Category Archives: Defining “Vimpressionnisme”

Playing favorites with wine

Favorite. A very strong word and difficult claim to make, especially when it comes to wine and its wonderful diversity. Sure, I love plenty of wines, like one might love their friends, or ice cream, or drinking rosé in the sun. But picking a favorite wine is like choosing your best friend, or worse: a lifetime partner! I’ve found that the way we choose our favorite wine is very much like finding that special someone.

Caveau de Bacchus (Lucien Aviet & Fils)

Recently, on my @JuraWine twitter account, I declared my flame for Caveau de Bacchus (aka. Lucien Aviet & Fils), my favorite Jura wine producer. Having enjoyed a couple of the reds just last week, namely the Poulsard and Trousseau 2009, I could talk about the gorgeous fruit, the purity of expression of both grape and soil, with the beautiful minerality and an endless depth emerging on the finish. I could wax lyrical on just how these intense little berries etch a path across the palate, crashing into my pleasure center as my frontal lobe watches on in awe. But that is only part of the explanation.

Playing favorites with wine - caveau_de_bacchus

Playing favorites with wine – caveau_de_bacchus

Just look at that cheeky little Bacchus!

Playing Favorites

First and foremost, it is important to draw the distinction between favorite and best. By definition, my favorite wine refers to MY preference. Is Aviet the “best” producer in the Jura? No. There is no such thing. But he is my favorite. That is not to say that I don’t greatly appreciate the wines of Tissot, Puffeney, Macle, etc.. They put out amazing wines and I’ve been to all these estates and drink their wines regularly. So what gives Aviet the extra edge when prompted to pick a favorite? Subjectivity of course!

Personality

To me, Aviet represents everything I believe Jura wine to be: Character, Authenticity and Tradition. I remember the first time I saw the bottle at a local shop, I asked myself how such a crappy looking label could sell over 10 euro. Now, it makes perfect sense to me. What the packaging lacks in taste, the wine makes up for, and getting past that first impression to discover what’s inside is like getting past a person’s faults and learning to know them a little better. It’s rewarding and that feels pretty good.

Insider Tip

While Aviet may be a local legend in Arbois, you won’t find the wines in the US, and only the most specialized European importers will have even heard the name. Heck, I wouldn’t even know where to get a bottle outside of the Jura, which makes me feel like I’m in the know, and that feels pretty good too. Anyone can fall in love with a George Clooney, but having someone to yourself makes it more personal.

Comfort

Finally, my favorite wines offer a sense of comfort. While a Rayas or Selosse can tickle me with excitement, there’s just something about the Aviet wines which put me at ease. After a rough day, I want to go to that cheeky little Bacchus, looking back at me with his little smirk, before I break the wax seal, pull the cork and finish off the bottle in my underwear (well, maybe not, but you get the point). No intimidation, no restraint, no guilt. But that kind of familiarity comes only with time. And getting to that point, that feels great!

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that my favorite wines are the ones which make me feel the best! Taste, while essential, is only one aspect of this.

An alternative to wine scores: rating the experience

Wine quality is 100% subjective. It is the philosophy behind this blog. It is the driving belief behind les Vimpressionnistes. Not only is quality tied to our own personal preference, but the context in which any tasting occurs: details such as temperature, time of the day and most importantly, our mood, play an important role in how we perceive a given wine’s quality. Not to mention our expectations, with certain labels or price tags augmenting our pleasure, or on the contrary, raising our expectations to the point that the wine in the bottle can no longer live up to our imagined gustatory nirvana.

If one holds this for true, it becomes clear that ratings as they are used in the wine press today are worthless. Any attempt to describe, or worse, define a wine by a rational point system is meaningless. We change. Wines change. Points remain and are merely a snapshot assessment of a wine at one precise moment, taken through an imperfect lens. So why go on with this practice? Because it is in our nature to judge and to quantify. Because humans need a frame of reference. Or maybe it’s simply because we want to remember what we like and tell our friends.

So what’s the alternative?

We must first learn to move away from the wine, and consider the entire experience. The experience incorporates all the subjective elements which are not present in the wine itself. The experience can be rated, because any experience will be different from the next, whether a single wine is tasted by different people, or a same person tastes it in a different context. Because the experience belongs to us, because it cannot exist without us as the wine does, we are truly capable of assessing it beyond any doubt.

So rather than assigning a precise point value to a wine, why not try to qualify a general sentiment we are left with upon tasting? For example, with a simple system of plus and minus?

when we are left with a sense of disappointment.
+ when a tasting delivers on its promise and leaves us wanting more.
++ when we are pleasantly surprised, our hearts captured, our imagination set loose.

The implications

While this may at first appear to be a mere semantic detail, a closer look suggests deeper implications. Consider a relatively affordable wine which turns out to be very enjoyable. A certain Juliénas by Michel Tête comes to mind. It was under $20 and absolutely beautiful. At first a bit austere, the aromas had developed with time into what I would still remember to this day as a truly gratifying moment. A bottle I had picked up at the last minute to accompany a meal had made my night and left me with a giant smile and a lasting memory. This Beaujolais cru had stolen the show and to me, this show ranked ++ .

But what of my first Château Margaux? A 2004 (much too young) tasted on a rainy morning, after having visited Latour and Lafite on the previous day? It was a – . As good as the wine was, it could not overcome the adversity of the specific context and my unrealistic expectations.

Was the ++ Beaujolais a better wine? No. There is no such thing as a better wine, but one should judge (since we must) our impressions, rather than an illusionnary intrinsic quality. The Beaujolais had left me ecstatic, the Margaux slightly disappointed. If a critic were to ignore the circumstances and assess the wines, the Margaux would probably have scored above the Beaujolais. But that would have left out important factors such as price, reputation… and most importantly, the I in wine!

And in the end, what really matters about a wine is how it makes us feel, is it not?