Aesthetics and wine

When wine achieves greatness it can inspire the soul. Thus we consider the aesthetics of wine. For publication in the week starting 11 February 2019.

Aesthetics is a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty, and the branch of philosophy which deals with questions of beauty and artistic taste. In its finest form, winemaking aspires to be an aesthetic pursuit.

Any winemaker who makes great wine from her or his patch of land – their terroir – is creating beauty when they allow the truth of the land to be expressed in the wine. And walking through a beautiful vineyard in a serene setting helps us appreciate not only the beauty of nature but the essence of aesthetics.

Many vineyards are associated with works of art, which is an attempt to express the connection between wine and beauty. At the Colognola estate in the Marche region of Italy a huge bronze sculpture of a stallion dominates the entrance of the newly-developed winery. Made by Fernando Botero, the great Columbian sculptor, it is twice the size of a normal horse and cost one million Euros.

The statue combines the interests of Serena Darini, the daughter of the owner, who divides her time between winemaking, horse breeding and show-jumping. But it also shows the link between wine and art.

The winery’s interior is precise and clean – much like great art – and the precision is reflected in the wine. Colognola has 25 hectares of estate vines, the bulk devoted to Verdicchio.

Dr Ian D’Agata, author of the seminal book Native Wine Grapes of Italy, believes Verdicchio has the potential to be considered Italy’s greatest native white grape: “The only other white varieties in Italy that can match Verdicchio’s versatility and potential for great wines are Veneto’s Garganega (with which Soave and Recioto di Soave are made) and Campania’s Fiano.”

Verdicchio is one of the many Italian grape varieties named because of its colour. Berries have an obvious green tinge, and the colour transfers to the glass (the Italian word for green is “verde” and the name translates as “small green”).

The Ancona would be considered beautiful relative to any wine region in the world. It sits on the east coast of Italy, about three hours by train due east of Rome, and offers rolling hills, serene valleys, limestone cliffs and superb coastlines with glistening blue seas and white sands. The region has a series of villages with faded stone houses that would be ideal as sets for movies set in the Middle Ages.

Winemaker Gabriele Villani of Colognola said the estate had the advantage of a wide diurnal range in summer because of the altitude, which contributed to the quality of grape flavours. “At midday in summer it’s 25C while overnight it goes to about 10C.”

Cologna’s flagship wine is the Labieno Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Riserva DOCG Classico, fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged on lees for 24 months in botti (large format old oak barrels). This wine is picked late, usually about mid October.

The two main DOCGs for Verdicchio in the Marche are Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica. The former refers to the castles that protected the land during medieval times. The latter is less well known and is centred on the town of Matelica, nestled in the only valley in the region that runs north-south.

A reflection of beauty within the Matelica region is the more than 70 theatres built in the villages of the Marche last century. In a pre-television age they were the centre of local culture, and we can imagine the wines tasted prior to productions of great Italian operas and plays.

Many wineries put paintings and other beautiful images on their labels, an homage to the link between wine and aesthetics. The Yunnan Red Wine Company, near Yunnan’s capital of Kunming in China, has some of the most beautiful bottle labels this writer has ever seen.

In Bulgaria, Nikola Zikatanov, owner of Villa Melnik, said he was inspired by a story from the Gospel of St John where Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, said he was the root to the vine of life. A replica of a painting depicting the Gospel story sits in the main reception at the winery.

Nearby Orbelus Estate is the first and one of the few certified organic vineyards in Bulgaria. Wines are made in a striking winery and cellar shaped like a half barrel designed by the architect daughter of owner Blagoy Roussev. In this case the winery itself is a work of art.

Not everyone has had an emotional experience associated with a wine though a great wine, like a work of art, can sometimes make us reflect or ponder or smile or perhaps cry. Only one bottle, a red by Quintarelli in the Valpolicella region of Italy, has ever brought me to tears.

Our emotions are weird things that sometimes do not connect directly to what we are experiencing in the moment, but are often linked to memory. My tears with the Quintarelli experience might be connected with a memory of a love from years before as much as it might be the result of an experience from right now. Great art and wine have that rare capacity to bring together the past and the present.

Like a great piece of music or a majestic work of art, great wine has the power to evoke emotions. Gerard Bertrand, founder of Gerard Bertrand Wines in the Languedoc region of southern France, believes an exceptional wine is a combination of “time, space, energy, spirit and soul”.

Does wine have a soul or spirit? Something that exists beyond the physical? Bertrand believes so. “The greatest wines travel directly to the heart,” he said. In a way he is talking about great art as well.

Winemaking can be an art form and wine helps celebrate Humanity’s potential, the same way a Beethoven symphony or a painting by Rembrandt or Titian helps us appreciate Mankind’s majesty. At the sublime end of the spectrum, the alchemy involved in making great wine is a form of magic, a liquid essence of human achievement and spirit.

Like art, wine can be a pleasure for people who understand it but a mystery for those who do not. With time in the cellar of memory, wine helps us broaden our horizons and encourages us to embrace the mysteries of life.

Words: 1,042

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