Finding a path

I grew up in a house whose plot was cut out of a piece of woodland like a neat, isolated notch. Paths to nearby farms and villages fanned out in every direction. In heavy rain, the horses (and particularly the fox hunts) would churn up the low-lying dips, forcing walkers into improvised routes that bypassed the most difficult stretches. Your eye could pick them out once you were on them, stretching ahead a few metres at a time in lightly-drawn lines of flattened leaves and nudged-aside branches. If you lost the thread, though, these temporary paths camouflaged themselves again and you ended up hopping and ducking your way back to the main path through brush, bramble and badger sett.

It is the end of my first calendar year of writing about something I love. Not ever having been a writer (or in the wine trade, save for a brief stint post-University), the experience has at times resembled one of those seemingly-aimless meanderings that nevertheless forces you into a series of small, accumulating decisions. You find the footsteps of others, heavy or light, and decide whether to take them for yourself. You deviate, whether on purpose or by mis-step, either committing to your initial diversion or scrambling your way back to somewhere better-known.

When I was a teenager I discovered a beautiful patch of girolle mushrooms whilst walking our dog. I picked a whole shoebox-load. One thing always slightly grated with me, though; they were just off the main path, hardly requiring any great ingenuity to track down. I was forced aside at a boggy dip and, instead of rejoining at the first opportunity (where others clearly had), I took a few extra paces past a small chestnut stump only to stumble across a little flash of apricot yellow, jutting out from under a fallen leaf. For years afterwards I could never resist wandering off, far away from the path, to look for more. I never found another patch.

I have gotten wines 'wrong' the first time round, failing to spot either quality or problems (especially at larger tastings). There are a things that I have packaged up as 'correct' because they made complete, logical sense that have turned out to be more complex, not to mention opinions that I might have qualified (and ones I wish I hadn't).

On the plus side, my radar tunes itself far quicker than it used to, especially when it comes to freshness and oxidation. I always knew I had a bias away from heavy or oxidised styles, but this year of tasting has really bedded that in and I find myself quite firmly in the Essi Avellan/Tom Stevenson camp. The search for absolute freshness can become a bit obsessive, but once you're on it there's not really a way back. 

Like the girolles, most of the things that have stayed with me have been those that I have come to almost by accident, well within earshot of others who have walked from A to B a thousand times. The unifying experience for me, for now, is the scratchy scramble back to that path - sometimes empty-handed, sometimes not.


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