JULIAN HITNER TORONTO WINE CONSULTANT

"For love of everything that is wine"

SATURDAY, MAY 5, 2007

~A brief essay on the enjoyment of wine in the summertime~

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     A topic for the ages, no doubt, any new discussion of enjoying wine in the summer months will probably be met with lesser appreciation than this particular writer would care to experience, as it is a subject among ‘wine writers’ that has already been addressed an innumerable amount of times, each time in the same fashion: “wine in the summer is lovely, and here is a list of my favourite summer sipping wines.” And yet, what I say now I say with all the confidence befitting a writer of my ambition: I care little of what other people think; I write what interests me, and that is that!

     In the idealistically-incompetent city of Toronto, local residents unquestionably adore the warmth of the summer months more than any other time of year. This is rightly so, as the summer months really ought to be a time of embracing the great outdoors, regardless of the unendurable ‘human-made’ humidity one must endure in Toronto in tandem with the former. For Torontonians, the summer is a time for artificial magnificence, a time for unrequited grandeur, and a time when: (1) our glorious Norwegian-derived maples are suffering from pollution; (2) our neighbours are unnecessarily watering their lawns everyday for purposes perhaps related to mental health; (3) our power grid is on the brink of overload; (4) our residential peace is deafened by the never-ending sound of leaf blowers; (5) our streets are blocked, without any notice, by construction activity, as well as by behemoth-sized vehicles; and (6) our death toll of disenfranchised minorities experiences an unexplainable rise. More importantly, however, the summer is also a time for the simple enjoyment of wine.

     On the subject of the enjoyment of wine in the summertime months, I can find few greater solutions to my misery of having to endure the above-numbered incompetencies of our city (and neighbours) than by addressing a subject as dear to my soul as any topic related to wine. Sipping a superb glass of Sherry (purchased, last week, in British Columbia --- the L.C.B.O. has a ridiculously poor selection of cheap Sherry from which to select and, subsequently, suffer), I can only begin by stating that one of my greatest (single participant) joys in life is partaking in a glass of wine on the stoop of my house during the summer months. For me, it is a simple pleasure that I really cannot do without, particularly in conditions of warmer, more agreeable weather.

     Oddly enough, I have often found drinking wine outdoors in the summer months in Toronto to be a most solitary experience, as I rarely encounter any other neighbours outside their homes with which to converse. The reason for this, no doubt, has to do with the type of neighbourhood in which I live, where most of my fellow residents seldom venture outside the fronts of their homes to partake of any type of leisurely activity (the occasional exception being the cutting of the grass). As a general rule, most upper-middle class Torontonians greatly value their privacy, and usually spend most of their leisure time within the confines of their own backyards (or at the cottage) with their children, business colleagues, and close friends. For my part, on the other hand, I often prefer to sit on a white plastic chair on the stoop of my house during the late-afternoon hours of the day, where I can put my feet up on the black-iron rail and sip wine from my glass. Atypical of my neighbours, such visible, solitary simplicity serves me very fine indeed.

     This being said, however, one ought not to think (at least not wholly) that my entire approach toward the intake of wine in the summer months is confined to spending endless hours sitting idly on an old cement stoop by myself with a glass of wine in my hand --- generally speaking, I reserve beer for such a glorious pastime! This quip aside, it is important to understand that (though I am hardly the most sociable of human creatures) I do sincerely believe that wine, especially in the summer months, ought to be enjoyed in the company of others in outdoor settings, particularly during the albeit-humid months of summer in Toronto. Granted, the reason for this is self-evident: drinking any sort of alcoholic beverage, especially in warm weather (and, as a huge concurrent bonus, when fair members of the opposite sex are in company), is conducive to good cheer. However, for individuals like me who require constant intellectual satisfaction, it is really only with a more complex beverage like wine (or perhaps malt whisky) that ‘good cheer,’ in a reciprocating manner, can be met with even more agreeable conversation.

