A bit of philosophy does’nt hurt… After all we live in a consumer society where everything moves fast, where we no longer fix anything because you can buy everything ! But we need to remember the true value of life and especially that we are not eternal ! The wine also is not eternal… It could even represent vanity !
Vanity ? Yes it’s an allegorical term for what is vain, futile, illusory, fragile, ephemeral and insignificant. In other words it represents human life. The vanities are often ‘still lifes’. Born durig the Baroque era (seventeenth century), the vanities are designed to make us reflect on life’s fragility and brevity : ‘memento mori’ (remember that you will die) ! Then many symbols are used and Ingvar Bergström, an art historian, classes them into 3 categories :
– The vanity of earthly possessions : books and scientific instruments for the knowledge vanity ; silver, jewelry, beads, weapons and crown for the vanity of power and wealth ; pipes, wine, cheese, ham, potatoes, musical instrument and games for the vanity of pleasures.
– The transitory nature of life : skull, skeleton, time measurement, clocks and hourglass, extinguished candles and oil lamps, faded flowers.
– Symbol of resurrection and eternal life : ears of wheat and laurel wreath.
As you read it, wine can be considered as vanity… But which wine really represents the transcience of life ? Focus on two wines that I think are perfect for the occasion !
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” Solomon
Wine as vanity… Ok but which one ? Or rather which ones ? Yes, I have selected for you two kind of wine… I have to admitt that French philosopher Michel Onfray opened my eyes with two of his works : ‘The greedy reason’ and ‘The forms of time – the theory of Sauternes’. So I have chosen as vanities to drink : Champagne and Sauternes ! But now, lets see why ?
Champagne ! Born in the sixteenth century, this beverage will be a success at the Sun King court ! Invented by Dom Perignon, Champagne is synonymous of celebration and perfectly exudes the Baroque period… It’s a strange poetry of light bubbles, dancing, free and ephemeral ! Besides, ‘Barroco’ – Baroque – means a pearl with an unperfected roundness. Always the roundness ! This beverage will inspire many Baroque painters who believe in ‘homo bulla’ : man is like a bubble. The existence doesn’t last more than a bubble, it’s effervescence. ‘Pschitt’… But more than Champagne bubbles or air bubbles, pearls are truly the representation that is often found in the paintings. Vermeer is really the maestro : the girl with the turban, the player spruce, the young woman asleep… Vermeer painted serenity bubbles in noisy worlds. And each of its models has a pearl… A reminder of the existence’s vanity ! Then champagne is the bubble, the pearl, it’s the vanity of life between power and pleasure ! Champagne as a party, as a luxury product today… We need to think about it every time we drink a glass of Champagne !
Sauternes is a different story… In the many Flemish paintings that I’ve seen recently in Florence and especially in the Uffizi Gallery, I noticed that many of the works are representing perishable elements : like flowers but also like fruits. We can also see other elements that make us think of the perishable like fly. But we never see rot… It’s too traumatic probably. Even if the rot is life after death. Decomposition is something violent : cannibalism in all its power.
Then Sauternes wines are the most wine-expression of this vanity : Botrytis Cinerea, called noble rot, is doing its work every year. Naturally present in the vineyard, it returns every year and spreads in the vineyard, transforming and de-composing the berries. Water, air and fire must be in perfect harmony. Water with moisture of the cool river Ciron, fog escaping from the meeting between this Ciron and the hotter river Garonne and the sun in the afternoon which will allow the evaporation of water presents in the weak berries. But we also must pay attention to the so-called gray rot, which is truly the antithesis of the noble rot : it’s the Apocalypse.
Botrytis is annihilation. But man has somehow tamed it by raising a nectar (thanks to its presence) which is a celebration of life. Rotting is living differently. Botrytis is the vine’s Phoenix. And by drinking this transfiguration of death, man takes advantage of this state and built the joy, the celebration, the drunkenness. Sauternes isn’t the only food created by man from rot. Among the best known, there are cheese, some Chinese smoked teas, but also nuoc mam…
So ? What do you think of these vanities to drink ? Finally, lets enjoy them ! (always with moderation…)