Wine Is Art
Wine is art. It is art in a glass, and grading wines on a point scale like they do in Consumer Reports is fine for cars and refrigerators but it’s a terrible way to think about wine. The point system of evaluating wine has turned it into a technical commodity and resulted in a homogenization of wine styles. In other words, it’s the wrong way to think about wine because wine is art and we don’t think about art like we think about a refrigerator.
Wine is art in a glass. Yes, in the “new world” we’ve tried to make it a science but great wine is always a work of art, and If wine is art then why do we treat it like it’s a used car? I mean, we don’t look at a Monet and give it 95 points and then look at a Renoir and give it 94 points. We don’t rate it on performance and reliability like we do used cars. Instead we look at great art and we evaluate it on how we experience it. We either love it or we don’t. It’s a completely subjective evaluation based on what we like and don’t like and the same should be true with wine.
When I see great art I have several reactions. Some of it doesn’t move me at all and I think, “NO.” Some art is well done and it is “Good.” Some is worth taking a second look at and they are “Great.” The really fabulous pieces of art, the ones I sit and stare at, the ones I go back to a museum to see again, the ones I buy the print of and get it framed are the ones that make me say, “WOW,” and occasionally they even move me to exclaim, “OMG!”
When we look at great artistic masterpieces we let them engage us. We may find the details interesting but only after we’ve fully engaged the art. Who cares if it took Monet five years or five minutes to paint his masterpiece. It’s amazing and I love it. To further the point, we don’t ask how much blue was used in Monet’s Lilly’s or what percent of green is in them. The same is true with wine. If a wine is 80% Cab and 20 % Merlot or vice a versa it really shouldn’t matter. What matters is – like great art – if we like the wine or not, and how it engages us.
Here is how I think we should evaluate wine. We should let the wine engage us in the same way we let great art engage us. It should be about how the wine engages our senses, from the color, to the smell, to the taste and even the sound of the popping of the cork. All of our senses are engaged with wine just as our senses are engaged with great art.
Some wine is like a childs fingerprinting – it’s not good but you want to encourage the creativity. Some wine is like paint-by-the-numbers – it’s simple and not very creative and anyone who picks up the kit can make it. Other wines are like modern art. They are “interesting,” but you wouldn’t want them in your living room; or maybe you would. Really great wine, like really great art, is rich in color and expression, shows depth and layers and cannot be fully grasped with one sip or one look. This is the biggest difference between truly great art and just art and is also the difference between really great wine and just wine.
For some winemakers the goal is to make a big concentrated wine that is consistent from year to year so that the consumer can taste the same thing every time he buys the wine. This is what Coca Cola does. Every time you buy a Coke you get the same thing. Coke is great but it is not great art.
The goal of the winemakers I love is to make a wine that reflects their vineyard, and their personality, and is somewhat consistent, but not the exact same every year. I love to taste a wine from one of my friends in Bordeaux and know that what is in the glass reflects their vineyard and their personality. I can sip a wine from Thomas, Pierre-Emmanuel, Patrick, Stephan or Christine and it takes me immediately back to walking in their vineyard, or tasting the wine from their barrels. They are each great artists and I love what they create.
Today, the science of winemaking has enabled winemakers to do a much better job of working in their vineyard, and they are using modern technology in the chai to make higher quality wines, but the truly great ones have not lost the art of it.
The wines I love are a work of art every year because every year depends upon the weather and in every vintage the artist is dealing with a different set of “colors” to blend. In Bordeaux a winemaker knows every inch of his or her vineyard and he or she treats every plot as a separate entity. He or she literally harvests the various plots separately and when the wine has fermented in the barrels they pour a sample from each barrel into a glass, put them all on a table and this is the pallet they work with. They then begin to sip and decide what the blend will be.
The real art of winemaking comes when the winemaker blends his or her wine. They take the fermented juice from the various plots and blend them to make their masterpiece.
I no longer think about wine from a numeric point of view. I don’t engage art that way and I don’t want to experience wine that way.
The system I am now using to evaluate all of the wine I taste is this. If the wine is badly made or I just don’t like it then my response is”NO.” Just a simple, “NO.” I don’t need to say anything more, I just don’t like it. If it’s well made and good then it gets a “Good.” If it’s really well made and I would recommend it to my friends then I give it a “Great!”
What I’m really looking for, and the only wines I want to import for members of my club, are wines that make me say – like I say with great art – “Wow!,” or for the ones that really blow me away, “OMG!” These are the wines that make me stop, swirl the wine some more, stick my nose back in the glass and admire the work of art I am tasting. I take another sip and say, “Wow!” just like I do with great art. I remember the first time I saw the Impressionists at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris and I thought: Wow! It was the same the first time I tasted a really old Bordeaux. Wow!
Occasionally there is a wine that captures me and I am truly blown away. I savor every sip and almost feel sad when the bottle is finished. Those are the wines that make me say, “OMG!” That’s how I felt the first time I saw Michaelangelo’s David. I stood there and thought, “Oh my God!” and I didn’t want to stop staring at it. It’s also the way I felt the first time I tasted ’82 Lafitte.
From now on you will see my ratings of wine as, “no,” “good,” “great,” “wow,” and “omg.” No more points system for me. The Monet and the Renoir are both “WOW!”
I never get tired of great art, and I never get tired of WOW and OMG wines.
If only I could take a bottle of OMG wine in to see the David!