Until this morning, I had planned to continue blog posts in the order of last April’s winery visits. The day after my time at San Giusto a Rentennano, I had the pleasure of a three hour tour and tasting at one of Tuscany’s most historically important winegrowing estates. As such my next post – a two-part story on Castello di Brolio – was already in my blog/post production queue. But, I think I’d like to post something else before that, something that I feel does not receive enough discussion; maybe because it can be difficult for some/many to grasp, to hear, or maybe because it stirs emotions, I’m not really sure. I promise, after my editorial or rant, or whatever it may be seen as, I’ll return you to the rolling hills of Tuscany.
If this comes across as a lecture, let me apologize upfront, I’m sorry. Sorry because I paid my dues, so to speak, at university (bachelors and a masters degree) so I’m no stranger to lectures; I think I can count, on one hand, those that I actually liked – as in, would do over again.
“Wine is a living thing“, I said (well, I said it online, in one of the many wine-related discussion forums inhabiting the interwebs), and I think most readers agreed. Well, I wasn’t really looking for agreement, it seemed a natural thing to say, to me, and upon reflection, I wasn’t really prepared for disagreement – it was, to me, a simple statement of fact; what’s there to disagree with?
We live in an era, I’ve come to understand, where one person’s facts may be facts are, really, like in the real world, just their opinion. Maybe it’s always been this way, I don’t know. The thought of having that discussion makes my head hurt.
That said, I took to heart the emphatic and contradictory response to my “wine is a living thing” declaration, which not only caught me off guard, but also gave me an idea for an upcoming 1-month trip to Piemonte and Veneto/VinItaly; this was in April, 2014.
So what I had here was a fact, or at least I thought it was fact. Perhaps some thorough investigation would transform my ‘fact’, into something else, something disturbing (no one really likes it when their world, their facts, get turned into opinion, into myth); maybe there was something new to be learned, or re-learned, as it were.
So I set out to learn more, and for a month, during already scheduled meetings, as I met with winemakers, at their cellars, and I asked them this very question, just like that, I asked “Is wine a living thing?“. There was no set up for the question, no context given, no solicitation for a response one way or another, I just lobbed it out there, randomly; I wanted them to be a little caught off guard, I wanted a candid response; this was probably not something they’d been asked a dozen times already that month.
In every instance, in the company of such industry luminaries as Aldo Vacca, Franco Massolino, Fabio Alessandria, etc., my question was met, without hesitation, with a “yes, wine is a living thing” response. In each case, further discussion ensued, interesting discussion. The type of discussion that really revs my engine, and, based on the very passionate, and unscripted responses I received, did for them, too.
After one-on-one discussions like this, I’m often asked “so when are you coming back to visit us?” During the past decade+ of such meetings, I’ve not always received that type of question as I gather my things at the end of the meeting and make for the door. More commonly, at least in the past, winemakers are looking at their watch, considering the next appointment or cellar task, who knows (maybe they’re lamenting how much time I’ve used up? I digress). But, to have the the type of discussion mentioned above, one that ends with what I consider a genuine, open and warm invitation to return, is deeply fulfilling, for me.
Maybe I think too much of myself, and my stupid questions, what the hell do I know? Maybe they ask if I plan to return so that they can prepare themselves for endless, inane questioning? Maybe, but I don’t think so, and that leads into the closing thoughts on this matter, why Points/Scores, and Wine-as-a-Living-Thing don’t work together. Why it’s bad for you to think linearly.
Last night I opened a bottle, the last of many from this producer and vintage that was acquired on release, and stored at 57F here in my cellar. The wine was shipped during March, and I from what I recall, the temperatures between northern California and my home ever exceeded 55F; they didn’t go below 35F. I follow these things, like a hawk.
I had two bottles of this wine this past week, both showed the same, they are dying. I remember them, in their youth, full of life, with their lithe muscles, wavy hair and smooth, unwrinkled skin.
And this is where some toes might get stepped on, where some heretofore beliefs may get challenged. The bottle in question received 95 points on release. One reviewer actually gave it 96. I’ve no doubt, to those two people, it was precisely that, a great, soon to be released wine worthy of loads of points, points plucked straight from the air.
If we/I accept for a minute that (1) a wine needs a score, and/or (2) their score, based on their palate, their preferences are consistent with my palate, and my preferences, then we have before us a 95+ point wine. But for just how long does that score apply? A month, a year, fifteen years from now? If you’re into scores, just realize that wine is a living thing, and it’s really at odds with the linear quality of a score, issued at some finite point in time (generally just before release, so the marketing machine can make the most of it all).
Back to that bottle from last night, it was at its best five or six years ago; and really, I use the term best in the spirit of kindness. That said, it was, never the wine that the ‘pros’ said it was. Not for my palate, anyway. Maybe at some point during its life, many would have seen it as good, or lip-smacking, or whatever, but that time passed a long time ago, the wine is dying, it’s in hospice already. It’s sad, but it happens. To living things.
(photo: taken at the marina next to to Schooner-or-Later restaurant, in the areas of Los Alamitos Bay/Long Beach/Seal Beach. I used HDR, and purposely over-saturated, because I thought I was being creative. What a dope.)