Fine Wine Writing by Jonathon Alsop

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In Vino Veritas
In wine we trust...

By Jonathon Alsop
December 31, 2003

When I first started writing about wine, my brilliant friend and editor Betsy Neidich saw immediately that this was going to be a long-term relationship. She suggested that I needed a title now for everything I was ever going to write in the future.

Bibe viator!We kicked around a lot of ideas, most of them too obscure. A local paper had a teeny wine column called "Glass Notes" -- an unfunny play on the Russian "glasnost," remember? -- but we couldn't make perestroika or glasnostalgia work. "Where'd I Leave My Glass?" was my idea.

A couple of months later, Betsy presented me with a small silver pin shaped like a grape leaf and inscribed with the words IN VINO VERITAS. "This is it," she said, and that was that. Fifteen years later, 52 times a year, this column still goes out under the heading IN VINO VERITAS, although it's often as much a promise as a title.

This ancient Latin phrase translates literally "in wine truth," and the Romans were a very literal people. In one sense, it meant that when you drink wine, you tell the truth. Over the centuries, many have had the experience of saying something you didn't mean (or didn't mean to say out loud, at any rate) under the influence of a glass or two. At dinner, guests would encourage each other to make drunken, misguided speeches by shouting "In vino veritas!" and letting the wine speak its truth.

A person's character is revealed somewhat by how they behave when intoxicated, and this is another of its classical meanings. Do you keep your wits about you when the wine is flowing freely, or are you the person who wants to drive when everybody else knows better?

"In vino veritas" for the wine maker can mean staying true to the character of a grape. Even though you can expose pinot noir to oak and radiation and make it taste like anything you want, it should still be true in taste to type. Veritas means truth to regional wine traditions as well, like matching food to wine in direct, authentic, even historic ways.

For the wine writer, the veritas in the vino is what you make of it. I know food and wine writers whose typing appears driven only by the desire to consume vast amounts of expensive food and rare wine at someone else's expense. As much fun as that is, it stops being fun when another night of foie gras gives way to angioplasty at dawn, but then you really have something to write about.

As we begin a new vintage year, my wine resolutions remain essentially the same. I will taste more wines, drink less wine, read more, write more, and finish the wine cellar in 2004. I claim this high wine ground, rich in attitude but free of snobbery: you can taste the world in some wines, some wines are glorious juice, but some are just colored water.

And that's the truth.

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