Wine and a Taste of the Divine


A few years ago, I received as a gift a book by the esteemed wine-writer Terry Theise titled Reading Between the Vines (2011). As a keen reader as well as one who enjoys visits to wine farms, the book’s title immediately spoke to me.

With its reading, I discovered that Theise’s approach to the tasting of wine relates to what I deem to be a healthy approach to theology, as well as to life in general.

In Reading Between the Vines, Theise mentions a number of values underscoring his views on wine, something on which he embroiders in his more recent work What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime (2018). Firstly, writes Theise, a wine must express the human spirit as well as its place of origin. Secondly, we must be careful not to confuse wine-tasting with a seriousness that has us forgetting to react with spontaneity and the joys of the senses. And finally, one must be aware that wine-tasting confronts us with the limits of language and knowledge within us.

Here, wine contains that mystical element that bows with respect to that which remains unspoken. Theise then also introduces Reading Between the Vines with a quotation by Alexander Pope: “Some people will never learn anything, because they understand everything too soon.”

What Theise further raises is that he learnt the hard way in distinguishing between that which is truly complex and that which is merely complicated. The latter demands the kind of effort that keeps frustrating, while the former allows one to experience something wonderful.

For Theise, a complex wine is not pushy or demanding. This is not the kind of person one meets eager to shake your hand and who possibly even impresses with his or her presence – only to leave you with the impression that everything about him or her centers solely on the self. Exceptional wines, again, show a quiet calm and grace; they shine with an inner light that is not dependent on the spotlight. Which brings Theise to what he deems to be a kind of manifesto: “Many wines let you taste the noise. But only the very best wines let you taste the silence.”

Theise acknowledges that this statement might sound abstract, but that he knows exactly what he means by it. It reminds him of the remark that the true ending of a piece of music, actually is the silence that follows at the work’s end.

Could we not speak along these lines about the complex beauty of the language of belief and believing? Not as something loud and noisy, but as that which allows us to taste the silence?

  • RRV writes a weekly column on spiritual values for Die Burger newspaper. This was one of them.

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