The Many Ways Wines Are Like People
Wednesday - June 23, 2010
Wines can be very much like people. You’ll even hear winemakers speak of them with personality, character and soul. Wines can have their own lives, short or long. There is the masculine and the feminine, and even family groupings.
Winemakers refer to their wines as people because the winemaker is just like a parent. They oversee their naissance, raise them and finally send them out into the world. I know of one wine-maker who referred to wine in the barrel as a “baby.” As it goes through it malolactic fermentation, it is “teething” and can sometimes be not very cuddly or pleasant to taste in this stage.
During its elevage, or aging, wines will go through changes that mirror the stages of a young child. It starts as pure fruit-exuberant, lively, sweet. With time, its structure or physicality comes to the fore in the form of tannin, acidities. Eventually the wine finds its balance and gains some maturity - the point where the winemaker deems it ready for bottling.
Bottling is perhaps like college graduation. The filtering and fining, if done, is much like exams that cull the good from the bad. It is a difficult process that can truly change the flavor of the wine. Some wines are blends of grapes from different vineyards and of different lots or barrels. All this blending and marrying is similar to a young adult trying to find his or her way through life, perhaps finding a partner or group of friends that suits their own personality and likes. And once the bottling is over, the wines are sent off into the world.
Even after bottling, just like moving from one place to another, it takes wine some time to adjust to its new surroundings. Some call this “bottle shock.”
The similarities never end and each winemaker has his or her own idea of what stage the wines are in. Laurent Ponsot of Domaine Ponsot refers to his wines that are around five years old after the vintage as “getting zits and pimples.” His wines are some of the most long-lived in Burgundy. Bernard Noblet of Domaine de la Romanee Conti lists the different stages of a bottle of wine as the reverse of the plant’s life. Its youth is marked by fruit. With time, it begins to show more as flowers. As it matures it shows more plant characters such as leaf and root. And once the wine is completely mature, the characters are defined by earth or minerals.
Remi Krug of Champagne Krug likes to refer to the three stages of life for his Champagnes. First is youth, where the wine is joyful and fruitful. Second is where it gains secondary and complex aromas and flavors of baked breads, confiture and more roundness. Third, the wine becomes more than Champagne. There are truffles, nuts and Sauternes-like characters in the wine magic! Francois Millet of Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue goes even further, referring to his Musigny as the father in the cellar, Les Amoureuses as the wife and Bonne Mares the outsider of the family as it comes from a completely different terroir and source of soil.
Asking winemakers which one of their wines is their favorite is like asking them which of their children they love most. So each time you drink a bottle of wine, it is as if you are meeting a different person. I always look forward to each new introduction.
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