Contemplating the Hermeneutics Of Wine As Art
There is and has for a long time been an inclination among some to treat wine as art. Oftentimes we see the winemaker referred to as the artist. The wine itself is regularly referred to as an artistic creation. I'm often inclined to wince at these descriptions of wine and its making primarily because wine is not art, winemakers are not artists and the label "art" applied to wine seems an affectation of sorts to me.
And yet, there is no question if wine is treated like it is art, there are unique opportunities to delve much deeper into the meaning of wine, its history and its characteristics. This was the point that occured to me today as I gazed upon a beautiful full page add in the New York Times touting a new show at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that explores the nudes of Degas.The show promises to examine the artist's "ravishing look at the female form" and his exploration of "the beauty of unguarded moments".
The argument that wine is art is probably best made by looking at the way wine is treated at the apex of its appreciation. Like art, wine is auctioned at the most prestigious auction houses in the world, even coming with highly produced, glossy catalogues. Like art, there are bottlings and "artists" whose works are coveted beyond all others and bring absurdly high prices. Like art, wine is too often "displayed" not only in homes but in galleries known as fine wine shops where it sits carefully on well constructed shelves. As we are with art, we are asked to carefully contemplate the contours, craftsmanship, characteristics and meaning of a wine through careful examination. And, on rare occasions, we are given the opportunity to examine the meaning of a "movement" or "class" or genre of wine, much like the Boston Museum of Fine Art is presenting the opportunity to examine a class of work from Degas.
It is this last example of how art and wine are similar that interests me. While we don't necessarily have "shows" for wine in the sense that there are shows of Degas' Nudes or Picasso's Blue Period, there are opportunities to deeply examine specific kinds of works of wine. I'm not thinking here of large tastings where 50 or 100 or 300 wineries come together to pour. I'm thinking more of the kind of events that are curated by The Wine Workshop from Acker Merrall in New York.
On it's face, Acker-Merrall's Wine Workshop is merely the merchant's events arm and focuses on staging high-end tastings of coveted wines. But when you consider these events as "shows" in the sense that the Degas Nudes is a show, we see how wine can be treated very similarly to art. Consider some of the "shows" that Acker has put on:
A CENTURY OF MARGAUX
Experience a century of Chateau Margaux with Paul Pontallier at this extraordinary and historic event at two of New York's greatest restaurants. Chateau Margaux has a long and distinguished history that dates back to the 12 century. Over the last 100 years many legendary bottles of Margaux have been produced. Join us for a once in a lifetime experience at this historic vertical of one of the greatest wines on the planet. Vintages include: 1900, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1915, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1921, 1922, 1925, 1933, 1934, 1936, 1942, 1943, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1959, 1961, 1969, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1996 and 2000.
2001 GERMAN RIESLINGS 10 YEARS AFTER
2001 is destined to go down in history as one of the all-time greatest vintages Germany has ever seen. This vintage shed the spotlight on Germany, re-establishing the region as a dominate player on the world wine stage. Ever since 2001, German Rieslings have sky rocketed in popularity. These are monumental wines equally expressive of terroir as the best of White Burgundy….It will be fascinating to compare these different cuvées from the same vineyards in such a great year.
AGED CLASSIC CALIFORNIA CABERNET
This all-star lineup of classic California Cabernets exemplifies a who's-who of the pioneers that started it all. It will be an extraordinary experience tasting these mature wines. We will focus on five of the greatest estates in California Cabernet history: Heitz, Louis Martini, Mayacamas, Beaulieu and Diamond Creek. Heitz Marthas Vineyard is arguably Californias greatest Cabernet and we will taste the 1974 Marthas which many consider the greatest California Cabernet ever produced. The older wines of Louis Martini embodies the essence of traditional California. These wines are elegant, structured and built to last. Mayacamas is one of the first boutique California wineries. Andre Tchelistcheff, known as the founder of modern California wine, had a major role in creating the iconic Beaulieu Vineyard. Diamond Creek consists of different vineyards with three distinct soil types (volcanic, gravelly and red rock) these terrior driven wines have always been highly allocated and sought after.
As the descriptions of these "tastings" make clear, the goal is not merely to drink down some good stuff. There is context, meaning, historic elements and a reverence that is wildly similar to the way art is treated when gathered together for a show. It is these kinds of events that keep us, drinkers and non drinkers, ready to give wine a corner in the art world.
Again, while I don't subscribe to the idea that wine is art, I recognize that there is fantastic opportunity for true wine geeks to indulge in very deep dives into the hermeneutics of wine. Arcane as this may seem, the pursuit is a legitimate educational experience. And I can imagine any number of possible "wine shows" that would fall under this categorization:
Evolution in Style: An Examination of the Impact of Changing Winemakers at Beaulieu Vineyards
The style of Beaulieu Vineyardss Cabernets is considered from the perspective of the winemaker as various vintages of BV Cabs are looked at and are considered with an eye on how changing winemakers have contributed to those stylistic detours.
The Zinfandel Canvas
California's iconic grape might be considered a blank canvas for the exploration of style. This grape is subject to more stylistic renderings than most other grapes be it sweet and light "White Zinfandels", richly rendered late harvest invocations of the grape, claret-style dry works of wine or the briary and big style of Zinfandel pursued by many makers over the past 20 years. This show will examine these styles and the seek to interpret the meaning of a grape that has no standard character.
The Changing Pinot Noir Paradigm: From Definition to Anarchy
There was a time when Pinot Noir was defined by its Burgundian rendition. Yet over the past 25 years, ambitious wineries around the world have given nods to the Burgundian tradition while redefining the meaning of this grape by rendering it into numerous styles of wine built on new terroirs and new ideas of what Pinot Noir should be. This examination of New World Pinot Noirs seeks to understand the motivations of new producers' wines and explore their contribution to a wine world seen by many as having fallen into stylistic anarchy.
Of course the possibilities of using wine to explore trends in taste, in culture and in personal style are endless. Furthermore, history is a subject that can be deeply explored through the lens of wine. Even philosophy can be brought to bare its murky meanings to wine.
Though a craft and not art, wine can be, if treated in the same way art, understood and appreciated as an intellectual pursuit and a deeper pleasure can be wrought from its examination.