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  • Richard Hemming MW
Written by
  • Richard Hemming MW
8 Feb 2017

Searching the news headlines for stories to inspire a light-hearted wine column has proved a somewhat gloomy exercise recently. In this light, even stories primed for parody such as supermarket broccoli rationing take on a portentous patina, demonstrating how easily volatile weather can disrupt what we take for granted. 

Whatever your opinion on the political upheavals unfolding around the world, one thing seems certain: there is more and more division, less and less tolerance. Each side views the other with escalating incomprehension, doubling down on their own strongly held convictions. Proxy wars are played out on social media, where allies pour scorn on their adversaries and reaffirm their own prejudices. 

As this rhetorical magma boils up, the chances of reconciliation seem doomed whether you are Republican or Democrat, Remainer or Brexiteer, Broccophile or Broccophobe. So in a world that is becoming so hopelessly adversarial, what earthly good can wine do? And what are the best matches for Broccoli anyway?

Perhaps wine offers exactly what our cloven world needs right now, and as the above film demonstrates: the ability to bring us together. From the humblest vin de soif to the grandest vintage port, people all around the world buy wine to share with one another. Sometimes that involves a concerted appreciation of flavour and structure, but more usually it is that most precious commodity, a simple everyday pleasure.

Either way, a bottle of wine offers communion in a way that can't be bettered. Beer and cider might be more trendy and accessible, but they rarely involve sharing the same bottle among a group, nor do they have the same credibility for drinking with food. Cocktails are surely more theatrical and creative but again, they don't encourage people to drink the same thing. Plus they take forever to serve.

In fact, the closest drink to wine in communal terms is probably tea – but of course, this lacks the magic touch of wine's active ingredient. There is only one drink that combines the sharing of a bottle, the perfect constitution for food matching, an almost infinite choice of flavours and styles, and also offers the mellowing, disarming congeniality of alcohol.

Wherever wine is drunk, it brings people together. Wine with fizz is the essential ingredient for celebrations – surely nothing signifies celebration more perfectly than the joyous popping of a cork. It is the ultimate social lubricant, breaking ice between strangers and reacquainting old friends. At the other end of the scale, a humble, local red shared over dinner is a daily tradition for the workforce of countries across Europe and beyond.

But perhaps the ultimate expression of wine's power of communion is literally that: the Christian ceremony of sharing wine among the congregation as part of the Eucharist, practised all around the world.

Then there are those occasions personal to each of us, where wine is shared to mark the significant moments of our lives. Every MW student will recall the taste of non-vintage Bollinger, served from magnum, brought out at the end of the final exam. (Rumour has it that previous generations of budding MWs didn't have to wait that long, and were served a glass of sherry mid-exam.)

Last year, I shared a small glass of Opus One 1997 with my nephew to celebrate his birthday. In 2012, my wife and I drank a bottle of Wakefield Shiraz after randomly spotting it in a café in the middle of a rainforest in Borneo – four months earlier, we had been drinking the same wine with our families at our wedding.

Yet despite all these ways it brings people together, wine has the capacity to divide people. Natural wine is the most recent battleground, and it continues to fuel bad-tempered spats within the wine world, most recently between Michel Bettane and Alice Feiring. In years past, the issue might have been cork versus screwcap. In years to come, something else will doubtless become the divisive issue.

Or perhaps, as worldwide stability continues to wobble, arguing over wine will start to seem increasingly petty.

Perhaps in some small way, the power that wine has to bring people together might help heal some of the rifts that pit us against each other.

But then again, of course, not everyone drinks wine.