Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.
Robert Mondavi

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When wine loses its soul

There are a lot of similarities between wine and man. Wine emerges from the miracles of nature in much the same way that man emerges from the womb. Starting out as buds breaking from the vine, they slowly emerge as grapes that are eventually harvested after many months of cultivation. Once harvested the grapes turn to juice and is then watched over precariously by its parents, the winemakers. Eventually, the juice emerges as wine, but that is not where the journey ends.

As with kids, wine needs to be watched over during those formative years to make sure it is shielded from unwanted elements (i.e. – sunlight, extreme temperatures, too little or too much humidity, etc.). Sometimes a wine will fall astray or doesn't have the natural make-up and leaves us prematurely. Sometimes wines will receive the love and care that they need and deserve to continue to flourish well beyond their siblings and cousins.

I am not sure why I thought about wine like this, but once this concept entered my brain, it made a lot of sense. Yesterday I was reviewing some tasting notes from a wine dinner that a group of us had back in the spring. We partook in a vertical of Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from 1994-1999. As I reviewed my notes and relived the experience, my recollections led me to the fact that we partook in wines that more likely than not had left us prematurely. There were a couple that held their own, most notably the ’95 and the ’98, but the others had left us long before.

So what is it like when a wine loses its soul?

The wine is still wine, it still exudes berries, spice, leather and a number of different terms meant to relate to practical sensory reference points, but there is something missing. Galileo said it best “wine is sunlight held together by water” and in this case, sunlight is the soul of the wine. It eventually leaves and takes a bit of the class and excitement along with it. The soul of the wine is what I feel many wine collectors/connoisseurs miss.

If I were to offer a bottle of 2007 Rosenblum Petite Sirah and a bottle of 1986 Haut-Brion to anyone with a wine pulse, almost all would invariably select the 1986 Haut-Brion. Chances are that the Rosenblum is alive, vibrant, exceedingly pleasant and has many years ahead of it, while the Haut-Brion, unless stored with terrific provenance, is souless and hollow. It may have characteristics of oxidation, grainy and off sediment, possibly emit an odor of cat urine (for those who have read “A Cautionary Tale” you will know what I mean), or may exude the characteristic of being hollow. Yes, the Haut-Brion offers a sentimental and buzz-worthy experience (no pun intended), but probably little else. It is a lot like looking back at times with an old best friend and then realizing that they are no longer that person (nor are you), there is something missing that makes things awkward.

The soul, or sunlight, is in many ways the most important aspect of wine, as with people. There are ways that we can prolong the soul of a wine, but it takes the TLC that only a good parent can provide. Without it, wine, like a person, will lose its soul and be left a hollow shell, never living up to what could have been.


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