What Gives Vino Its Veritas?

BOSTON, MA — “In Vino Veritas” doesn’t mean that wine contains some enduring, romantic, artistic truth. It means what we all know: when people drink wine, they talk. They speak truths they say they don’t mean, or at least don’t mean to say out loud. Wine’s active ingredient – alcohol – causes these slips, which is why it’s smart to keep your vino and your veritas far apart.

When we transform into talkative truth mode, we connect back to the specific physical transformative moment when grape juice turned into wine, when its sugar became alcohol, which is what makes this whole conversation possible.

Wine opens a great well of veritas, simultaneously freeing the tongue and focusing description on wine’s exotic flavors. On a biochemical level, this comes directly from the alcohol: one alcohol molecule plus one acid molecule equals one ester molecule, the thing in organic chemistry that makes everything aromatic and flavorful, from nail polish remover to honeydew to brown sugar.

New molecules can be so similar in structure to, just for instance, the honeydew ester that they’re sometimes instantly recognizable. What makes the language of wine a championship of imprecision and challenge is that these molecules aren’t identical, and what we try to talk about is a dimension or two beyond direct comparison. When you do it right, you can drink great wine in the here and now and bring the cosmos in at the same time.

Wine lovers still attribute wine to magic and call wines magical every day. The intervention of Dionysus (Bacchus in Rome) gives you the godly magic component you apparently need to make great wine. Every time I bow my head to put my nose into a glass of wine, I think how wine was once a god and even worshipers today are wine atheists.

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