work efficiently, otherwise, we would keep eating that poisonous plant and all die. But if we had every moment at our fingertips we could not function. Instead, we compartmentalize memories into groups, prioritizing them, like putting colored tabs on important recipe pages in a cookbook.
Wine can work the same way.
Now, I am not suggesting building vertical, memory-association flights (although that would be cool). But, right now, allow whatever wine you have to take you back. It need not be a specific wine memory (because I have no life, “wine memories” are all I have left #sad). Instead of thinking, “it tastes like raspberries”, wander a bit, and maybe, it tastes like that nervous first date, or that winter cabin retreat, or your one-eyed dog Scurvy.
We hold a library of memories. Each wine can be an index card to our past (or at least a google search keyword for you youngins).
This is my Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC34) submission on the theme memory. Do not forget to vote for it once it goes live August 1st at https://mwwcblog.wordpress.com and thanks!
Have read that Master’s Thesis on Memory, and can see this as focus for more writing, research, and more?
I kinda want to do that vertical tasting with memory association.
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Very well written, engaging, factual and a touch romantic, loved it.