Saturday, April 16, 2011

Holding a moment, instead of an object

Every so often the wine glassware discussion comes up, where people speak about whether or not a different shape of glass enhances or detracts from the qualities or enjoyment of a particular type of wine. We all have our views on this subject at this point. What I think is most interesting, though, is that it is pretty much a given amongst wine folk that the vessel needs to be glass. There is never an admission that the texture of the vessel might be totally different, and that it might in some way enhance the experience if it were. Glass is assumed. Why?
A particular glass might be in many numerous ways different from another specific glass. But at the end of the analysis, a gussied up glass is still glass.

The texture of the desired drinking vessel rarely changes whatsoever in the wine world, outside of thickness of the glass and its weight. This is kind of strange, given all the possibilities that do exist.

Think about it for a moment. Here is an example by way of contrast: sake. Sake can be an incredibly complex beverage in terms of layered flavors and nuance. Sometimes sake is served in glass. It may also be served in porcelain. Or lacquer. Sometimes it is served in a hollowed out bamboo cup. And other times it is served to drinkers in one of these:

Sake cups made of sugi, a Japanese cedar

Or something like this:
A sake cup made of hinoki, a Japanese cypress
Hinoki sake cups are associated with particular ceremonies and times of year in Japan. There are actually two general styles of hinoki sake vessels: one is in a sturdy box alignment, which is very traditional, and the other is like what is pictured above, a cup made of thin wood. This cup construction is quite light and delicate. The hinoki cup may have a character for one's name imprinted on it, and it is expected to be used only once. It is often ritually crushed after use.

There are several emotional associations around these hinoki cups that I find fascinating. The cup itself is thought of in a temporal and very personal sense. A particular cup is meant for a particular occasion, a time of year, and a particular celebration. And then it is not used again. It is associated very directly with a particular person and that time in their life. There is a sense of moment, and also of fragility. The resonance of the particular occasion is specifically underscored by the drinking vessel. This time that we share this liquid together? It won't be forever. And it is more important and special for that. We won't be washing, hanging out to dry, and reusing this moment.

Why not with wine? Why is it that we avoid that kind of temporal aspect in our wine drinking? We do we emphasize how wine evolves over time instead of how wine shapes a particular moment?

Let me give you an example of how it could be different. Let's say we drank wine out of one of these:
What if we drank wine out of an egg shell? There would be a sense of delicacy, of fragility, and of a carefully constructed moment. I mean, sure you wouldn't want to do this every day. But what if you did it just once? Wouldn't you remember that for a long time? Wouldn't you have to be very, very careful not to crush the drink in your hand? Wouldn't there be a sense of care for the beverage, and of focus, that would be hard to replicate any other way?

What if you put one of these on the table, and told each of your friends to take up a drink to their lips?
It might be neat to do once, right?

I'll take it a step further. What if you took wine that had been matured in this way

And you went ahead and served it in egg shell cups?

Wouldn't that provide a sense of moment, and of resonance, that would be memorable?

During special occasions, isn't it that kind of sensation that we try to create? Why are we so limited in our imagination, as wine drinkers, when we try?

Why do we pay more attention to the shape of the ice than we do to the time it takes to melt away?


adamjapko said...

Such a fresh perspective, please keep sharing these gems. I can drift and easily dream about "in the moment" eggshell wine service. The heck with glass' advantage for admiring color and capturing aromatics. Why not replace with fresh new textures on lips and in hand.

But question, from a purely appreciative point of view, is it possible that sake's texture, flavors, and mouth feel can more easily handle (compared with wines made from grapes) an absence of vessel captured aromatics and still provide its immense sensory pleasure? Just wondering.

Levi with an i said...

Hey, Adam.

We take a view of the liquid as being seperate from the vessel. We want the pure experience of the liquid, without "taint". This is a rather new way of viewing wine, historically. Think of wine skins (wine inside of tanned animal hides) and also of amphora transport.

The way we view wine now is one way to do so. A modern way to do so. And a valid way. But there are other possibilities.

Tea is a complex beverage. Why do we serve tea in porcelain or lacquer, but refuse to do likewise for wine?

Richard Auffrey said...

I agree that rather than limit ourselves, we should broaden our horizons, experience wine and other alcoholic beverages in different ways. Besides practicalities, we should also consider the artistic and aesthetic qualities of glasses, and what they can add to the drinking experience.

Another matter to add would be the size of the glass. Japanese sake cups, from ochoko to sakazuki, are generally very small. That is an intentional design, which coincides with the custom of oshaku. With oshaku, you are not supposed to pour your own glasses of sake. Someone else must do so, which promotes mingling and being social. As sake cups are small, that also means they must be refilled more often, contributing to the social aspect.