Why the world needs wine in 2018, more than ever

Maps on walls. This one at Veltlin wine bar in Prague, Czech Republic.

Maps on walls. This one at Veltlin wine bar in Prague, Czech Republic.

"Wine is made great by its ability to expose the curious drinker to different things that he or she didn't know existed, to take us to other lands and climates, to teach us history, and to enrich our knowledge of the world."

I wrote those words last April. They are as plain a confession of my love for wine as any I can dream up nine months later.

Let me tell you a story. 

Fist sized stones clicked together and rattled gently into one another below my feet as I walked through a vineyard in Toro, Spain. To my left, trellised vines crept towards autumn as orange began to color their lowest leaves, while to my right I found bush vines of Tinto de Toro, Tempranillo's local name. Beautiful mostly-flat countryside stretched out far as the eye can see, warmed by the sun beating down from above wispy clouds sweeping across the sapphire sky as a cooling breeze blew through the vineyard.

I drove west from Austin, Texas several months later. The wine country of the Texas hills cast as a curious mix of green and grey whilst the urban terrain of one of 21st century America's most vibrant cities melted into rolling hills. Rain poured sadly down, but the pastoral serenity of this place was as lovely as it was surprising to be found in a state conceptualized by most who are not from there as an endless prairie of scorched earth and heat. We had come looking for Becker Vineyards, the next chapter in our long standing fascination with wine from places you'd not expect.

There we found Tempranillo. Unsurprising, as I suspect this area produces a few similar climatic patterns as some of the world's great Tempranillo regions. Hot days, cool nights -- Toro, Spain -- anyone? We were told that 2013 was a bit of a dry year, which rings true from the very concentrated and robust red fruit notes we found in its vintage bottle. It was fruit-forward, yet also smokey, with a bit of spice reminiscent of a good Cabernet Franc. It was our favorite bottle in the lineup.

Meghan possesses a unique ability to articulate very specific details about soil and terrain through just a sniff of the glass. She's so matter of fact about it (and everything) that I'm not sure she would ever describe it in these terms, but to watch her in the moment is to watch someone close their eyes, and for an instant be transported through the looking glass unto lands, climates, histories, and people otherwise far away from the moment itself.

I sat in a wine bar in Prague with an old friend one recent evening. Filament lights hung haphazardly from the ceiling, like the bowed branches of the weeping willow under which I remember playing as a child. They cast their yellowing glow upon an immense map that spanned the bar's entire wall. Few today would recognize the country it depicts, for the eleventh of November this year will mark a full century since Austria-Hungary ceased to exist. But inside those forgotten borders have grown the curious Zweigelt -- a hybrid of the red Blaufränkisch and Sankt Laurent grapes -- of Austria proper, the intoxicatingly floral whites of Hungary's Tokaj, the dark red Teran of seaside Istria, this earthen Pinot Noir from South Tyrol, and an enchantingly beautiful natural sparkling wine from Moravia.

Anchoring oneself is terrifically difficult when the currents of technology, politics, and world events seem so determined to unmoor us. The long arc of history is difficult to discern when the days and weeks move so quickly. Yet here in my recent past I have memories of stones clicking along the ground of a vineyard in Spain, in which is grown the same grapes we found in those grey and green Texas hills. One of my childhood best friends joined me that night in Prague, where we drank wines celebrated on a map of a country that hasn't existed in four generations. Grape vines are old creatures that produce new and beautiful things each year.

Portugal has a tradition of field blends. That is, different grape varietals planted in and amongst one another such that they are harvested and blended together straight away. I know one particular winery whose terraced vineyards stretch 550 meters up the mountain from the Douro River, older vines near the bottom, younger further up the bank. Their field blends contain roundabout twenty different grape varietals. This old practice in the Douro produces stunningly unique wines.

We need more field blends. We need more maps on walls that remind us of the lands, climates, histories, and people that remain when the fog of fear is lifted and lines in the earth are swept away by time. And, importantly, we need more moments of quiet clarity such that we might step through the stemmed and fluted looking glass long enough to appreciate the majesty of that by which we are surrounded.

More than ever, the world needs wine in 2018.