....Even at its most primitive, wine is subject to enormous variations. Climate is the first determining factor; then weather. The competence of the winemaker comes next; then the selection of the grape. Underlying these variables is the composition of the soil and its situation.
The key word is selection: of grape varieties, yes, but also of a “clone,” a race of vines propagated from cuttings of the best plants in the vineyard. Then restraint in production: to produce only a moderate number of bunches, whose juice will have more flavour than the fruit of an overladen vine.
In the ancient world such practices probably first developed in the sheltered economy of royal or priestly vineyards. But the principle has not changed. Selection of the best for each set of circumstances has given us the several thousand varieties of grape which are, or have been, grown in the course of history.
Taking this panoramic view, the discovery that must have done most to advance wine in the esteem of the rulers of the earth was the fact that it could improve with keeping— and not just improve, but at best turn into a substance with ethereal dimensions seeming to approach the sublime.
Beaujolais Nouveau is all very well (and most ancient wine was something between this and vinegar), but once you have tasted an old vintage Burgundy you know the difference between tinsel and gold. To be able to store wine, the best wine, until maturity performed this alchemy was the privilege of pharaohs.
It was wonderful enough that grape juice should develop an apparent soul of it's own. That it should be capable, in the right circumstances, of transmuting it's vigorous spirit into something of immeasurably greater worth made it a god-like gift for kings. If wine has prestige unique amongst drinks - unique, indeed, among natural products - it stems from this fact and the connoisseurship it engenders.
How can a rare bottle of wine fetch the price of a great work of art? Can it, however perfect, smell more beautiful than a rose?
No, must surely be the honest answer. But what if, deep in the flushing velvet of it's petals, the rose contained the power to banish care?
'The ultimate wine companion' by Kevin Zraly is available to buy from amazon.co.uk