Tomato or dance

23 June 2017

I woke up this morning out of a service dream in which I was trying to reassure a guest during the dance about price:

— The bottles of wine on our list start at $36 and go to the four figures, and anywhere along the way we can find you something delicious & honestly made, I said.
— Well then what, the guest said (in the mood to press me a little), is the difference between that $36 bottle & those four-figure ones?

What I said (in the dream) is something I’ve been meaning to work out in writing, at a little more length. But instead of that I’ll just tell you, if I can remember, what I said in the dream.

— At the everyday end of the market, wine is basically a grocery; at the high end, it’s an art collector’s game. In the everyday, you’re buying a perfectly ripe tomato. At the high end, you’re buying a Picasso.

(I thought for a second, or pretended to look thoughtful.)

— Of course, you’re also drinking the thing for dinner! So it’s not really a Picasso you’re buying, unless everyone is burning their Picassos after they look at them. (And also, unless Picasso was actually simultaneously painting a couple thousand replicas at once…you see how analogies break down if you let them.) If it’s art, it’s an art we consume, something momentary & irreplicable, but something that can be restaged later under different terms. A jazz concert, say, or dance.

And so I woke up this morning thinking, ‘tomato, or dance?’

And I think that’s a nice way to think about the wines that I love and that give me pleasure, to unite a simultaneous appreciation for honest, unpretentious juice you guzzle out of a bottle* & oh, that ’96 Priuré-Roch Clos de Corvées that I tasted Wednesday night, mythic, crystalline, unsulfured & unsurpassed red Burgundy that could have covered a month’s rent in my college apartment in Boston ten years ago.

*I nominate Lauer “Barrel X” riesling for this ‘adult juicebox’ category, if you want an example. I also encourage everyone to look closely at the now-modish Instagram trend of drinking straight out of bottles and see if they’re actually drinking, because in many cases I feel like the foil’s still on that thing.

Now— if you’ll allow me to continue stretching analogies around the room— everyday wine is a perfectly ripe tomato only at the best of times. Sometimes it’s one of those tomatoes that was picked green in Florida so that it didn’t bruise in the truck and then gassed to color. Sometimes it’s an heirloom tomato that has little splits in it, one of the big ugly ones, and your kid starts crying because it doesn’t look like the tomatoes in the grocery store, the color’s wrong, why isn’t it perfectly round… Sometimes the tomato is spoiled. Sometimes it’s more like a can of Bloody Mary mix.

And while it’s nice to think of blue-chip wine as art—as dance—while wine pricing for blue-chip bottles works like the art collection market in a lot of ways— they’re even sold at the same auctions!— expensive wine can also work more like a luxury branded good. A Luis Vuitton handbag, say. (And the wine and the handbag will be owned, you guessed it, by the same company.)

So in the end there’s still a distinction, but it’s not just about price. It’s between heirloom tomatoes from the farmer’s market & a can of V8 on the low end, and it’s between an irreplicable piece of performative art and whatever the commodified version of that is at the high. Nobody’s saying you have to spend a lot of money on wine to be happy. But there’s still a difference between that tomato and that can. And once in a while, you get to dance.

I’m losing the thread. I can’t remember how the dream ended; I think I woke up before I’d convinced the table to order any wine.


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