Tuesday, May 26, 2020

What makes great wine great?

I believe you will find that understanding wine in all of its magnificence will only enhance your awe of how great wine is. After all, it is the world’s most captivating beverage. One of the most insidious myths in wine culture is: “It is good if you like it.” Liking wine has nothing to do with weather it is good. Liking wine has to do with liking it, period.

Getting to the point, where you are knowledgeable enough to have both a subjective and an objective opinion of wine is one of the most rewarding stages in the developing wine expertise. It allows you to separate your liking of something from its quality. For example, it is entirely possible to love a wine but know its not great wine in the big scheme of things. I can think of dozen wines that, for me, perfectly fit this bill.

Each of us has a subjective opinion, of course. Having a valid objective opinion, however, requires experiencing a particular wine and understanding how it classically presents itself.

Drinking wines within a narrow range of preference presents a challenge. It skews your palate. If all the red wine you drink is muscular cabernet sauvignon (one of the most recognized varieties of red wine), over time you begin to think that a good red wine is supposed to taste muscular. Then when handed a glass of pinot, which is softer and contradictory to the cabernet sauvignon, you will find it thin, meek and watery.

Instead of finding out what a wine is supposed to taste like, listen first, to what the wine is saying. Only overtime can a wine drinker sense what to look for in a certain type of wine and evaluate it in its correct context.

The few things quality tasters must assess in order to determine whether a wine is great are integration, expressiveness and complexity.

Integration is a state whereby the components of wine are balanced (a good tension of opposites). Integration implies that all the components have come together in a fusion.
No matter how seemingly vague a concept, integration is what we are specifically after. It is the bedrock up upon which all wine judgment rests. Wine that is not integrated is far easier to describe than wine that is. The first presents itself like a star in the mouth. One can taste and talk about the points of acidity or oak. By comparison, an integrated wine presents itself like a sphere in the mouth. So around that, one easily grabs onto any single component.

Expressiveness is the quality a wine possesses, when its aromas and flavours are well defined and clearly projected. While some seem muddled and diffused, others beam out their character with almost unreal clarity and focus. Imagine the image projected by an outÔÇôof-focus black and white television without a cable hook-up compared to the same image in high-density colour.
An expressive wine is like the latter.

It is not clear why one wine might be less expressive than the other. There are many ways in which winemaking could be faulted over handling a wine. But it is also well known that certain vineyards year in and out for reasons too complex to fathom ÔÇô simply produce expressive wines.

Complexity is not a thing but phenomenon. Unlike, say, jamminess (such fruitiness that resembles jam or jelly) or acidity, you cannot go looking for the thing called complexity. Complexity is more like a force that pulls you into a wine and impels you to repeatedly return for another smell and sip because each time you do, you find something new. Art critics, similarly make a distinction between art that evokes a simple momentary response in us and art we cannot stop looking at.

An integrated and complex wine almost defies you to describe it, just as pain of a sore muscle feels good after exercise. The frustratingly indefinable nature of a complex wine heightens its gratification.

Next week. Gladys advises on where to store wine and where not to…

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.