Thursday, March 06, 2008

I Drink Therefore I Am

Yesterday's Wine Blogging Wednesday devoted to "comfort wine" had me thinking all day about how we come to terms as human beings with what we drink. Some of us think about wine. Some of us think and write about wine. Some of us just drink the stuff, and can't figure out why the rest have to make such a big deal out of something that's supposed to be pure pleasure.

We can always blame our confusion on Descartes. The philosopher known for the famous phrase "I think therefore I am," he tried to resolve centuries of controversy about the relationship between the mind and the body by putting the old gray matter firmly in charge. No matter how intense the pleasure, or enticing the sensory response, for Descartes it was all about rational thought. As you philosophy majors out there know, that's how Descartes solved the mind/body problem: mind, 1; body, 0. (portrait of Descartes by Franz Hals)

So I had to chuckle as I read some of the WBW #43 submissions as the authors grappled with both the mind/body divide and Joel of Wine Life Today's call to write about a wine that makes your "mind and body just release and relax." The purpose was comfort and pleasure--but there was a lot of thinking, too. In the end, there seem to have been two kinds of responses. (And, I hope that the authors don't mind me putting the preambles to their fantastic reviews to another purpose here)

First, there were the Cartesian types, who Rene is no doubt toasting from the grave. They had to think about what might make their mind relax! Jill from domaine547 spent time "racking our brains, trying to think of a wine that comforts us more than any other," and came up with "wine in general." (hear, hear!) Farley of Behind the Vines had a similar experience, and found herself "thinking about this Wine Blogging Wednesday assignment for a while, [with] different wine styles and varieties running through my head like determined marathon competitors." Wannabe Wino admitted that month's "theme required a bit of thought on my part," but I wasn't surprised when one of my favorite Zinfandel fans picked--Zinfandel! CarolB of Pour More also "had to really think about what “comfort wine” means to me," before settling on something readily available and quaffable. Wine Connection's Orion Slayer also had "to think a while" about his choice.

Some folks were on the other side of the mind/body divide, and either made a point of picking wines that they didn't have to think about, or focused on the experience of drinking rather than the wine itself. Ryan of Catavino reported that his comfort wines were those that were "simple, straightforward and don’t demand a lot of my palate or mind." Erika from Strumerika agreed, "the most relaxing wines require little thought." Taster B at Smells Like Grape gave us a complete sensory run-down of where and how comfort seeps into the wine drinking experience, and Monkuwino from One Wine Per Week also "wanted to focus more on the experience" than the choice of wine. Richard the Passionate Foodie painted a very enticing picture of how to experience wine and comfort simultaneously: "Just pour a glass, sit in my big, comfy chair and either watch TV or read a good book."

I found myself agreeing with the Santa Barbara Wine Advocate from West Coast Wine Country Adventures, who "thought about what brings me comfort" and discovered that thinking about wine was high on her list. She said that "great wine engages so many of my senses, that I don’t unwind per see, but I do refocus my mind from perhaps a tough day at work to investigating what the wine has to offer." Her list of what she thinks about while she's drinking is almost identical to the one that I go through sipping a glass. For me--and I think for the SB Wine Advocate, too--thinking about what you're drinking is not separate from the pleasure. It's an integral part of the pleasure. So much for Descartes!

At the end of the day, I'm convinced that Descartes needed to reflect more on how wine blows his theory out of the water. How can you separate the mind from the body, or thinking from sensory pleasure, when you are drinking a glass of wine? Wine is both a cerebral activity, and a source of comfort. And that's a good thing. Jill from domaine547 said it best: "Having wine in our lives has made us more relaxed, more thoughtful, and more balanced." So here's to drinking--thoughtfully and with great pleasure.


Richard Auffrey said...

Excellent post, especially as I have an interest in philosophy.

I have always been partial to Greeks philosophers and their use of wine. Hold a symposium where all could relax, eat and drink wine. And then wax philosophical about any range of topics.

And they even considered the effect of alcohol on their guests, choosing how much to water down their wines that would be served. Their wines, undiluted, were probably as strong as our vodka or rum, like 80 proof. So they usually watered them down.

SB Wine Advocate said...

I couldn't agree more. A wine that can completely capture my attention is what brings me comfort and joy.

Wonderful post. I love the breakdown.

Anonymous said...

great wrap up and philosophy lesson all in one!

I of course was a HUGE slacker on this WBW.

But I did think about it and had a real hard time choosing a varietal because my wine enjoyment every night or day is very experiential and encompasses my whole process of evaluating writing and then researching the wine. All of which is a giant circle in the process that makes each other part more enjoyable.

Very nice post!

Taster B said...

It's always so much fun to see how different bloggers tackle the same subject and with WBW #43, it was interesting to see how so many of the entries did seem to fall into these "to think" or "not to think" categories.
Very thought provoking post!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the mention and nice post! You're right, I absolutely tackled it in a "not to think" manner. It was a very visceral process. It's funny how some people felt they had to stress in order to relax. Different strokes!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dr. Debs! I've never been put in the "said it best" category before so I'm very honored.

I also find this dichotomy between "to think and not to think" very provocative, and you really captured an interesting trend in the WBW responses -- one I haven't seen before during the short time I've been participating in the event.

Again, much thanks!

Anonymous said...


Even though I was in the "To think" category, trust me, I was not stressing! It was fun to explore the ideas behind which wines make me feel most comfortable.

And as Dr.Debs and SB Wine Advocate point out, sometimes the thinking is as much a part of it as the drinking.

Granted, there are nights where I just want to drink. But I don't have anything super special on those evenings. Usually something inexpensive or that I've had before. And Rosenblum wine is always readily available, so that pops up a lot.

Thanks, Dr.Debs, for the lovely post. Yet again.

Orion Slayer said...

Maybe Descartes could have said:

"I think, therefore I drink."

But, if I follow your post closely, maybe it's:

"I drink, therefore I think."

I'm going to have to think about this some more, let me get some wine....

Anonymous said...

Since you called me out (philosophy major). I just finished writing a paper on Descartes and I am drinking wine right now, therefore I am "eminently qualified" for this subject. When you refer to Descartes as putting the gray matter in charge, that is not what Descartes meant by mind. Mind is an incorporeal substance completely different from body. There is much more to it than that but I want to enjoy my wine right now.

Joe Roberts said...

I am soooooooooooo tempted to type in the lyrics to Python's "Philosphers Song" right now....

Emanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable..."

Anonymous said...

Awesome post. Just take care not to put Descartes before the horse...

Unknown said...

Interesting. Personally, I prefer Hume, who followed Descartes and said that all knowledge has to ultimately derive from impressions, ideally first hand personal impressions. Robert Parker can talk all he wants about points and comparisons between wines, but unless I have personal experience of them I don't really understand what he is saying.

Last night my wife and I enjoyed a Cesari Mara Ripasso wine which is one of our favorite wines at about $17. My first hand impressions? Wonderful!