In the popular imagination, the archetypal wine collector is a creature of Harris tweeds, leather club chairs and crystal decanters, laced together with a whiff of Cuban cigar. To the wine skeptic, wine collecting has its own whiff: one of elitism, decadence and, above all, great expense.
Anyone reading the paper lately can be left in no doubt that questions of who or what holds power are on everyone’s mind. In the realm of politics, it is hard for us to come to agreement, but the little world of wine tends to favor a more decentralized power. As wine consumers, we have come to prize above all things an essential “somewhereness” in wine (to dispense with the inescapably French term “terroir”), a term originally borrowed from politics.
Unlike the term “interesting” – usually a wine-speak euphemism for “faulty,” “bizarre,” or “borderline undrinkable” – the term “alternative” is fairly neutral. On iTunes, Alternative is a catchall, covering everyone from The Killers to your uncle Joe’s garage band. But something rarely considered “alternative” is Australia; to most drinkers, Australian wine is much more Kylie Minogue than Crowded House.
In the sphere of tourism if not in the realm of wine, “Provence” is one of the world’s most evocative names, alternately redolent of wind-tickled fields of quivering lavender or sun-bleached beaches of quivering bikini-wearers depending on how you prefer to spend your holidays. For me the “image” that evokes modern Provence is, ironically, a song written by a 19th century Italian. “Di Provenza Il Mar, Il Suol” from Verdi’s La Traviata, the impassioned plea of a father for his son to return to his home country and leave his degenerate life in Paris with the decadent and beautiful but doomed courtesan Violetta Valery, seems a perfect metaphor for Provence’s internal conflict between the glossy cosmopolitan tourism that keeps its economy ticking and its deep-rooted sense of tradition and individualism.
Arriving in Porto after a weeklong Hong Kong wine fair, a barrage of events and several hours with limbs contorted like origami on two sets of flights and one boisterous (but in true Portuguese fashion, only mildly boisterous) car ride, I will admit I was simply not as excited as I should have been to be there.