Jason Millar: the joy of keeping things simple
Imagine drinking La Tâche every night. That’s what I was doing as a colleague scrolled through someone’s gratuitous Instagram feed which was pornographically insistent on showing bottle after bottle of DRC, Le Pin, Gaja, Vega Sicilia, Opus One, Ornellaia and their astronomically priced peers.
I’m serious: imagine it. I guess initially it would be great. You’d probably start off with a feast, the sort that requires two days of shopping and three of preparation and guarantees you have no time to talk to anyone you’ve invited. Or maybe you’d track down a corkage offer in a smart restaurant and go to town on the menu. You drink, delight and revel.
The next night, you return to the wine rack for La Tâche again and ponder whether it goes with pasta and pesto. It’s La Tâche again the next night, even though you’ve got friends round who don’t like wine. Maybe it will result in an epiphany? It doesn’t.
Another day, another La Tâche. It’s 35° outside without a breeze, so you pop it in the fridge to bring it down to an acceptable temperature before sitting in front of a desk fan to enjoy it with a tabbouleh. You’re making a stew and need half a bottle of red to go in it...
The idea of infinite La Tâche – or indeed anything else, when you come to think of it – is unappealing. Although I’m being facetious, the reality is that if we are honest, we don’t want great wine every day, and neither do our customers.
The complexities of great wines are not for everyday consumption. It would be like dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant every night, listening to The Ring Cycle when you wake up in the morning, or reading Moby Dick on the beach with a hangover. In short, exhaustingly try-hard. When wine is simple, good and honest, it feels like you’ve found a secret equal to the complexity of the world’s great wines. In an age of decadent excess, there is something pleasing about slumming it.
As an industry we have come, through wine education, to view complexity as the ultimate aspiration for wine. But is a symphony always better than a solo? Is a Rococo chair more pleasing than a Bauhaus one? Maybe you really need to own a Louis XIV chair to understand how wonderful it is, but I can imagine there are times you would rather lie on the floor than sit in one.
Simplicity, in wine terms, is usually regarded negatively, as a lack of complexity. That’s more than a bit unfair to the pleasure that can be derived from simple wines. The perfect house Chianti, the fridge-door Vinho Verde, the Provence rosé that chimes with the shimmering heat of the afternoon: these are not complex wines, but is their pleasure any less for it?
So much of our view of wine is based on this idea of wine complexity. We cannot understand why more people don’t love Palo Cortado and mature Riesling, but often it’s their complexity that puts people off. And how often do we really open these wines and drink them at home when we’re not showing off to our wine friends? In the end, complexity and pleasure are not the same. As I draw my 17th bottle of La Tâche from the wine rack, I will reserve a special place in my heart for the £9 Chianti that used to sit in its place.