Why Learning Virtue is Like Tasting Wine

The other day, my husband and I decided to become wine connoisseurs and took a tour of a California winery. While the tour guide led us through the sunny vineyard, we couldn't wait to get back and finally taste the wine! 

As we were handed a sample of Chardonnay, the tour guide asked, “What flavors do you taste?” To which my natural response as a novice was to avoid eye contact at all costs! I didn’t even know where to start.

In the corner of my eye, however, there was a couple with very pensive expressions. They were really contemplating the question. “Apple,” the man called out.

The woman added, “Do I taste some citrus in there too?” The two of them listed off several flavors – you could tell they had done this before.

To my surprise, every time they called out a new flavor, I was also able to identify it in my sample. I was becoming aware that this glass of wine, which initially seemed to only have one overarching flavor, is actually composed of several flavors interacting with each other to create a fuller taste. By giving each flavor a name and definition, it became possible for me to recognize it. Then all of a sudden it hit me - this same idea could be applied to behavior.

Just like my first impression of the wine, sometimes we perceive ourselves and others with widely generalized traits – nice, mean, energetic, uptight, etc. When we start to break those behaviors down, it provides a baseline for us to have more meaningful interactions with others. It also empowers us to become aware of our own behavior.

Essentially that is what learning virtue does – it offers a deeper understanding of our own behavior so that we may find greater value in our relationships. If savoring wine opens our senses to the flavors that create a fuller taste, then learning virtue opens our hearts to the love that makes us fully alive. 

A virtue is an action of love demonstrated through an intentional habit. Most of us already display virtue in many situations – it’s the courtesy of hanging up your coat; the courage to get out of bed in the morning; the generosity of giving your full attention; or the self-control to finish your work-out. These are common actions that we often benefit from. But the reward is even greater when we assign these specific actions a name and definition because we’ll start to see them more often.

Imagine if, when your spouse gets out of bed in the morning, you identified it as a courageous act of love for the family. What if, by giving your kids your full attention, they could pinpoint it as showing generous love to them? When we recognize these small acts of love, it’s natural to give love in return. Consequently, our relationships grow deeper and our families more unified.

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