Wine Journals and the Importance of Context

You may have inferred by now that I find the history of alcohol to be very fascinating. Perhaps I can interest you in a pickleback, a historic cocktail crafted from port, or a nice glass of Beaujolais Nouveau? So, as I was preparing to write this post, my Thanksgiving recap, I googled was there booze at the first Thanksgiving. Honestly, what did we all do before Google? Just sit around and not know the answer to anything? I didn’t really get any informative hits. Which is good news for us, because the next time an alcohol historian (does that person exist?) googles the same topic, this blog will probably come up.

Side note: I bet you’ll be very surprised to know that people have discovered our blog by searching for the following terms:

Lucas Vineyards Dry Riesling
Who invented Beaujolais Day?
Lalvin malolactic bacteria
Picture abeille bourbon

The internet is a fascinating place, isn’t it?

I am here to tell you, after going through several pages of results, that there was beer at the first Thanksgiving, and possibly other types of alcohol. Early Americans considered beer safer to drink than water, and when it was available, it was served at every meal, to everyone, including children. I also found out that the early colonists tried making alcohol from carrots, tomatoes, beets, celery, squash, corn silk, dandelions, goldenrod, onions, strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, elderberries, gooseberries, and currants. It’s unclear if any of these were served at the first Thanksgiving, but I’m going to go with yes, they were, because it’s more interesting. Next year, if you want to have a really historic feast, may I recommend a delicious meal of venison and onion wine? You will receive many compliments and accolades! Ok, no you won’t. But you will, at the very least, be complimented for your “creativity”. Maybe. Probably.

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest, and the feast lasted three days. Our family Thanksgiving is also three days long, lasting Wednesday through Friday. On Thursday, the most important of the three holiday days, my Pop allows each guest to select their “own” bottles from his cellar. He marks a few bottles as off-limits, but more or less, we get our free pick. He then decides what order we will drink the wines in, before finally selecting the “capstone” wine for the evening, which is the last one we drink. This year’s capstone was 2008 PlumpJack Reserve, which I’ve mentioned previously.

Suffice to say, wine is a very important component of our family’s Thanksgiving celebration.  For my husband Robert’s and my part, we brought two bottles of Littorai Hirsch Vineyard, from the Sonoma Coast, a Pinot Noir. Littorai was founded in 1993 and is a family owned and operated business. The Hirsch Vineyards are located along a series of ridge tops one range away from the ocean, the “true coast”. The Sonoma Coast has fantastic terroir for Pinot Noir – shallow and rocky. It is also California’s most extreme wine-growing region, climate-wise, and it is difficult to manage vineyards there. Not to mention, Pinot Noir is an exceedingly difficult varietal to work with in the first place. Most well-known wineries specializing in Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir buy their grapes from Hirsch Vineyards or Peay Vineyards, Littorai included. It was delicious.

What I am trying to say is, like your family, our family has holiday traditions. In addition to selecting special bottles of wine to enjoy together, we also write in a  wine tasting book. As you know, I first developed my love of wine drinking it with my parents, who have excellent taste and an excellent selection. My Mom purchased a wine tasting book for my Pop in 1994, for his 40th birthday, at the Sawdust Festival. Flipping through it at the holidays is not only a hoot, it’s a very interesting way to mark the passage of time. There are serious entries and jovial entries. My sister is an artist, and with her influence, a few years ago, we introduced colors and a label remover kit into the mix. It was a game changer for us, and we all take our turn with the markers now.

In the early days of the wine tasting book, the tasting notes were very serious. They had a lot to do with mouthfeel, terroir, and aroma.  These days, we don’t write informative critiques, as much as we create winebook art, open to interpretation. 

Thinking about the race to the wine cellar to pick out wine, writing and/or drawing in the journal, and family holidays in general, got us thinking and talking about a very important wine subject: context. Specifically, let me point you to a quote from  How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto by Eric Asimov, the New York Times wine critic:

Quite simply, nothing matters more to how we perceive wine than the context in which it is consumed. Context can make a modest wine memorable. It can also render a profound wine irrelevant…the big California cabernet you enjoyed so much with your work buddies at a steakhouse, tie tucked between the buttons of your shirt, doesn’t offer nearly the same triumphant lift when its flavors are canceled out by a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

And so, it is no surprise that Thanksgiving wines are usually the best wines of the year, not only because each family member lovingly picks out their selection, but because you couldn’t ask for a better context to enjoy a few glasses than a warm, celebratory meal surrounded by loved ones. As we move forward with Abeille this year, and our still unnamed white wine, I think we should consider the following: where will people be drinking this wine, and with whom? I think looking through the journal again this Christmas will help give us some direction. What feelings can we strive to inspire?

One Comment

  1. When I first heard that people used to drink beer because it was safer to drink than water I thought “This is definitely the one item I would take with me on a deserted island”. Screw a pen, a lighter, and all that jazz. Beer…it’s whats for dinner.

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