DRINKING, STORYTELLING AND THE IRRESISTIBLE LIGHTNESS OF AN ITALIAN WINE-BAR
Updated: Feb 24, 2021
Wine and human beings are the only living entities capable of telling stories. A wine-bar is the ideal space where wine and people come together to tell their stories. In a wine-bar, storytelling is central to both wine and human existence: when a story is told in a wine-bar, multiple connections are set in motion because there is nothing more powerful than a good story.
Drinking wine goes back six thousand years, when humans still communicated through stories passed down from one generation to the next, together with the early winemaking craft. Humans did not need wine to survive, but they did need it to live better and this is basically why winegrowing predate the concept of art as aesthetic representation.
Story tellers are empiricists and epicureans at the same time. They believe that their senses are reliable sources of knowledge about the world, including wine. They also believe in respect for their fellow human beings, generosity, friendship and sense of humor.
Wine is much more than just an agricultural product or an alcoholic drink: it is a living thing under the cork. Wine lovers devote a lifetime to its study and production, waste fortunes collecting vintage bottles, give up their careers as architects, doctors, engineers and diplomats in order to spend their days working in vineyards, cellars or wine-bars. For all of them, wine is an irresistible object of passion.
If it is true that wine is sentient and has long become the second blood of the human race, then it is also true that it has its own character and disposition often resistant to human purposes. In fact, there is a strong self-sustaining aspect to the grape-vine for it chooses its own interaction with the surrounding environment, the beauty of wine being also its reliance on nature.
Once we embrace the notion of wine as a living thing, important implications for wine production, appreciation and aesthetics would follow because, after all, a bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world.
Even if winemakers can influence, with their choices and intuitions, wine making processes and – ultimately - wine taste, often the outcome is not what they were looking for. This is when wine successfully claims its self-determination, its right to establish its unique relationship with the terroir.
The most enlightened winemakers in Italy allow the wine do what the wine wants to do, that is, to give it time, trust and respect. Wine senses it and repays them by making itself better. Thus, wines that show unique character and complexity are always terroir-driven due to nature’s gifting and winemakers’ care.
Besides, if we already consider the vitality of wine as part of our conceptual framework we might be also able to negotiate the ever conflicting concepts of subjectivism and objectivism in wine tasting: if wine is not reducible solely to our subjective idea (and taste) of it, if there are several objective factors to consider in its evaluation, if there are aspects of wine that resist winemakers intentions, then wine drinking and its appreciation may be also about inquiry, discovery and, finally, enjoyment.
Example. When we uncork a bottle of vintage Barolo, a miracle occurs. What we are about to drink is the product of a particular culture and tradition, a unique soil and exposure, a particular micro-climate, the weather in that year and the passion, labor and life of the people who made it and may since have died. It takes at least three noses and three palates to understand a fine Barolo but if we drink it with love, it will always provide us with a powerful aesthetic experience.
Winemakers, sommeliers, wine merchants and average consumers alike naturally assume that there must be objective standards of quality to wine, like being French and very expensive (a sarcasm, in case someone didn’t get it). Differently, world famous wine critics subjectively assign - out of their self-important point systems - perfect 100 over 100 scores to wines they like, as if a living thing under a cork, made by fallible humans, could be perfect...
However, like any other aesthetic exercise, there is a great deal of subjectivity to wine tasting possibly based on a series of objective standards. Drinking is basically a combination of subjective and objective experiences where the learned element plays a substantial role. No matter what, sharing through storytelling our personal epicurean experience of passionate wine drinking may turn the relative enjoyment into an art form. To describe wine, though, we should simply concentrate on the bright, fragrant, rich phenomenon in our glass.
Aesthetics is concerned with wine, the art of drinking it and its stories because is concerned with nature, art appreciation and good taste. Wine is not a booze: it has always been, and still is, a prime mover of culture. It would be even possible to tell the history of art considered from the point of view of wine... If we look at great transitions in human history, from the origin of farming to the origin of writing, from trade to religion, from the age of myths to the age of discoveries we inevitably find links to wine.
So, when we enter a wine-bar and on the wine list there is a selection of varietals available by the glass, by the flight and by the bottle, it could be the starting point from where stories may begin to be told, freely originating from the lightness of the format, the absence of burden, the description of wine color’s brightness.
Drinking wine is a complex, multisensory exercise which involves many parts of our brain. Sensory areas like olfactory cortex (responsible for smell) and gustatory cortex (responsible for taste) support abstract, analytical thinking and associate with the frontal cortex, amygdala and insula (responsible for happiness and feelings) to make our wine experience as complete as possible.
Back to wine-bars some of them focus exclusively on wines of a certain country origin. A wine-bar specializing in Italian wines with true varietal character should have an assortment of at least 500 bottles coming from all the 20 Italian wine producing regions ranging stylistically, say, from a traditional grape Nero d’Avola Siciliano to a rare Tazzelenghe Friulano both grown in organic vineyards... Relative food offerings should obviously focus on Italian traditional dishes, quality regional cold cuts and cheese platters to complement the wines.
So we are sitting in this Italian wine-bar and we learn more about it by tasting its wines. Whether it is a chilled glass of Vermentino on a late afternoon, a rich Primitivo to complete the evening or a glass of Franciacorta spumante to celebrate any occasion, they must be original and unique wines that reflect the soil and climate of their respective terroirs while telling their grape’s unique stories, the passion of their makers and their state of being... light.
Balanced functionality, quality design and confidentiality should also be elements blending in this Italian wine-bar concept. Some wine lovers will drink to forget their woes, others to drown in them. Some will drink to celebrate, others simply to relax and enjoy. No matter what, people entering a wine-bar carry their existence on their shoulders and so they appreciate the lightness but also the customer experience.
If the place is clean, if it has a nice ambiance, if the staff is trained, if they feel welcome, if the owners offers them a chilled quality Prosecco as a welcome drink, it will show the establishment's design to highlight its main functions: showcasing the trademark style outwardly imparting the Italian sense for complexity and passion for wine while introducing the guests to Italian atmosphere and ambiance.
Italian lifestyle, light storytelling and sophisticated wine drinking: before the Pandemic there was such a wine-bar in Makati City providing a fitting context for socializing and philosophizing about wine... it was called iTrulli.
But that’s another story.