The Latin Phrase IN VINO VERITAS captures a peculiar trait of wine known for thousands of years. This phrase does not mean that wine contains an enduring, romantic, artistic truth, but rather that when people drink wine, they tend to talk, sometimes even speaking truths they don't mean, or more accurately, don't mean to say in font of an audience. The active ingredient in wine-alcohol-causes these slips, which is why it is wise to keep your vino and your veritas in balance.
If you listen closely to what wine lovers say when they talk about wine, most people try to describe that transformative moment when grape juice turns into wine, when its sugar turns into alcohol. For most of human history, people have attributed this to magic or intervention by Dionysus (the Romans called him Bacchus) and his sidekick Silenus. Every time I bow my head to stick my nose into a glass of wine, I think about how wine was once literally considered a god (similar to Zeus and Poseidon) and has been for most of human history. Today, we are wine atheists.
Many wine lovers feel that the spirit in wine opens a well of veritas, honing their senses' ability to read meaning into and describe wine's exotic flavors. On a biochemical level, it is the alcohol; one alcohol molecule plus one acid molecule equals one ester, a molecule that makes everything aromatic from nail polish remover to brown sugar.
We can smell exotic aromas and taste unexpected flavors in wine because it contains a molecule so similar in chemical structure to the maple syrup ester that it's instantly recognizable. But because these molecules aren't exactly the same, we must keep working hard to put into words how wine tastes and how we feel when tasting them.
Create your own wine lexicon. Buy a small, bound notebook that fits into your pocket or handbag. When you taste a new wine, write down the first word or thought that pops into your mind. As you taste the wine again, ask yourself what you really meant, and jot down more notes.
Partners in Wine,
Wine Lovers Devotional Jonathon Alsop