While we dream of worlds distant and imagined, there are within our daily experiences alien worlds, each as mysterious as any imagined by authors of the fantastic. Exploration of these words is viewed as rewarding in its own way as reading science fiction and fantasy.
Enter the alien world of wine. To many of us, the thought of ordering wine at dinner, the ordeal of peering at the wine list while relatives, friends, and sneering waiters look on is akin to being investigated by the IRS. How much easier to fall back on the familiar soda, or a trendy imported beer. This is much the same as reading only Star Trek novels or D&D books, while ignoring the works of Clarke, Asimov, Benford, Brin, and some fellow who writes fantasy named Feist.
Well, brave explorer, consider this. Wine is a never-ending adventure, on a par with the finest fantasy or science fiction published. Each vintage, each variety brings the same challenge as a new book by an unknown author or the most recent endeavor by an old favorite. And the rewards are as vast.
Nature produces wine without much coaxing. A strange and unexplained yeast appears from "out of nowhere" the moment the grape skin is broken and the juice starts to ferment. There would be wine on the vine if only there were a way to pierce the skins without human intervention.
I am convinced that as soon as wine was discovered, the first thing that happened is some friends sat around swapping stories as they sipped this strange and delightful drink. Stories about wine have existed as long as we can remember. Odysseus lulled the Cyclops Polyphemus with wine, so he could lead his imprisoned Ithacan sailors to freedom. Wine has been immortalized in song, prose, and verse from the Bible to the pop music charts. And just as there have been those who sing its praises, there have been those who have viewed the entire process of choosing a wine as if they were aliens from a distant galaxy.
Wine, in the broadest sense, is no mystery. It's fermented grape juice. But from that point on, the wonderful and astonishing variety of ways it progresses from the vine to the glass begins.
Each variety has its own character, its own strengths and weaknesses, and each wine maker his own strong opinion on how to coax the very best from the grapes he has chosen. How long to leave the wine in the crush? To ferment in the barrel or vat? To age in steel or oak? How long to age in the barrel? How long in the bottle? When to sell? When to drink?
Choosing wine is like walking into a bookstore and buying a book. Your only real obligation is to satisfy your own taste. A 1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild may be considered by experts one of the finest examples of a great classic bordeaux ever produced, but if you don't like it, it's no better than a cheap wine cooler. And as there are writers to provide for all tastes, so there are wines for all tastes.
There are wines as sweet and as light as a child's tale of adventure and first love, as fresh and different from their predecessors as a new writer is from a proven bestseller, and wines as dark and brooding as the most majestic tale of revenge and conflict, grand wines from ancient vintners, as reliable as the finest works of the grand masters. From the crisp, light, and refreshing tang of an Italian Gavi, to the majestic, lush, richness of a complex California Cabernet Sauvignon, wine arrives at your dinner table in countless forms. Wine may be served with every course, from the astonishing floral-scented Viogonier of Chateau Condreau in place of a cocktail, a slightly off-dry Sauvignon Blanc with salad, a classic white Burgundy or red Bordeaux with the main course, to a rich aged Port or stunning Late Harvest Reisling with desert. Wine offers rewards beyond simply having something that tastes good in your glass with a meal. Wine can offer enthusiasts the same rewards of discovery that reading sf and fantasy can. It's an alien world waiting to be explored.
(This article was originally published in Volume 1, No. 1 of The Spectra/Foundation Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine (1989). Mr. Feist has granted Elvandar exclusive permission to post the text of Alien Wine. To view a scanned image of the original 1989 article visit John Bunting's The Official Raymond E. Feist Website.)
Copyright © 1989 Raymond E. Feist
Permission to reproduce or retransmit expressly denied.