Last Sunday at Memorial Park, the La Cañada Kiwanis Club and the LCF Chamber of Commerce sponsored the 15th annual Wine and Gourmet Food Tasting. Hanging with friends and enjoying the ambience of a California Indian summer afternoon made the day special.
Wine tasting is not something that I am readily drawn to, but I do appreciate the symbolism and the touch of history associated with this event. Wine as a component of culture seems to be timeless. Archaeologists have found evidence that wine drinking began in 4000 B.C., possibly even as early as 6000 B.C. By looking at the evidence, anthropologists have concluded that wine was first developed around the Fertile Crescent area, by the Caspian Sea in Mesopotamia, which is near present-day Iran.
I was curious about the development of the protocol for wine tasting as it's often taught at wineries and informal courses on the subject. The specific series of behaviors that you're encouraged to follow: viewing the color, the chewing thing, the swishing, etc. Where do these practices come from? What are some of the earliest references to a "proper" wine tasting technique? Could it be that there has been an attempt to mystify something that is really rather simple, paying attention to the taste of good wine?
Much of what we understand of history is derived from folklore, and I suspect that even the most codified accounts of history are steeped in subjectivity. But I contend that the subjectivity of history is its alchemy.
I seem to remember Tommy Deangelo, a Marine buddy of mine, telling me that wine tasting and cork sniffing was originally done to ensure that what you were being served hadn't been poisoned. Pouring poison in someone's wine was a popular way to knock off a ruler. At first, someone was selected to taste the wine, if they survived, then the wine was good. If not, then I guess it wasn't. Later, a toast became the way to check the wine. Sort of a case of "If I die, so will you." A click of the goblets became a symbol of trust. I always believed Deangelo; he wasn't like the other dogface Marines, he was a wine aficionado, born and raised in Italy. He joined the Marines to further a political career.
I'm not sure about the poisoning part. Some folklore contends the tradition is derived from a tavern owner's desire to prove that he wasn't swindling. In the 18th and 19th centuries, a good way for an unscrupulous tavern keeper to make a buck was to pour cheap wine into an empty bottle bearing the label of a better wine. The cork ritual is a good-faith gesture meant to show that this is the first time that bottle has been opened.
The little nuisances of tradition matter, yet not so much. Unexpectedly, while perusing the wines and hunting down the best of the gourmet foods, I came across one of the treasures of the afternoon, a booth representing the La Cañada Flintridge Sister City Assn.
"The mission of Sister Cities is to promote peace through mutual respect, cooperation and understanding — one individual, one community at a time," said Vicki Schwartz, the local organization's president.
We share with our sister city, Villanueva de la Cañada, educational, business, cultural and technical aspects of our identity and of our world. I appreciate Vicki's rationale that perhaps promoting understanding and mutual inclusivity is best done on a people-to-people basis, not through formalized government.
The world is precarious, and it has been so since the dawn of civilization. But hope has always been foundational to our evolution. It's people like Vicki Schwartz and programs like Sister Cities that keep hope alive.
All in all, I had a great time on Sunday afternoon in Memorial Park. My cap is off to all involved.