Just once in a while I am truly moved by a wine. A wine that sends a shiver down the spine, or brings tears to my eyes. A wine that is a cultural experience, in a way that might be compared with listening to the incomparable tenor Jonas Kaufmann perform E Lucevan Le Stelle, King's College Choir singing Allegri's Miseri Mei, or getting lost in the great Gertude Jekyll garden at Munstead Wood. What makes such a wine? And can it affect others in the way it moves me?
The interplay between art and science in wine production perhaps defies description, although I have spent many years trying to do just that. Most books on viticulture, focus upon the requirements for the production of balanced, ripe grapes, and the avoidance of pests and diseases. Similarly, books on vinification detail the processes of making wines that are technically correct, often to buyers' specifications. But, by definition, being correct does not equate to being exciting, and making wine by and to specification limits the potential for excellence.
So what makes, and what is, a wine of the heart and soul? It is perhaps easier to say what it is not. It is not a blockbuster, not a fruit bomb, not a smack in the mouth. It is most unlikely to be from a very hot climate, where grapes reach so-called phenological ripeness, before complex aromas and flavours have developed, and alcohol levels are in the stratosphere. It is not a Wine Advocate or Wine Spectator 100 pointer. It is not about technical excellence. It is not about the levels of acidity, and tannins, or the relationship between these. It is not really about aroma or flavour intensity, fruit characteristics or body. It is not a wine where oak ageing is assertive. It is certainly not about commanding a very high price, although factory produced, inexpensive, wines will have a simplicity that precludes their consideration.
There are, perhaps, several components essential to any wine that appeals to the heart and belongs to the soul. Some of these are intangible, although they certainly manifest themselves in an intricate way on the nose and palate. They all defy description, and when wine writers and critics attempt to do just that, the descriptors say more about the writer than the wine. Which means that I just about to 'expose myself'.
First, the wine, as a whole, must exhibit a 'sense of place'. It will show the personality of its origin, be it Margaux, the Mittel Mosel, or the Valle dei Laghi. Second the wine will exude tertiary development, the subtle nuances and the indescribable complexity that comes only with maturity. Sadly, in a world where instant gratification is sought and to some degree delivered, the rewards of patience pass by the vast majority of drinkers. And most classic reds and many whites are consumed well before their peak. Of course, with an eye to the market, and particularly the critics, even top estates create wines that will mature early. Such designer wines may impress the palate, but they will never penetrate the heart and soul. Third, the wine will reflect the brush strokes of the painter, the carving of the sculptor, and the expression of the composer. Finally, as with physical or sexual attraction, the taster has to be moved by the wine's individual sensory profile. In other word there must be a personal engagement between the taster and the wine.