Tuesday, April 30, 2013

divining its purpose

2011 Calera Chardonnay | Central Coast

I had a conversation with friends over dinner Saturday about how despite all the talk about terroir and expression of place, the single most important factor of how a wine tastes is the preferences of the winemaker. It all comes down to the palate of the winemaker, doesn't it. And if they're doing it properly, they're making wines that they like. Because wine can be selfish that way. Sure, there are lots of big wine companies that pump out millions of bottles annually who stick to a formulaic approach to wine, but anything else should be an expression of the winemaker's taste. Really, if you think about it, if you're dedicating your career to wine, shouldn't you at least be working to make wines that you like to drink yourself, that represent what your taste is? Otherwise, the fuck are you wasting your time for?!

Shit. I shouldn't swear, especially not with a photo of Calera wine posted. Because Josh Jensen is a true gentleman, and a visionary of what California wine is, and should be. These wines are so true to the west coast - alcohol way over 14% - yet so impeccably balanced and truly expressive. The acidity is high, but great wine is more than something that ticks off all the boxes chemically-speaking. As idiotically nonsensical as it sounds, there is something we can call soul in wine, as impossible as it is to define empirically. And Josh's wines have SOUL. Breathtaking really, how a wine as simple as this - a blended chardonnay from Central Coast vineyards - can have such expression. Ripe, sweet citrus aromas, that made it stand out so much during the tasting, but at home, in a more contemplative setting, the wines shows as even more profound. Minerals and all that, but the palate is so elegant, so balanced, so sure of itself. Class and soul, all we hope for in a wine.

So we ask ourselves, what's the point of wine? Is it mostly an exercise of ego, of arrogance? A chance for us to fawn at the skill of the winemaker, and how great their taste is? No. Because as we conversed about over dinner, it's ridiculous to automatically pre-suppose that winemakers have good taste. No, it still, as clich├ęd as it may be, comes down to what a true expression of the wine is. And what is that? Well, it may take a lifetime to divine that true purpose.

The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.

- Katsumoto, The Last Samurai (2003)


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