Gus and wine: nobody’s perfect
Many of you know that I recently rescued a chihuahua-terrier mix I named Gus. Gus is insanely cute, the kind of dog that complete strangers on the street stop to compliment. I love him dearly, but there’s an issue. Gus tends to have the occasional “accident” at home.
I was down at the Old Crow yesterday telling this to Terry, looking for a little advice and, probably, commisseration. Terry, like most dog owners I know, told me that, when you have a dog, accidents will happen, and not to get too upset about it. I told him that, as far as I’m concerned, I want an accident-free Gus, 100% housebroken, without exceptions. No pee indoors, ever, period, end of story. Terry said, “Your expectations are pretty high.”
“I know,” I replied, adding, “That’s the way I am. I either have very high expectations, or none at all.” I’d never stated anything in quite those terms, but it just came out, and I was surprised to hear myself put it so bluntly.
On the way home–with Gus sniffing every tree, lamppost and hydrant in Oakland–I was thinking about this, when it occurred to me that there are analogies with wine. When I taste a new release, I’m looking for the most perfect wine ever, one that gives me pleasure on every level. I expect it not only to not disappoint, but to dazzle. I have a Platonic image in my mind of the perfect wine of every type (Pinot Noir, Champagne, Cabernet Sauvignon, sweet white wine, etc.), because in my lifetime I’ve had such wines, and stored each away in the repository of my brain, where I can reference it in detail. So I’ll take the new wine I’m tasting and hold it side by side with the Platonic wine, comparing them. Of course, almost all of the time, the new wine fails to live up to the mental image or expectation of the perfect Platonic wine. So ultimately, 99.9% of the new wines I taste are, on some level, disappointing.
And then it hit me. Am I holding my wines to the same standard as I hold Gus? With wine, is it all or nothing?
I don’t exactly mean “nothing,” of course. If I give a score over 90 to a wine, it ain’t nothing. But any score less than 100 points, regardless how high, still suggests that there’s something wrong with the wine. And that troubles me. My doggie-owning friends, and I have a lot of them, have convinced me that it’s totally unreasonable to expect a dog to never, ever pee in the house, over many years. So is a 95 point score the equivalent of a wine that, great as it is (and Gus is really great), occasionally pees on the carpet?
I’m still working this out. But without following the analogy too far, let me put it this way: I think it’s fair to hold every wine to a standard of perfection. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a box, or if it costs $500; I measure it in my mind against the greatest, what I want and hope it should be, not what it is.
Is it unfair to hold every wine I taste to such a high standard? The difference between wines and Gus, obviously, is that I have only one Gus. It’s he whom I love and must cherish regardless of whatever imperfections he has. With wine, on the other hand, there are thousands each year. I don’t feel any obligation to love or cherish any of them, no matter how much they cost or how hyped they are.
Still, I wonder if that little bit of irritation I feel at a slight imperfection in wine isn’t unduly harsh. The way I rationalize it is in the relationship between the score and the text of my review. An 84 is going to remain an 84 after I blind taste it, no matter what. If I see the wine costs $7, I’m going to give it a break in my description. If it’s $50, I’m going to be harsh. The analogy with Gus, I think, is that he’s a million dollar dog (in my heart) and so I want and expect him to be perfect. Still, I know how unreasonable that is. That’s why I’m hiring a dog psychologist to help us get through this. I can’t do that with wine; a wine that really disappoints me has no mitigation, no intervention by which it can improve itself–at least, until the next vintage. I guess that’s the difference between the living beings in our lives, and the fixed possessions, like wine. You can’t hope to change a flawed wine, no matter what you do. But you can always hope to see a change in a living being you love.