Meeting me for the first time, a very green wine rep trying to establish a rapport asked, “What’s your favorite wine, white or red?”
My answer, of course, was “Yes.”
Red wine and white wine. We’ve experienced a great divide on the subject among some customers, where some of them drink one or the other exclusively. Over the years I have been subjected to witticisms like “All wine would be red if it could” and “Red wine is real wine,” but the fact is there are great and satisfying wines of both colors. Would a red-wine lover really kick a Corton Charlemagne out of bed? Scallops need white wine even if you’re mad for Merlot.
As I understand the Eastern concept of yin and yang, it is not only that there are opposing forces of nature– female/male, light/darkness, silence/sound– but it takes both opposites complementing each other to complete the circle of life. Therefore, as it applies to wine, by adopting both red wine and white wine into our lives, we complete our wine experience. By appreciating both red and white wine, we become one with one of nature’s most sublime gifts.
All too often, we break up into wine “camps.” A bad experience with a clunky white wine drives some exclusively into the red-wine camp. Having trouble with tannin, and you are in the white-wine camp exclusively. Can’t tolerate sweet wine, and you are in the dry-wine camp.
A woman breaks your heart so you hang out with the guys instead? No. If a woman breaks your heart, find another woman. A better one.
The yin and yang of red
Still, more yin and yang-like juxtapositions occur among red-wine drinkers themselves, where certain people prefer the elegance of Pinot Noir to the power of Cabernet Sauvignon and vice versa.
Drinking a great Cabernet Sauvignon is like closing a big business deal; savoring a stunning Pinot Noir is more like making love. Each is great in its own way, and it’s even nicer if we can accomplish both. On the same day.
Powerful wine is exhilarating, but the scents and textures of classic Burgundy and Barolo can become an obsession. The same holds true for wine lovers who are more drawn to the exoticism of Barolo than the earthy pleasures of Italy’s other icon, Brunello di Montalcino. It further holds true for people more attracted to the finesse and beauty of Burgundy than to the earthy stateliness of Bordeaux.
Decades ago, while I was working as a piano player in the cocktail lounge of Long Beach’s most glamorous restaurant, the big argument among the waiters was whether the Pommard on the wine list or the St. Emilion was the better wine. This Bordeaux/Burgundy argument, which had been going on for centuries between members of the European gentry, was continuing among tuxedoed waiters in a Long Beach restaurant at the dawn of the American wine renaissance, and it continues today. There are still Bordeaux people and Burgundy people, Cabernet people and Pinot Noir people, Brunello people and Barolo people.
There are also Chardonnay people and Pinot Grigio people, red wine people and white wine people, sweet wine people and dry wine people.
Why can’t we all just get along?
In most cases, there is a divide among those who favor power over subtlety in their wines. It is an argument with no real purpose, because preferences in wine are individual and as primal as the opposing forces of nature. To complicate matters, some of us prefer one style one day, the other on another day, or both in the same meal if the dish requires it. But there always seems to be a yin for one’s yang, and it is the complementary aspect of all kinds of wine that truly make up the whole.
So the whole of the true wine lover, the one who can’t wait for the next new experience, has it all– both yin and yang– as long as the parts of the circle fulfill their purpose. Wine’s purpose is defined by what you do with it when you get it home, and how much pleasure it provides. For some, it is the mere possession of a prized bottle. For others it is sharing their wine with others. For some it is sipping a light aperitif in the summer, for others it is pounding down a big, bad red all year long. And for many of us, it is the magic that happens when a wine and a dish marry and create a harmonic pleasure greater than the sum of its parts. For me, it is a measure of all of that, for my life is made up of many parts, many occasions and many meals.
I admit deep in my inner recesses, some kinds of wine get to me more than others. For me, it is in the perfume and in the balance of a wine.I can find a good Bordeaux (or a rich Cabernet) attractive, but a beautifully aged Burgundy will rock me to the core. This is not to suggest that a good Bordeaux can’t be great, or a top Brunello isn’t enticing, but there is a promise of seduction and perhaps a little danger and unpredictability ahead when a wine loaded with “feminine” charm is offered. Powerful wines are more straightforward, less complicated. Less intriguing. Simpler. It kind of sounds like I’m describing myself.
And my favorite wines can be red and white, powerful and seductively reticent, old and young, masculine and feminine. And the best of them go straight for the heart. You see, there is something for everyone in wine, but I would argue we need both yin and yang to keep your wine world in perfect order.
Kemner is the proprietor of The Wine Country, 2301 Redondo Ave.