World of Fine Wine Feature: Strange Synchronicity
Look! That’s me there featured on the cover!
A peculiar thing happens for those of us who spend all our time tasting with winemakers: The wines begin to taste like the personality of the man or woman in front of us. It’s a strange moment to find synchronicity between the character of the wine and that of the winemaker, but there it is. More often than not, they match. “That’s why I love Burlotto wines,” Ceri Smith tells me. Together we are drinking, and talking, Italian wine. She’s begun to tell me about the work of winemaker Fabio Alessandria of Piedmont’s GB Burlotto, and to compare his wines to his personality.
Ceri Smith owns the respected Italian-focused wine shop Biondivino in San Francisco and she created the wine list at the reboot for famed Italian restaurant Tosca, in the same city. In her decades of work with Italian wine, Smith has gotten to know a range of Italy’s best winemakers.
She continues describing Alessandria’s character, and his work in wine. “Fabio is quiet, shy, and introverted, and his wines are these beautiful floral expressions. They feel just like Fabio: quiet, delicate, and strong.”
Later, viticulturist and winemaker Steve Matthiasson describes a similar experience. Matthiasson manages esteemed sites throughout Napa Valley such as Araujo, Chappellet, and Trefethen, while also making wine for his own eponymous label.
As Matthiasson explains, several years ago a group of Napa Valley winemakers were able to taste a range of wines from Burgundy with the Domain de la Romanée-Conti co-gérant and winemaker Aubert de Villaine. The group had gathered a series of paired wines. Each pair was made from the same vineyard but by two different winemakers. De Villaine knew the sites and the winemakers well. Throughout the tasting, Matthiasson relates, the wines from each vineyard set would share some core flavor commonalities but have a starkly different sense of character. One wine would seem flamboyant and lush compared to its sibling’s reserved austerity. One wine would feel edgy and intellectual, while the other was more immediately pleasurable. Tasting through all the wines, Matthiasson says, de Villaine consistently explained the contrast between the paired wines with reference to the personality of the winemakers. The flamboyant wine always matched the effusive winemaker; the reserved wine, the more reticent one.
This experience occurs with American wines as well. In one of my strangest tasting experiences, I tasted a California Tempranillo from a winemaker I’d never met and knew nothing about and discussed the wine with her assistant. While tasting the wine, I described aloud what I saw as the character of the wine. It drank with a sense of sophistication and rusticity simultaneously. I said, “as if she’d been raised in a fine family with all the lessons of etiquette but in adulthood went on to become a rancher.” In describing the wine, I was speaking of if like a person. I went on, “She still carries herself well in a dress but works hard in the dusty outside.” Looking up from the glass, I realized the assistant had fallen quiet. He explained that the winemaker had been raised in an upper-class family in the southern United States and then moved to California to grow grapes in the Sierra Foothills. Though the winemaker wasn’t a rancher, she did spend all her time farming grapes in the dusty mountains. The similarity of my description of the wine with the winemaker’s life stunned both of us.
It seems unlikely that a science of personality in winemaking could ever develop. Go too far, and it starts to sound like blind tasting winemaker personalities, or the vague generalities of horoscopes. Even so, such strange synchronicity often occurs. So, let us begin to explore the phenomenon. And to start, let’s consider how personality develops. …
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