Bon Vivant: (n) a person having cultivated, refined, and sociable tastes especially with respect to food and drink.



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In Memoriam of Larissa


Throughout history, alcohol in general- and wine- in particular, has carried with it certain rituals, culture, ceremony, and history.

A sommelier practices wine rituals almost religiously: the laying of the cork on the table, the decanting, the swirl, the sniff.

One of the reasons I believe these rituals are important are the strong associations many have with the consumption of wine. The sights, sounds, and smells are often tied to significant life occasions.

The clink of glasses over a meal with dear friends, the pop of a cork at a wedding, the blessing of a silver communion chalice: there are strong cultural and emotional associations with these rituals and the tastes that accompany them.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a family friend. As one of the few Americans at the service, I was surrounded by the funeral rituals of foreign cultures- in this case, Ukranian and Russian.

Russians take their rituals seriously, and the traditions regarding drinking perhaps even more so. Wine filled many glasses. Cognac in others. Bottles of chilled vodka were scattered liberally around the banquet room where loved ones had gathered after the service to mourn, to tell stories, to honor, and reminisce over a life well lived.

As I listened to stories in a foreign tongue, I could only pick out the occasional word: Grandmother. Very. Love.

Absent from the day’s drinking ritual was perhaps my favorite Russian word of my very limited vocabulary: “na zdarov’ye” or “Cheers! To Good Health!” Its absence spoke volumes, even to my American ears.

These rituals bring us together during times of triumph, sadness, religious sacraments, joy, mourning- an unspoken understanding among people of varying cultures and languages. It is on these occasions when the rituals outweigh any wine critic’s score or marketing pitch.

And so I raised my glass in communion with others to Larissa: a mother, grandmother, sister, and friend to many.

When has the ritual of wine meant more to you than the contents of the bottle?


*Photos courtesy of Yelena Oleynik

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