Monday, December 3, 2012

Rant: Beauty, Wine & Food

"It is the beauty of the thing that is important to me."
--Bernard Portet

Once again, I encountered someone with a deep appreciation for beauty, this time at a lunch with Bernard Portet, the former wine maker of Clos du Val and current wine maker for Polaris Wines. With forty years of experience in wine making, Bernard has had ample time to hone his philosophy, yet much of what he believes remains consistent to what his father once taught him. For Bernard, beauty is an essential element in wine making and his words struck my soul, touching upon one of my own strong beliefs. I thought it was time to once again raise this issue, to spread a passion for aesthetic pleasure.   

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it."

The concept of beauty is universal. There is not a single human culture which does not possess a concept of beauty, though their definition of what actually constitutes beauty can vary widely. Beauty is about far more than how a person or object looks, extending deep into their personality and inner nature. It also extends to all our activities, to each and every item you can consider. It is an integral aspect of everything in our lives, even though we might not think about it all, or even most, of the time. In the end, beauty boils down to cherishing what we find to be aesthetically pleasing.

"Beauty, of whatever kind, invariably excites the human soul to tears."
--Edgar Allan Poe

Despite its significance, an appreciation for beauty does not seem to get sufficient coverage in discussions of food and wine. We must not underestimate or forget its importance and relevance in these arenas. To be clear, I am referring to beauty in all its aspects, not solely the visual, which can touch all of our senses. In addition, I am not referring to any particular and limited definition of beauty but merely the general aesthetic concept which encompasses all of the diverse definitions. We need to embrace beauty, to understand it, to praise it, to savor it, to share it, and more.

"Beauty in things lies in the mind which contemplates them."
--David Hume

Who are some people who seem to exemplify this love of aesthetics, whose work reflects this passion for all that is beautiful? Let me provide several examples, many of whom I have met and experienced their infatuation with the nature of beauty.

Like Bernard Portet, Ernesto Catena, the owner and winemaker at Alma Negra winery in Argentina, is also driven by the concept and philosophy of beauty. Ernesto seems to possess a more Japanese-style aesthetic and it influences his life, including the creation of his winery. An appreciation of beauty is one of his primary motivations and his passion for such beauty is infectious. He relishes the beauty of nature, of simplicity and balance. It was his love of aesthetics which led him to embracing Biodynamics, as he felt it coincided with his aesthetic philosophy.

"What voice might we lend to illuminate wine’s strange beauty?"
--Randall Grahm

One example that I have not met is Terry Theise, wine importer and author of a fascinating book, Reading Between the Wines. It is clear from reading this book, which contains many beautiful phrases and sentences that showcase the aesthetics of language, that Terry is a devotee of beauty. Even if you don't agree with all of the strong opinions of Thiese, you will be drawn into his writing by the sheer beauty and poetry of his words. It is such a pleasure to read a book such as this one. Randall Grahm, wine maker and author, is another whose writings reflect well the beauty of language. Randall is keenly aware of the importance of aesthetics and it seems to be a guiding principle of his life as well.

"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts."
--Rachel Carson

Fred Minnick, a friend of mine, is an accomplished photographer, often concentrating on wine and food related pictures. Anyone can take a photo of what is commonly considered a beautiful image. But a professional photographer, with a true sense of aesthetics, can draw out the beauty of any subject, whether living or inanimate. Even the most grotesque of subjects can be transformed into a beauty through a skilled photographer's eye. When you look through Fred's portfolio, his skill at finding the beauty in all his subjects is more than evident. David Dadekian, another friend of mine, is also a food photographer who grasps the concept of aesthetics and whose photography excels for that reason. Such excellence is more than a skill and must derive from a true passion for beauty.

"Beauty awakens the soul to act."
--Dante Alighieri

The best of writers fully understand the beauty of language, how a special turn of phrase can elevate a story to another level of aesthetic appreciation. It is not an easy skill, but one honed over time and with experience. A wine bottle may possess a plain or even ugly label, yet the wine within might be indescribably beautiful, a sublime sensory pleasure. That can work in reverse though, that a wine with a beautiful and compelling label may contain a less than appealing wine. A plate of food which is presented beautifully will often seem to taste better than a messy looking plate. It is often said we eat through our eyes, and there is some truth to that. We cannot forget are other senses too, from smell to touch, all of which impact our aesthetic feelings.

"Beauty is worse than wine, it intoxicates both the holder and beholder."
--Aldous Huxley

There is no endeavor where beauty does not play some role and we should endeavor to cherish beauty where ever we encounter it. To that end, I call on all food and wine writers to embrace the beauty in what they experience as well as how they present themselves. Let your writing and photography highlight beauty while you also attempt to make your words and pictures beautiful in their own right. Eaters and drinkers, don't just swallow and guzzle, but take time to appreciate the beauty of what is on your plate and in your glass. Take time to allow your senses to properly savor every bite and sip. Beauty elevates our experiences so we should be eager to seek it out.

"'Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
--John Keats

Who do you know whom possesses a strong passion for aesthetics, who is a true lover of beauty? How do they express this passion? Writing, photography, art? What are your own experiences with beauty?


Anna said...

My daughter has a strong passion for aesthetics and shows it through her art, drawing and paintings. I express it through writing and find beauty in everything. I think that is the essence of passion, which is enhanced by fine food and wine.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks Anna for your comments and I wish you & your daughter the best this holiday season.