The best vintages have a distinctive character

Eleonora Balsano

              Fresh blood is the colour of Pinot Noir, bright red and translucent.

              I’ve never said this to the visitors. They all come just to get wasted.

              I see it in their eyes as soon as they follow me down to the cellar, tiptoe on the stone steps. As the air becomes damper, darker, thicker, I feel their excitement. I take my time, explain all the phases of wine making just to mess with them, delay their reward, push them to their limits.

              By the end of the guided tour, after walking in the scorching sun for over an hour, eager to touch and smell and photograph the grapes, they’re dying for a drink. Their skin, hidden under layers of sunscreen, has turned pink. Their noses are the tint of Lambrusco, their souls just as cheap.

              Our finest bottles end up in their modern cellars, with flying racks and a constant temperature you can check on your phone anytime.  A Texan lawyer once ordered thirty thousand bottles of Merlot. It took us a month to figure out how to ship them.

              No one lives long enough to drink that much.

              To them wine isn’t different from the magnet they’ll seize at the airport alongside vitamin water and sugarless chewing-gum. A fast souvenir.

              They’re grateful when I leave them at the boutique. Michele, our sommelier, will slowly pour a vintage wine in crystal stem glasses marked on the side. Small, medium, large. They all go for the large, think it’s better value for money.

              If only they knew.

              Large allows me to sneak in a stronger dose.

              By the time we close for the night, they’ve all forgotten their names and I can make my pick. It’s a privilege that I bestow upon my chosen—how shall I call them? Elements maybe. They’re part of the formula and should be proud of it. Not everyone catches my attention. Not everyone does it for a good reason. Not everyone has a soul.

              When I was younger, I made some mistakes. I picked undeserving components out of spite.

              A miscreant once emptied a whole bottle of Sangiovese down his throat without stopping. After wiping his lips with the back of his hand, he asked for another one. I tried to explain to him that wine needs time, but he wouldn’t hear it.

              Get me the goddamn bottle!

              Michele was shaking. He’s a kind man, with a heart as pure as freshly filtered vodka. We never told him how to deal with drunk pigs.

              I got the bottle.

              That night I grabbed the pig by his shoulder and with the help of Michele, we dragged him to the chestnut barrels. It took us hours to lift him high enough that he tipped over and disappeared with a loud slosh. They usually wake up at this point, moments before drowning. It’s that split second of truth, knowing that they are leaving this world, that lends the wine its character. I am not oenologist of the year for nothing. I’ve perfected my art for decades.

              The pig, though, ruined the barrel that year. He was rotten inside. The wine went sour. We wonder what happened to this wonderful bouquet, hardly good enough to descale your toilet, wrote that hideous moustachioed critic from Napa. I almost lost my job.

              Tonight will be different. I made my pick during our walk through the vineyard. There is always one who seems to understand me better. They itch for the boutique as the others but also grasp what this is all about. The soil, the sun, the grapes. The passion binding them together.

              When she drowns, I weep. I always do with beautiful souls; they flavour our best vintages. Michele helps me lift her out of the barrel and lay her on the floor. He then slices the breast open and I carefully severe the arteries under the ribcage. When I take it out, it’s still beating. It will infuse for twenty-four months and win me an apology from Wine Spectator.

              A heart is the colour of Syrah, dark and dense like clotted blood.

Eleonora Balsano is a journalist and writer. Her short fiction has been recently shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and is featured or forthcoming on Fictive Dream, Reflex, Ellipsis Zine, Bandit Fiction among others. Eleonora lives in Brussels with her husband and sons and is working on a novel. She is represented by Zeitgeist agency. Tweets @norami