Infatuation or addiction
The writer overcomes a slump & decides he’s not a drunk
By Tim Protzman firstname.lastname@example.org
When does infatuation become obsession?
On a bright slowly warming winter day, Michelle and I took a nature walk. We were after birds. Michelle was a birder. Not a bird watcher, but the more serious birder. She has a wish list of birds she wants to see before she flies off to that great nest in the sky. She has a $1,400 spotting scope, numerous field guides and a powerful little pair of field glasses that are as small as what people use at the opera, but twice as powerful. On our walk she spotted several common mergansers, multiple pods of goldeneyes in multiple locations, a kingfisher, a swan, a vibrant cardinal and a common raven. It was a pleasant winter outing, which we followed up with a glass of house wine at a pub with a hearty fire burning on the hearth to chase away the fading winter chill.
“I’m a bit of an addict when it comes to birds,” Michelle revealed. “But wine comes in at a close second.”
I thought about her comment and I told her she was wrong. Addiction, in my opinion, was an undesirable state where the craving and need for the substance has driven away all rational thought and action.
“After all,” I pontificated, “nobody ever lost their job over birding. It’s a healthy addiction, if it’s an addiction at all.”
“Walter did,” she answered. “Walter lost his job because he called in sick to work to go see a red phalarope.”
A red phalarope is a rarely seen water bird that migrates from Hudson Bay to South America. Nice but not worth losing your job over.
Then I thought about wine collectors and connoisseurs. How many times did I take off from work because I had too much at a tasting?
Which leads to a big social issue — when does the love of the outdoors, birds and nature lead to obsessive, compulsive and self destructive behavior? When does the excitement of tasting a glass of crafted grape turn to need?
Humans are inquisitive creatures. They seek new experiences. They like to acquire, whether it be buttons, wine or compiling a list of bird sightings. And some of us, like Walter, take it too far. And it affects our lives and our families and or friends lives when partaking becomes a habit, when collecting becomes an obsession.
If you think you have a problem with substances, collecting, hoarding or a hobby that’s out of control, you probably do. And there are self-help, rehab, 12-step and therapy and counseling program out there to help you. It’s as easy as picking up the phone book or a copy of the Manchester Daily Express and looking at the support groups. And I feel that if I write every week in glowing praise of wine and spirit, I can at least explore the reverse side and spend a little time on the morning after.
Now one might think that this has something to do with the wine crossroads I’ve been standing at. Low-quality wine, unexciting vintages, bottles devoid of any connection to their place of origin. But it doesn’t. It’s merely a fair and balanced presentation of the facts. And drinking too much, obsessive-compulsive behavior and addiction are a fact and facet of the wine world. Sometimes we writers seem to glorify it.
Part of my week is comprosed of wine research, the looking up of chateaus, the mapping of vineyards. I also read other wine columns. And last week I came to a realization of what a wine column should do.
I was in a large wine store in Massachusetts that I’d shopped in before. I hadn’t been there since July of 2005. The wine room was shrinking. The Bordeaux prices were like gasoline. The Burgundy and pinot noir racks held inadequate selection. I moved toward the Rhone section and was shocked by the high prices of the Cote Rotie, the Hermitage and the Cornas. These are perfumey wines with great floral aroma and smooth layered tastes. Then I saw it! A Chateauneuf-du-Pape from a producer I recognized from an Eric Asimov column in the New York Times. I realized that I had discovered the essence of the perfect wine column.
A great wine column should familiarize the reader with the great producers so when they come across a bottle they recognize it. And that means the reviewed wine should readily available. Who cares about a 99 Parker Point wine if the only place to get it is at the winery in a well guarded-cellar 70 feet below the rolling hills of Burgundy?
This week’s wines were all great. My wine slumped ended with the very yummy Chateau le Sartre, which I reviewed last week.
My favorite wine in a long time was the 2003 Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($44.99). It took me back to a 1990 Hermitage by Jaboulet that I tasted in 2000. It was one of my life wines. I’d tasted other Chateauneufs and found some lacking but this was wonderful. Elderberry, cassis, raisins and a hint of black olive. This one went on my life list.
2004 Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa ($39.99). A classic cabernet in the 1960s style with little fakery and a true taste of its soil and roots.
2003 Chateau du Moulin Rouge ($15.79). A dry wine from Haut-Medoc, it is structured but with a sinewy tannin frame. Juicy with fruit, but not jammy. Not quite as nice as the le Sartre, but in the same league.