An enthusiasm for wine and a love of classic cars may not at first appear to have much in common, but for me they embody many of the same qualities.
Next month, I’m travelling to Brescia in Northern Italy for the European Wine Bloggers Conference. I’m much looking forward to it, for the chance to meet new people who like talking about wine, and to try new wines from the area. However, I have to admit that I’m almost as excited to be going to Brescia because it’s the home town of one of motor racing’s greatest historic events, the Mille Miglia.
From the 1920s to the 1950s, Brescia was the starting point and the finish line for a race over one thousand miles of Italian roads – to Rome itself, and back. It attracted the most successful racing drivers of the day with epic performances from the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, in the colours of the most famous car marques like Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Mercedes and Ferrari . This is the stuff of motoring history.
I’ve been excited about classic cars for about as long as I’ve been serious about wine, and I’m not alone. You only have to look at the iconic winemaker Randall Grahm and his love for his classic Citroen DS to see that. (By the way, I’d love to make a list of all the wine people who are into classic motoring – any suggestions welcome via the comments below.) So it set me thinking about the comparisons between the two. Why does a love for classic motor cars seem such a similar passion to the appreciation of wine at its best?
… the comparisons go a lot deeper when you look at why people are enthusiastic about the hiss of a particular carburettor, or the aroma of a beautifully crafted Barolo.
On a superficial level, wine and fancy cars inhabit a similar arena withinin our perception of what fine living is about – the glamour, the parties, the sweeping driveways of country houses – but that’s more about money and ostentation than an appreciation or passion for the things themselves: the motoring equivalent of First Growth Bordeaux (although I’d rather admire the curves of a fine Maserati than just look at a bottle of Chateau Latour). No, I’m talking about hands-on enthusiasm that engages directly with the product: the comparisons go a lot deeper when you look at why people are enthusiastic about the hiss of a particular carburettor, or the aroma of a beautifully crafted Barolo.
Great classic cars differ from most modern cars because they are quirky and idiosyncratic. They don’t all look the same – the antithesis of a brand. Italian, French and British engineering all developed in different ways and their cars are expressions of that tradition, and of the time and place in which they were built. Call it a sense of terroir if you like, but at their best these cars stand as distilled symbols of the age in which they were built and of the people whose sweat, ideas, and experience made them.
Wine at its best has the same expression of authenticity about it – it can be understood and appreciated by the world at large, but at its heart is the winemakers’ respect for the traditions and experience that informed their choices in grape, in winemaking and in style.
Those that really appreciate classics, and own them, like me, are as comfortable behind the wheel as they are under the bonnet – driving the machine is what they were made for, but enthusiasts are just as likely to have their hands covered in grease as they discuss the finer points of a particular feature of the fuel system. In the same way, winemakers appreciate the finished product they create, but understand the need to get their hands dirty in the process. Great expressions of human endeavour are crafted not just made. A bit of the person goes into them too.
We embrace the inconsistency and the variation, as part of the essence of expression, and we share that, and argue about it, amongst friends.
And there’s the camaraderie, the shared experience. Gather together a few classic car nuts, who are enthusiasts for a particular neglected make of car from the 60s, perhaps, and part of their enthusiasm for it is that they embrace its quirks and inconsistencies. Sure, the brakes didn’t always work, and the lights don’t really help you through a dark night’s journey, but you’ve got to love the elegance and spirit of the thing. So too with wine. We embrace the inconsistency and the variation, as part of the essence of expression, and we share that, and argue about it, with friends.
Strip away everything else, though, and the elements that great cars and wine have in common are the power to thrill, and the ability to offer sheer sensuous pleasure.
So if I disappear for an hour or two during the Conference, you know where I’ll be: strolling around the Mille Miglia Museum, hopefully with a glass in my hand.