Ephemera the Beautiful

wine pouring I’ve been looking at how the history of debate about the concept of beauty helps us think about the aesthetic experience of wine. (I covered the connection between wine, beauty and mystery here.)

Another feature of beauty that has a long history of discussion is its relationship to change and mortality. Beauty is often characterized as ephemeral—fleeting, inevitably fading and ultimately damaged by the passage of time. Unlike ordinary pleasures, beauty’s ephemerality is especially poignant because something beautiful is irreplaceable, which entails that for something to be beautiful it must be unique. There is no recovery of damaged beauty.

Wine is nothing if not ephemeral. “Ephemeral” comes from the ancient Greek word “ephemeros” which meant lasting only a day. Wine literally lasts only a day once the bottle is open unless you take special steps to protect it from oxygen.

Unfortunately, for most wine consumers, ephemerality means little. But for wine lovers, ephemerality may be the most important feature of a wine responsible for much of its aesthetic appeal. Once the wine is in the glass, aromas come and go. Some last only a few seconds, others appear, then disappear only to appear again after several minutes. The tracking of wine’s ephemera is one of the real joys of appreciating a wine over time—an experience wholly lacking from the preparation of the typical tasting note which involves a few seconds of sniffing and spitting before moving on.

The ephemerality of wine makes sharing it especially poignant. Knowing we have only a few hours to drink it, we devote special attention to how we will share it and with whom. The fact that its time is short makes the experience of the wine more vital. Even if you have squirreled away another bottle, because each bottle ages differently, there is no guarantee you can have that experience again. When drinking an aged wine it is almost always the case that the experience you are having at the moment is the only time you will have that experience. It is surely an occasion worth savoring.

It is though a wine’s aging process where the poignancy of fading beauty acquires exquisite intensity in its connection to mortality. That is worthy of its own post which I will have finished next week.


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