Hi friend! I know I shock you with so casual a greeting. I have felt that perhaps we are too formal in our ways and manners and the things we do differ wildly from people our own age. For example other people drink and go for dinners, and we have play bagpipes around a long rectangular table while wearing cummerbunds. I am not saying that one way of living is necessarily better or worse than the other, but we may need to update our activities. This is why I called you for that fateful wine tasting. The tasting where everything changed forever.
Wine tasting is one of those mysterious activities that neither of us could initially understand. As we are men and women of more substantial alcohol, we always waved wine aside casually. Wine? No thank you, I drink. Wine tasting, I thought would be a natural and immediate activity. How difficult could it be to describe something that one was tasting? That is why I booked us at the Vineyard of Austere Grapes, for a tour and a tasting. I thought we would have a little titter and a light walk before we got to actually drinking in the evening.
Our guide and Chief sommelier, Manuel, led us through a tour of the vineyard. The dust of the afternoon blew through the long corridors of grape vines. Our group shuffled sullenly through the tour. No one was interested in seeing the length and the breadths of the vineyard, so we maintained a ponderous silence, disguising our boredom as wonder. Biding time until we got to taste the wine.
A while later they took us to this underground wine cellar and gave us several kinds of wine to taste. You had to first smell the wine and take note of the many facets and nuances of its aroma. You then had to take a gulp of wine, swirl it around in your mouth, and dissect the taste into its most fundamental components. And when from the wine everything had been sucked, and it had been taken advantage of as thoroughly as possible, you were to spit it out. There was no romanticism here. This was clinical. We were not here for wine enjoyment. We were here for wine tasting.
And while everyone with delight made mentions of fruity aromas and hints of chocolate, I sat quietly. I was sitting on a terrible secret. One that would reveal me as a person without class and without any appreciation for The Finer Things In Life. When I put wine into my mouth, I tasted only wine.
It just tasted like wine. I scanned the faces of everyone present for insincerity. Could they really be seeing these three act greek tragedies in their wine? I said this as a person present commented on the melancholy aroma of the wine. Manuel nodded pleasantly at them. When you saw this and winked at me, I thought it was a wink of recognition. A wink of saying you and I are in this together and you don’t understand it either. I did not realise that it was a wink of agreement. You thought the aroma was indeed melancholy.
I decided to confidently fake my way through the rest of the tasting. When someone would hypothesise about the nature of the taste and the source and the smell of the wine, I would concur wholeheartedly. I decided to just join the mob instead of feeling left out and foolish. I just had to buy some time until I could go home and relax with my smoking jacket, cravat and cummerbund and a glass of whisky which tastes either good or bad or car accident.
Well that’s all we have for tasting today! said Manuel and everyone clapped along with him. By now I am sure you are able to tell the finer differences in wines and their taste. I rolled my eyes and decided to step out of the cellar as quickly as possible. Screw this place, I thought, and stepped quickly towards the stair case.
Manuel caught my wrist. His grip was vice-like in its strength. His hands, icy. We are not finished. He said and turned to me, his expression, unchanging. No sound of effort in his voice. With alarming force he pushed me back amongst the rest of the group. His smile still unfaltering, his eyes unchanging. Yet something in the atmosphere of the room had already changed. Maybe it was the humidity that made great wine. Maybe it was tension. I wish I had known how serious they were about wine tasting.
Manuel made everyone stand in a single line and gave them each a glass. I rubbed my wrist where Manuel had grabbed me. I saw a shredded bit of metal where he had touched me. Was he even human? What was he?
Each of you will describe your wine to me.
Free wine for correct attempts!
Everyone cheered. Manuel took out a loaded revolver. The room fell silent. He pointed it at the first person in line.
The man shivered terribly. He sniffed desperately at the wine and then took a huge gulp. His face contorted from effort. The man spat out the wine.
Describe the wine.
The man whimpered as he felt the cold steel barrel against his forehead. He began to talk. “Uhh! Full bodied! Rose…petals? Spice…and no it can’t be…” Manuel pressed the barrel harder into his head. Okay! Okay. “..Lychee?”
Manuel lowered the gun and handed the man a bottle of wine.
Congratulations on winning this Gewürztraminer. It will serve you well in bad times and in good.
The man fell to the floor clutching the wine and his heart. Manuel went through every person in the line, and weirdly every single person got it right. Half way through the line the exercise gathered an almost festive feel. All the people who were asked to identify the wine were able to do so flawlessly. The gun seemed like an almost un needed accessory.
Then Manuel came to me. He handed me a glass of wine. I tried very hard to match up to the festive nature of things but was unable to. I lightly gyrated my hips, but the humid tension returned. How would I do this? How could I guess? Manuel raised his eyebrows at me.
Describe the wine please, he said in his accent of mysterious origin. But how would I? I did not know. I took deep breaths and tried to focus. Several minutes passed, and for the first time Manuel’s smiling exterior began to show cracks.
Describe the wine, please.
He jabbed the gun in my face. Inching it closer. But I could not do it. I could not admit it. I took a big swig of wine and swirled it around in my mouth. I spat it out. “Well…it’s a nice red uhh…”
It is a white wine, said Manuel cocking the gun. The room grew heavy and silent. You nudged me several times. People hissed at me. Just describe the wine! Why are you playing games?
I tried again. “It’s uh…it’s uh…” The world seemed to stop in its motion. I heard the heart of every single person in that room beat. I heard wine mature inside caskets. I racked my brain for something to say, anything! But all guesswork dissolved into wisps of smoke at the image of the gun held at my face. There was only one thing to say.
“I DON’T KNOW, OK?” I screamed. A series of gasps passed through the room.
You don’t know?
“No! It just all tastes like wine to me! I don’t get it!” I burst into tears. I closed my eyes, waiting for the touch of a comforting hand, a considerate shush, anything. Nothing came. Everyone took a step back from me. Some people clucked and some shook their heads. In panic, I looked to you. But you didn’t look offended, you looked broken. I was trying to say something else, anything, but your eyes were diverted to the floor and my voice was stuck in my throat. I was ashamed. I am sorry I can’t tell the difference between wines. I don’t know what inside me prevents this understanding. But I hope there is a cure. I hope there is hope for me. I stood in the wine cellar shivering and mentally drafting this apology to you, until Manuel’s cold voice snapped me out of my thoughts.
Please leave now.
Manuel looked at me like I was not worth shooting. He forced me out of the wine cellar and into the vineyard. It was evening now. The wind felt cold on my forehead. I closed my eyes and realised that Manuel had put a piece of paper in my fist.
It was Pepsi and water.
You are the only one who really sees.
Join me and the others.
Wait in the bushes until dusk.
We will come to you.