JULIAN HITNER TORONTO WINE CONSULTANT

"For love of everything that is wine"

SATURDAY, JUNE 7, 2008

~A very brief essay on thoughts drawn from attending a New Zealand wine tasting~

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     For such a small country in the middle of nowhere, New Zealanders appear to have more to be proud of than most other nations in the world, particularly in the manner(s) they have come to approach ‘the institution of wine,’ in which quality seems to be an especial mandate. Such praise, as that I have decided to afford them, is most certainly not unfounded, as exemplified and reinforced in a tasting I attended on Thursday, May 15, 2008, at the Design Exchange in downtown Toronto.

    Indeed, I always feel at home whenever commentating about wine-related matters that pertain to the patheticism that is Toronto, my home for the past quarter-century. As a sort-of truism, most writers (regardless of subject) are of a similar mindset about composing tracts concerning their immediate surroundings, as familiarity and comfort are reciprocal. However, it would not be erroneous to suggest that there are limits to resigning one’s compositions (particularly those concerning activities involving wine) merely to what is local and, associatively, comfortable (even if the actual wines one is writing about come from the other side of the world). And even then, I have encountered countless writers who have traveled the globe, only to come back to their place of origin and compose entirely unworldly pieces.

     Now, what does this have to do with the aforementioned New Zealand wine tasting (henceforth NZ) I attended yesterday? Very little, but I will explain. I do not mean to digress, but it is so constraining to restrict the process of composition to just one line of thought! While I tasted many delicious wines – from Pinot Noir and Syrah to Chardonnay and Pinot Gris (I have already tasted enough zesty NZ Sauvignon Blanc for the time being) – I encountered numerous individuals who happened to capture my attention. Many of these persons seemed to have decided not to use the spittoons provided for the afternoon, and were thus relatively forthcoming in their personal opinions. In fact, I recall writing an essay a short time ago on how most childlike adults in general (which, by the way, constitutes the majority of persons in Toronto) seem to be desperately reliant on alcohol to relay their genuine thoughts to others.

     Compared to other wine tastings in Toronto, the NZ tasting seems to offer an unusually agreeable forum for the exchange of ideas. I believe this has something to do with the way(s) in which New Zealanders approach the ‘institution of wine.’ Soft-spoken, keenly intuitive, and quietly reassured of their own abilities, people involved in the NZ wine industry tend to be unlike their counterparts in other parts of the world, the latter of which are (with very few exceptions) often brimming with verbal and visual pomposity. For most New Zealanders, on the other hand, it is the wine (not the maker or the seller) that is supposed to do the talking; the makers merely have to sit back and quietly say ‘thank you’ over and over again.

     In the face of such modesty on the part of the NZ presenters, many persons in attendance (even the local pourers) appeared to be at a loss on how to retain their phoniness and sense of self-elevation, both of which are typical Torontonian traits, regardless of moneyed status. Taking advantage of such an unusual atmosphere, I found myself involved in an interesting discussion with a local wine enthusiast and writer named Michael Vaughan about how a particular Chardonnay from Central Otago exhibited certain Burgundian characteristics. Mr. Vaughan put forth the notion that the wine reminded him of a young Montrachet, in that he picked up puréed lime on the nose (which I had trouble detecting, yet Mr. Vaughan is a far more seasoned taster than I). Personally, I thought the wine had similarities to a Premier Cru-ranked Chablis, detecting ‘misty pebbles’ and fresh apples as the primary aromas. Nonetheless, I must admit that I did eventually pick up a few lime-based scents, as well (that is, after Mr. Vaughan told me they were there). Actually, according to Mr. Vaughan, it is, in fact, the wood that imparts notes of puréed lime to the wine. I had never heard of this before, and was glad to learn something new. Only at a NZ tasting could such ideas be exchanged.

     To be sure, it remains a sad state of affairs that it takes a tasting where there is quality, but no snobbery, to compel Torontonians to loosen the bombastic chips on their shoulders. Even when I was speaking with Mr. Vaughan, I could still tell that I was not speaking with a person who regarded me as an equal. But that, I believe, had been due to our age differences, and not to Mr. Vaughan’s vanity.

     Throughout the afternoon, I was very curious to learn what the New Zealanders, themselves, thought of their patrons in Toronto. Actually, they seem to think quite highly of us, pleased that their lovely wines are met with so much enthusiasm in a land so far away from their own. Many of our city’s finest writers (along with some of our more devoted wine enthusiasts) have, in a manner of speaking, returned the favour, traveling to NZ to examine their vineyards and sample their wines (as well as attend their wine shows), and subsequently composing tracts expressing their exultation of Middle Earth and its people. While most of these articles are, indeed, thoughtfully and grammatically well-composed, with very few exceptions, I oftentimes find the articles wanting of ‘worldly feeling.’

     To be honest, I am probably as equally culpable for this type of writing as that of my peers. As I mentioned in the beginning, it can be tremendously difficult to compose tracts about matters that reach beyond one’s own immediate vicinity. A horrible limitation, to be certain, in writing about NZ wine, there are so many times a wine writer can state in their columns and blogs, “NZ wines are delicious … they have made huge progress … they have many different growing conditions … and have become very popular in Toronto.” And look at me: I began this tract with such very sentiments (albeit composed much more elegantly). Without question, I still have great deal to learn.

     In the end, however, I am eternally grateful for the humble mannerisms by which New Zealanders have come to approach ‘the institution of wine.’ Indeed, many of their more costly wines are, in my view, quite wonderful. More importantly, the fact that they – that is, the makers and sellers of the wine – are so modest in their approach – is a crucial boon for those in the Toronto wine industry, helplessly obnoxious and classless, and in desperate need of a little NZ humility (myself, it seems, included).

COPYRIGHT 2008

ACADEMIC PAPERS --- WINE AND ITS HISTORY

During my undergraduate years at the University of Toronto, I had the opportunity to write four papers on various subjects pertaining to wine and its history. I have decided to make them available on my website.

HERE ARE MY PAPERS:
(CLICK BELOW TO READ THEM)
(1)
Wine during the Early Middle Ages
(2) Wine and the Protestant Reformation
(3) Wine and the French Revolution
(4) Wine and local European Identity

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