Now that Independence Day is behind us, the summer is in full swing. Barbecues, hikes, and lazy days at the pool abound. And most of us are itching to leave town — eager to spend some time away from work, escaping from it all.
Wine enthusiasts are fortunate in that we get to go somewhere virtually every night.
How? As food, wine, and spirits expert Anthony Dias Blue once explained, “wine is a passport to the world.”
Consider Muscadet, a French white wine produced around the city of Nantes, where the Loire River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Made from a grape called “Melon de Bourgogne,” the wines are marked by subtle-yet-precise aromas of apples, limes, and seawater. Thanks to extended contact with the dead yeast cells left over after fermentation, Muscadet is also known for exhibiting a creamy mouthfeel.
Nantes’ local cuisine takes full advantage of the Loire River and the Atlantic, so unsurprisingly, these wines are perfect with shellfish and seafood dishes.
I’ve never been to Nantes, but every time I open a bottle of Muscadet, I’m taken to the coast of western France – and find myself craving mussels and fries.
Similarly, whenever I sip Australian Shiraz, I picture myself at a campfire in the Outback with a giant slab of beef.
The list goes on. Rioja inspires visions of a tapas crawl in the Spanish city of Logroño. When I drink Fiano — a crisp, Italian white — I find myself in southern Italy enjoying a fresh caprese salad. Beer might be the most popular pairing for bratwurst, but when I drink Riesling, I envision myself in Germany enjoying pan-fried sausage over sauerkraut with spicy mustard. Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc takes me back to those perfect evenings I’ve had in wine country dining al fresco with friends.
Wine is also a connection to the past.
I’ll never forget the evening some friends and I opened a perfectly cellared bottle of Bordeaux from 1919.
For starters, the wine still had life in it – savory, dark fruit was backed by notes of roasted nuts, eucalyptus, and cedar.
More importantly, though, the wine inspired a conversation about the lives of those who made it. The Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, officially ending World War I. So that wine was made while cleaning up from the wreckage of the first global war and hoping for a brighter future.
That experience can easily be replicated. Many fortified wines — think Port and Madeira — can literally age for centuries. Opening one is like opening a time capsule.
This romanticism — the understanding that wine is a window to other places and cultures — isn’t unique. A few years ago, I interviewed David Denton, a wine educator and sommelier in Washington, D.C. In explaining how he developed his passion for wine, Denton eloquently summarized this very concept.
“Wine is like travel in a bottle,” he explained. “For the cost of a bottle of wine, you can escape to somewhere exotic. You can get lost in the label, thinking about where the wine came from and who made it.”
Vacation season has arrived. But if you’re into wine, there’s no need to wait for your next adventure.
David White is the founder and editor of Terroirist.com, which was named “Best Overall Wine Blog” at the 2013 Wine Blog Awards. His columns are housed at Palate Press: The Online Wine Magazine.