Wine = Art
The title of this post is not misleading. I plan to talk about wine as an art form, which is the way I look at it. Why all of a sudden? Couple of articles, both great in its own right (I mentioned both in the Meritage post a week ago), prompted this blog post, despite my claim that I’m not going to enter this debate. I don’t know why is that, but I have a habit of saying “No” where deep inside, as soon as I finish my full and long “no” sentence I already know that, “oh it will be a yes”. Anyway, this blog post is not about me, it is about wine, so let’s get closer to the subject.
In case you didn’t have a chance to read those two articles, they were both on the beaten up (badly beaten up, I have to say) subject of cheap wines versus expensive wines. The first article, published in the Forbes magazine, provided a number of illustrations to the fact that…there are many factors affecting perceived taste of wine – temperature, label, feel of the moment, critics’ opinion, rating and many more (I’m not going to cite a full article here – it is well worth reading if you are into the wine world). I believe that one of the points of the article was to suggest that for the most of us, we can’t distinguish between cheap and expensive wines anyway, so why bother – drink any wine, be happy (I’m oversimplifying, I know).
Then Steve Heimoff took the subject close to his heart and went on to explain that there is a very big difference in taste between $15 and $150 bottles of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, that more expensive wine is always better than the cheap wine and that the the whole premise of Forbes article in Steve’s words is “man bites dog” attempt at a cheap publicity.
Let me take step aside and explain the meaning of the concept “wine = art”. When you are at home, take a look around you. I would make a safe assumption that for absolute majority of people, your home is decorated in one way or the other. You might have pictures and photos on the walls, statues big and small, flowers live and not, little (or big) mementos and many other things which surround our lives with only one purpose – to give us pleasure, set the mood or may be create lasting connections between time and memories. Taking pictures as the simplest example, they can be your kids’ pictures, copies of the works of the famous artists, works of the completely unknown artists or may be they are actual original paintings. Those pictures can be mass produced and acquired at the neighborhood convenience store for $4.99. But they also can be acquired after a long battle at the auction, where you had to put down $4.9 million to beat another guy and get that painting you always dreamed of.
Now, when was the last time you read an article telling you that you are not supposed to buy any works of art more expensive than $19.99, because you are not capable of understanding the difference between $19.99 and $199 pictures? Or when was the last time you read an article telling you that expensive painting is always better than cheap print? I can bet I’m giving you a very taxiing memory-combing exercise which will yield no results.
So my question is – why wine is treated in any different way than any other works of art? Read (or talk) about the wines, read about vineyards and places, read about wine makers, grape growers, oenophiles, wine collectors – what do you get out of that reading or talking? Passion, obsession, emotions, feelings. We eat because we have to, but we drink wine because we want to, because of its ability to resonate with our beings, to create emotional response. This is my premise of “wine = art” statement. I believe that wine is a form of the renewable art, which also has a pretty unique advantage compare to a simple painting, for instance. Whatever you see on the painting will be exactly the same in 10 years or in 50 years. It will create different emotions on a different day, of course – but it will not change in principal. At the same time, even the simplest wine will change in the bottle. For better or worse, but it will change. Last weekend we shared a bottle of 1997 Toasted Head Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend (probably $9.99 or less) – believe it or not, but this wine was outstanding – it evolved, it had beautiful fruit, great balance and nice finish. It was memorable, it solicited emotions, it created mental staples for that particular moment. If this is not art, I don’t know what is.
Where am I going with this? I don’t believe cheap versus expensive is a meaningful or useful argument for the wine world. Yes, there are many reasons for the wine to be expensive – best quality grapes with very low yield, state of the art facilities, manual processes, need for aging before release, market demand, reputation and many many other factors define the price and can drive it very high up. But if you will exclude snobbery, arrogance and blissful ignorance, price is simply one of many factors which affect your buying decision – nothing more and nothing less. Yes, $150 bottle will taste different than $15 – but can we say “better”? If someone is a Pinot Grigio drinker (and enjoys it very much), will you be able to prove to him or her that $150 Cabernet Sauvignon is really better that $15? I want to see that happening. When it comes to wine, “better” is a difficult category, as the definition of the best wine is 100% personal – the best wine is the one which tastes best to you. Yes, critics matter, ratings matter – but only as a reference, as food for thought.
Wow, did I bore you to death? I truly hope I didn’t – I think this post was brewing for a very long time, slowly ripening to the point of wanting to get out. These are my true feelings, this is how I see the wine world, and “wine = art” makes it so fascinating for me.
Is this arguable? Of course (comments section is down below and only a click away). I don’t pretend to possess the absolute truth – but “wine = art” makes me open a bottle of wine with hope and excitement. No matter what anyone said about that bottle, how much it costs or what the rating is – I hope you will enjoy it and I hope it will create a special memory, a special moment – just for you. Cheers!