     As human nature would have it, the degree to which any experience is realized or enjoyed by adult persons is (with exception) most commonly determined by the quality of the articles in play. Though some people subscribe to such a notion more than others, this is patently illustrated when examining the intake of wine when it is accompanied by social interaction. In almost every instance of this activity, the types of people present at a social function will determine the quality of the wine consumed. This can be seen most accurately at a small upper-middle class dinner party, such as in Rosedale or the Bridal Path, where the patriarch or matriarch of the household will, at some point in the evening, venture into the household wine cellar to make selections for the evening’s enjoyment. In almost every case, the quality of the items he or she shall retrieve will reflect the status they hold for their guests. If they are high-profile business colleagues who are known to have an extended appreciation for fine wine, one can bet that the wines will almost certainly be expensive. If, on the other hand, they are guests the hosts must simply invite to keep up appearances, the wines will probably be of lesser quality.

     Now, at this juncture, I feel it necessary to state that the reason for which I made the abovementioned point is that such occurrences are almost always confined to indoor situations, particularly in the city of Toronto. As such, they provide an excellent contrast to what usually occurs regarding the consumption of wine in the company of others in actual outdoor settings. From what I have observed in previous experiences, contrary to all human notions of self-aggrandizement and persons’ measurement of social enjoyment – which is, all to often, even further gratified by it being witnessed and subsequently discussed by third parties – Torontonians tend to tread cautiously cheaply in their consumption of wine among the company of their peers whenever outdoors in the warm city summer weather. For all intents and purposes, this makes very little sense to me, as one ought to take greater advantage of warm weather and consume more highly-prized wines beyond the confines of one’s indoor quarters. Perhaps Torontonians feel ashamed about enjoying better wines out of doors … maybe they worry the warm weather will hamper the taste of the wine, a not unfounded concern, but not one ought to fear overly … perhaps they are concerned about breaking their wine glasses on the pavement … the ‘probable reasons,’ as the phrase suggests, are endless.

     Back to me on the cement stoop in front of my house on a sunny late-afternoon, what can be more pleasurable than opening up a bottle of Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux and listening (albeit among other things) to the birds chirp? Does not the enjoyment of a higher-quality wine only heighten such a simple experience? And what if this experience was transferred to the backyard of the house, and a few friends was included in the setting; would not the experience be even further heightened from greater ‘good cheer?’ Responding in the affirmative, my one reservation about consuming fine-quality wine outdoors in the company of others is that the overall appeal of my fellow participants might not be entirely agreeable in terms of conversation. As I mentioned before, though the consumption of wine tends to be conducive towards conversations of more intellectual character, it is nevertheless not always a foregone conclusion that the persons with which one keeps company will be cooperative in this respect. This would probably (at least partially) account for why I opt to sit in solitude on my front stoop with my glass of fine wine than risk engaging the company of my peers. Then again, one must also keep in mind that I am atypical of my species, and am thus hardly representative of most identifiable normalcies, particularly among my fellow Torontonians.

     Hence, if the point has not already been so eloquently suggested, I would argue that confining the consumption of fine-quality wine to the insides of one’s house (or to the privacy of one’s backyard) is questionable. The humid summer months of Toronto are far too precious to limit one’s intake of wine to cheap rosé or ice-cold Chardonnay in the backyard. Let human nature assume its rightful place, and allow all the passersby to revel in the fine wine you are consuming in the outdoor public sphere, as is so often practiced via the use of the prized automobile(s) in our driveways and streets! However, if it must be consumed in the backyard for reasons perhaps related to the simple want of privacy, at least let it be a wine of exceptional quality, for the appreciation of urbanized nature – humid though it is – deserves nothing less. As for me, I choose to follow my own advice, and remain on the cement stoop in front of my house where I belong, alone and with my wine, listening to the birds chirp as they use as nesting material all of the discarded copies of my latest essay --- I write what interests me!



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