This will be a long quote. Actually, it's the plain copy of a post I read in a most interesting blog I've been following for a while. Fermentation is written by Tom Wark, a man whose prose makes me think - and if you've been following MY blog, you'll know how difficult it is to me.
It's not a short post but it's worth reading, believe me. It's about wine (big news!), but it's basically about quality in wine. For those who have read Zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance, the post will bring home the same old question: what, actually, is Quality?
This post touched me so much that I translated it, so it's also on É só um diário. Translating made me think even more, and again showed me how neglected my English is...
I asked Tom if I could do this, and wasn't really expecting a reply, or a positive reply, but I was wrong. Not only he replied giving his permission but also thanked me for my interest. Tom, I do hope I have kept the quality of your text.
And thanks for helping me in my journey towards wine knowledge.
The Van Morrison Theory of Wine
Having reconciled myself to the idea that there is no such thing as an objective criteria for quality in any category of wine, I began deliberating on what I think we all must do to bring reason to our palate and preferences; to put our preferential house in order, so to speak.
What I began looking for were other artistic (yes, artistic) creations that might serve as a model for my personal beliefs about wine quality. What I was looking for were expressions in other art forms that, for lack of a better word, "touched" me in a way that was inescapably real and visceral. Upon experiencing this unique sort of touch, I then asked myself what it was about the work of art that was able to move me...move me to tears, joy, elation, contemplation. If I could identify what it was that moved me through another art form, I just might have a model for describing what, for me, represents quality.
I found my model, and it wasn't too hard to find: Van Morrison.
Listening all the way through Morrison's "Moondance", "Astral Weeks" and "Hymns To Silence" albums touch me deeply, and they do so every time I listen to them. Absorbing Morrison's eloquent "Rave on John Donne", "Into the Mystic", "Crazy Love", and "On Hyndford Street" always stop me in my tracks.
So what is it about this music and artist that is so arresting for me personally? Authenticity. The authenticity of the sound of Van Morrison, the authenticity of the expressions in the works, the authentic input of unadulterated instrumentation carried out by the hands of man, rather that the 1's and 0's of computer-generated sound. There is Affinity to deal with here too. The connection that Morrison's music makes with me has a great deal to do with the substance of his message and feeling, most of which I clearly have an affinity.
Can a wine touch me in the same way? I don't know. I don't think so. But I do know that the qualities that I find in Van Morrison's music can be found in wine and I'm sure that when I see or taste their expression I'll know that I've come across my version of "high quality" wine.
It's important to begin here with the acknowledgment that there is a real similarity between great wine and great music. There can be no mistaking Van Morrison. No one else sounds like him. He has, as it were, a "house style", a sound that identifies him just as a great winery will also have a voice that comes through in all its wines. Perhaps its a deft touch. Perhaps it's a rustic-ness or a purity of flavor that runs across its wines.
Yet while always being unmistakably "Morrison", the man has investigated and experimented with many different genre of music from R&B and Rock n Roll to Country and Jazz. Wineries too do just this as they work with different varieties of grapes. The resulting wines will carry the voice of the winery, but the character of the grape will also come shining through.
Finally, in listening through Morrison's more than thirty years worth of recordings it's quite clear that the personal changes, tragedies, failure and victories that make up his life are communicated in his various musical stages, be they immensely spiritual in nature, Christian in substance, bound to his Irish homeland or born of his aging voice. Wineries too must reflect the changes they are confronted with and, like Morrison, seemingly unable to direct in the form of vintage variation. The winery will always have a voice and will certainly experiment with different varieties, but they too will be subject to the untamable variation in vintage.
So, we have a solid connection and similarity between music and wine that allows me to use the music model to understand and define my notion of "great wine".
Can then, a wine be, above all, "authentic"? Most certainly it can. A wine can be a representation of a place and people. It can in its origin and treatment be authentically OF a real place. And it can authentically represent the voice and interpretation of a winemaker or winery without losing that authenticity of place. That is to say, aging a wine in oak or whole cluster pressing the grapes or use of particular yeasts that are not native can all be expressions of a winemaker's unique touch or voice, and all the while not necessarily extract what the place from which the grapes came brought to the wine.
I think I need to admit that just as I have developed a certain intimacy with the music and message of Van Morrison, I'd need to develop an intimate relationship or understanding with the winery and its wines' 'places" to be able to say, "Ah, this is authentic". And this of course brings us back the fundamental truth that leads to this uncomfortably long and indulgent post: that there is no such thing as objective criteria for greatness in wine, but rather only the comfort that comes with familiarity and affinity that lets each of us define greatness.
There is one more final question that all the above begs: Who's familiar experiences and affinities will define your criteria for greatness?