Whine Tasting: An Exercise in Civility

What would you do if someone offered you a glass of fine red wine, priced at one hundred dollars a bottle? If you did not answer “swill it around, spit it into a communal bucket for some poor sap not even making tips to empty out, and be sure to spill a little onto the white tablecloth without even thinking about the person who’ll have to clean it up,” then clearly, you are not civilized.

A wine tasting, for the 0.5% of this blog’s readership who is not aware, is an event at which rich snobs taste- not drink, mind you- wines presented by wineries who have poured their life’s work for hundreds of years into a glass which they then, rather unceremoniously, dump into a slop bucket destined for the drain.

“But these refined connoisseurs appreciate such beverages for their history, as well as their flavour, which they eloquently describe with such with phrases as ‘refined yet unpretentious, with a clean finish,’” says renowned wine expert Dr. Tedius Pratt. “They’re not there to get drunk, but to appreciate the rich intricacy of vineyard growth cycles apparently evident in the fermented juices of every precious grape. These scholars of viticultural Epicureanism are knowledgeable on a level the casual sipper can never understand.” But is Pratt correct?

Actual overheard conversation snippet from a recent wine-tasting event:
Connoisseur: I didn’t know Beaujolais made a white.
Winery Rep: That’s a Niagara chardonnay.
Wine snobs are full of shit.

Don’t get me wrong. I myself enjoy a bottle or two of wine with my evening meal, and enjoy parsing choice phrases to nonsensically describe the experience. But once you witness a drunk woman (so they do get drunk!) clean her baby on a bar (not in a bar. Actually on one), you will realize that at least part of the mystique is accurate: this is truly a level of class to which most of us can only aspire. Or rather, whatever the opposite of aspire is (de-spire? Pre-spire? Per-spire? I bet it’s perspire).

Which brings us to the topic of civility. If in our grunting caveperson days we were not civilized, as is the general assumption, then what changed? How did we evolve into civilized beings? What precisely distinguishes a large herd of beasts from a civilization? What constitutes civility?

I would argue that civility is rooted in an awareness of one’s self in relation to one’s surroundings. Knowing where you stand with others, and acting accordingly. Treating others as you would like to be treated in their place.

Say you spill blood from a fresh kill all over your cave floor. Naturally, being the disgusting pig that you are, you don’t clean it up. Then, maybe, one day, it occurs to you that blood tends to go rank after a while, or attract scavengers or vermin, or present a very real slip-and-fall hazard. So, you actually clean up after yourself. Congratulations, you’ve just invented civilized behaviour.

At what point exactly does “being civilized” require a reversion to the floor-of-blood days? At what point does carelessly tossing red wine on to a white tablecloth and walking away without claiming responsibility for your own messiness become the pinnacle of civilized behaviour? The answer probably lies around the time we started hiring servants to clean up after us, taking on the burden of consideration toward others so that we don’t have to. We are waited on and cleaned-up after. Like the caveman who left blood on the floor, you simply wait for the lower species to do your dirty work for you, and go carelessly about your way. While this may be the hallmark of high society, I consider it to be the height of uncivilized behaviour.

At a recent conference on urban youth violence attended to mostly by social workers, former young offenders, and other supposed dregs of the lower rungs of society, lunch was served. There was also food and drink throughout the day, and the venue staff, used to cleaning up after wine tastings, prepared themselves for the ungodly mess that was sure to follow. They were completely shocked to find, upon the guests’ departure, virtually no mess whatsoever to clean up. All trash and debris had been properly disposed of by the guests themselves, and all spills were cleaned up by those who had spilled. It seemed that the street thugs and underpaid government minions who work to keep them off the streets (hoping to make them “house thugs” or even “office thugs”) demonstrated the ultimate in civilized behaviour: politely cleaning up after yourself even when you don’t have to, because you are not an animal.

While everyone likes a good wine now and then, the ability to discern a Niagara Chardonnay from a variety closer to the Burgundy persuasion does not make you more worthy than those who clean up your messes, whom you could not do without, and who may in fact drink Bud Light Lime (it is surprisingly refreshing). The wine crowd may have the street violence crowd beat in big words and fancy dress, but the latter displayed greater civilization. Their event was refined yet unpretentious, with a clean finish.

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